You can’t stop the seasons from changing, but you can make your outdoor space enjoyable year-round with the help of our outdoor patio heater buying guide.
Patio heaters are useful outdoor accessories that can make your patio nice and toasty even during the cold autumn and winter months. They also serve a decorative purpose, giving your outdoor setup a cozy flair and romantic ambiance.
But with so many patio heaters out there, deciding which type is best for your needs isn’t easy. In this guide, we break down all the important criteria to consider when selecting your first patio heater.
Before we tell you what styles of patio heaters are available, we want you to understand how patio heaters work and what makes them different from household radiators and electric space heaters.
Patio heaters produce radiant heat, which warms people and objects the way the sun warms the earth. Rather than heating the air, infrared waves heat everything in their path. On the other hand, household radiators and electric space heaters rely on the movement of air molecules to transfer heat from one place to another, a process known as convection.
Radiant heat is great outdoors because it basically makes you feel as if the sun were shining directly on you, gently showering you with rays of warmth. Because it doesn’t rely on air movement to spread the warmth, radiant heat works even without a ventilation system, which is why most patio heaters don’t have one in the first place.
Patio heaters are typically categorized by the type of fuel they use:
- Electricity: Electric patio heaters are extremely convenient because they work as soon as you plug them into a 120-volt outlet, and they require little to no maintenance. The absence of flammable gasses makes electric patio heaters safe even in enclosed areas. You can bring down operation costs to zero with solar panels.
- Natural gas: Natural gas heaters are always installed by professionals because they must be connected to a fixed gas line in order to work. Once installed, they are very easy to maintain, don’t require regular gas tank replacements, and are very cheap to operate.
- Propane gas: Because propane gas patio heaters run on replaceable fuel tanks, they can be placed virtually anywhere in a matter of minutes. While convenient enough for occasional use, propane gas patio heaters are not really suited for commercial applications since they require a lot of maintenance.
The heat output of patio heaters is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs. This traditional unit of heat is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
To calculate how many BTUs you need, multiply the volume of your space in cubic feet by the desired rise in temperature. For example, it takes 25,000 BTUs to raise the temperature of an area that measures 10' x 10' x 10' from 60°F to 85°F.
Patio heaters produce anywhere from 10,000 BTUs to 70,000+ BTUs , and you can, of course, place more than one in the same space. Keep in mind that manufacturers always measure the efficiency of their products under ideal conditions (meaning low humidity and little to no wind), so don’t forget to take your local weather conditions into consideration.
Patio heater style
Different styles of patio heaters are suitable for different applications:
- Standing and tabletop patio heaters: These heaters, such as the AmazonBasics Commercial Patio Heater or AZ Patio Heaters, are portable and simple to use, but they only heat the immediate area around them. They are typically powered by gas and are perfect if you’re looking for a heater you can unpack and use immediately.
- Wall patio heaters: Perfect for crammed patios with limited space, wall patio heaters such as the Versonel Carbon Infrared Heater are permanently attached to a wall. They are powered either by gas or electricity and produce anywhere from 10,000 BTUs to well over 30,000 BTUs.
- Ground/post patio heaters: Powered by natural gas only, ground/post patio heaters such as the Sunglo 50000 Btu Natural Gas Post-mount Patio Heater never run out of fuel, making them perfect for commercial applications. They must always be installed by a skilled professional, but they don’t require much maintenance afterward.
Must-have safety features
Modern patio heaters are equipped with many features that keep them safe:
- Tip-over switch: This safety feature automatically shuts off the heater when tilted past a certain angle, providing protection in case it gets knocked over.
- Cool-touch glass: If you have pets or little kids, you should choose a patio heater with cool-touch glass. This special glass remains relatively cold even with the heater running at full blast, making it safe to the touch.
- Safety labels: Last but not least, pay attention to safety labels from safety consulting and certification companies such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). It’s impossible to know how safe patio heaters are if they haven’t passed any safety tests, and it’s definitely worth it to pay extra for a heater with UL certification.
Patio heaters with a powder coating require minimal maintenance apart from the occasional wipedown. Stainless steel patio heaters are best cleaned with a stainless steel cleaner and a gentle brush. From time to time, you should remove dead insects from your patio heater and check for mechanical damage.