Propane patio heaters are economical and portable. A great choice if you do not have electricity or natural gas connections available.
The fact that propane gas is a mobile type of fuel that does not require special installation or plumbing makes propane patio heaters a convenient and versatile way to heat outdoor spaces. These devices provide the same output, heat-wise as natural gas heaters. And can even be hooked up permanently to a gas line as long as it’s installed by a certified professional.
While different types of patio heaters derive their heat from several sources, including natural gas and electricity, propane models offer several distinct benefits over the rest. Apart from being an affordable fuel source, propane is also very portable. That alone means that propane patio heaters can be used virtually anywhere without an electrical or municipal gas hookup.
However, it is worth noting that their high cost meant they were exclusively limited to establishments that could afford to run them. Such as restaurants, bars, and other businesses. However, an increase in consumer demand pushed patio manufacturers to start making units the average homeowner can afford.
How Propane Patio Heaters Work
Propane patio heaters derive the fuel they need to heat a space from portable cylinders of butane or propane gas. While natural gas ones connect directly to a home’s gas supply line. As such, to operate a propane-powered patio heater, you will need a cylinder of propane gas to power it. Though most models can still be connected to a natural gas line.
Despite their unique designs, propane heaters are pretty basic devices. Propane from the cylinder is piped through a hose, housed within the heater, and is ignited in the burner sitting atop. Operation-wise, propane heaters work similarly to a camping stove or gas hob. However, while they have a simple setup, there are several “clever bits” that help it to function effectively and safely along the way. These include:
Gas regulators are mandatory in every application that deals with gas – LPG, Propane, Butane, etc. This fixture connects the hose to the gas cylinder. It is responsible for controlling the pressure at which the contents of the cylinder is released. There are several types of regulators available on the market, and each is designed to regulate pressure levels. With that in mind, one must use the right type of regulator on their gas cylinder and vice versa. Since propane and butane operate at different pressures, their regulators cannot be interchanged.
Before attempting to light a patio heater, make sure you’ve read the manual first. Just like with gas hobs, different types of gas-powered patio heaters use different types of ignition technology. Most gas-powered models today come equipped with a piezo (mechanical) ignition key similar to those used in cigarette lighters. It produces an electrical spark; very few still require a match to light.
Some modern gas-powered models combine the ignition key (electronic) with the pilot light. Modern pilot lights, unlike the old-fashioned ones that stay on throughout, only light when you start using the patio heater. If your model has a pilot light, then the first setting you will see on its control dial will probably be “pilot”. When held down, a flow of gas is released into the light burner where it’s lit by the ignition. Immediately the pilot light comes on, the next thing you need to do is turn the dial-up. That allows the propane to flow up to the main burner, where it’s set ablaze by the pilot light.
The reason why some types of gas-powered heaters have a pilot light is that they have a higher-energy ignition source which makes lighting the main burner easier. However, some brands have gone the extra mile to remove the pilot light. To make sure that the ignition key is strong enough to ignite the gas directly at the main burner. This helps eliminate the middleman and make the ignition process faster.
When lighting some gas-powered heaters, you might notice that you have to wait for 30-seconds or even more for the main burner or pilot light to stay lit. That’s because of something known as a thermocouple. These are safety features designed to prevent gas leaks when the burner flame or pilot light goes out. Thermocouples ensure the gas valve stays shut within a certain temperature threshold. The thermocouple automatically shuts the valve immediately the flame goes out. This crucial safety feature stops any gas build-up. However, that means that you’ll need to wait a couple of seconds for the couple to warm up before the fire stays lit.
Gas-Powered Heater Performance
The power for any gas-powered heater is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU). It’s these thermal units that tell how much heat an appliance will provide. The higher the BTU value, the higher the heating output.
Propane gas provides about 2,500 British Thermal Units per cubic foot, which means it’s quite effective as a source of fuel. The typical full-size propane-powered heater should output about 40,000 BTUs and can heat an area about 314 sq. ft. or 20’ in diameter comfortably.
Reasons Why You Should Have One
The warmth of a propane heater has a similar effect to that of a campfire. The invigorating radiant heat of a gas heater counteracts the cool air, creating a warm bubble that’s fun to sit around. The extra comfort gas heaters provide is a great way to maximize and keep usable space warm. That is why these devices are especially popular in restaurants, bars, pubs, and other places where customers prefer sitting at an outdoor table.
Propane-powered heaters aren’t only comfortable, but they’re also visually appealing and make for unique and attractive additions to a garden or patio. The flames produced by the gas have a primal, natural aesthetic that’s mesmerizing and invigorating on nights. If you are making your decision based on looks alone, then please note that most individuals favor the flickering glows of gas-powered heater flames to the artificial glares of infrared, electric-powered models.
When it comes to cost, propane heaters are generally cheaper to buy than electric ones. Apart from that, the price of gas is a lot cheaper comparing to electricity. However, it’s worth noting that they are less efficient than electric heaters. If you plan on using it regularly, electricity might more economical.
Gas patio heaters are more portable than electric ones – they are as portable as the cylinders they use to fuel their flames. They are generally more practical for long-term, outdoor use than portable electric heaters. Since electric models always have to be plugged in to operate, that effectively makes them inoperable when it rains. And you always have to pack them away or return to storage immediately when you move inside. Propane patio heaters, on the other hand, can stay outside indefinitely. Though you should cover them during colder winter months.
Gas and electric heaters distribute heat through radiation. The same form of heat emitted by the sun. The good thing about radiant heat is that it warms objects and people directly without heating the air. This is the best and most efficient way of heating things outdoors. Convection heaters, which heat the air around a room, aren’t that efficient outdoors since warm air instantly dissipates to cooler locations.
There are a few features that might be worth knowing, and which you should always consider when searching for the right model. These include:
This feature automatically shuts the heater off if it is tipped past a specific angle. When shopping for a heater, this is one of the features that you need to consider. For improved safety, ensure that you get this feature.
Oxygen Depletion Sensor
ODS sensors shut off fuel when oxygen levels in a room or space drop from 21% to below 18.5%.
Overfill Protection Device
Overfill protection devices are backup safety shutoff devices fused into the filling valve of propane cylinders and are designed to prevent filling the cylinder past the permitted limit.
Another feature to consider when choosing a propane heater is whether you want one that can be move with ease. Though all gas-powered heaters are portable, some come without wheels, while others have wheels for easier movement.
Wall-mounted, Freestanding, or Tabletop
Patio heaters are available in a variety of options ranging from freestanding heaters, which range from between 7 to 9 feet high; tabletop heaters, these are usually about 4 feet high; and wall-mounted ones.
Advantages of Propane Patio Heaters
- Large variety of sizes – full-size, freestanding units to hanging heaters
- Easy to set up
- Available in both permanent and portable styles
- Equipped with safety features
- Low maintenance
- Propane gas is non-toxic and will not harm water or soil
- Can be professionally installed for permanent use
- Propane cylinders fit conveniently inside the base of most portable heaters
The great thing about the best propane patio models is that they are available in a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes. Unlike electric heaters, which generally have utilitarian designs that are intended to make them as unobtrusive as possible, propane patio heaters come in a wide range of stylish/tasteful designs meant to complement outdoor design schemes.