It is getting way too cold outside to enjoy your deck or patio. A patio heater would make all the difference. Heating up your outdoor space. Making you nice a toasty while sitting outside under the evening stars, but what makes a patio heater the best?
What features should you look for in a patio heater?
Well, you are at the right place. Here is a patio heater buyers guide for you. Going through all the essential features to look for with a patio heater. The elements I use when reviewing and deciding if a patio heater would be any good on a deck.
What to Look for in a Patio Heater
Before discussing patio heaters specifically, a quick question.
What is the Typical Weather When You Need a Heater?
There are two things that I am thinking of here.
- How much heat will you need?
If you are in a warmer climate, say Texas. You may not need as much extra heat. Lower BTU will work just fine to keep you comfortable when the sun goes down.
Not a small furnace required in Chicago or Winnipeg. Think 48 000 BTU or higher when Old Man winter starts chilling out the place.
2. How windy is your deck or patio?
If your deck is windy, you will need something that can be fastened down as not to topple in the wind. Plus, in a windy area, infrared heat (electric and some gas) does a better job of heating objects, not the air blowing away in the wind.
If it’s always windy on your deck, including or adding a wind wall to your design will work wonders on increasing comfort. Sheltering your deck increasing the warmth from your heater. Just one of 23 ways to warm a deck.
Now that you know how much heat you will need and the type, let’s get into specifics about patio heaters.
Best Patio Heater Fuel for You?
There are 3 common power sources for patio heaters.
- Natural Gas
I have also seen wood, but they aren’t widely available and come with their own specific challenges. The two most common on decks are propane and electric. Let me explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. Answering which one will work best for you.
Natural Gas Patio Heaters
Natural gas is an uncommon fuel source outside of commercial settings like your neighbourhood pub or restaurant. Alluding to its advantages and disadvantages.
• Doesn’t require refilling
• Cheaper to operate
• Quick source of heat
• High heat output
• Costly initial set up (Requires license gas fitters)
• Fixed Location (Cannot adapt to seasonal changes or furniture)
The short of it is, if you are going to use your patio heater a lot. Like every day for a few months of the year. Natural gas patio heater will be your best choice.
But if you only occasionally use your patio heater or like to rearrange your deck for the season. Propane is probably the better choice, or maybe electric.
Propane Patio Heater
Sharing the advantages of a flame heat of a natural gas heater but a lower initial cost. Along with being more flexible.
- Doesn’t require professional installation
- Consistent heat source
- High heat output
- Quick source of heat
- Expensive to operate compared to natural gas
- Requires inconvenient tank refills
With so many pros, it makes sense why this is the number one heat source on many residential decks and patios.
If you enjoy your deck on the weekend and the falls are short. This is probably the best patio heater for you. With its convince and lower cost and easy setup. Plus, with the added bonus of wheeling it around (yes, buy one with wheels, you will thank me later), the deck or even off during the winter. Making your deck less cluttered and easier to clean.
Electric Patio Heater
Less popular than gas but could be the ideal patio heater for you. Electric heaters have some distinct advantages over gas.
- 98% energy efficiency
- No harmful emissions or by-products
- Low clearance requirements
- Heat only absorbed by solid objects (great in windy areas)
- Can be used under roofs, awnings, canopies or umbrellas
- Low air Flow requirements
- No refuelling required
- DIY installation under 1500 watts
- Slow initial heat
- Lower heat output
- Higher Operating Cost compared to gas
- Costly initial set up (License electrician required for higher-powered units)
With so many advantages its surprising that it is not more common. The two biggest drawbacks, power and slow response, maybe the reason. You really do need to plan ahead to give the coils time to warm up, and even then, they will produce less heat than a gas patio heater.
But for a cozy heat source, warming your skin out on the deck or under a covered patio. Electric could be the ideal patio heater. Installed in between pergola rafters or on house walls, make them convenient but safely off the deck. Its efficiency and low clearance requirements are a real plus.
But many units, especially ones with higher heat output, will require professional installation. Requiring more than a 120 plug.
Even with smaller units, extension cords can be a fire hazard. Limiting where you can set up an electric patio heater.
Not a concern with electric but super important with gas, both propane and natural gas.
Most patio heaters have a simple knob for volume and a push-button ignitor. Piezo or multi-spark, often requiring batteries.
“ignition switch should be easy to handle and should not hurt the skin.”
This is the number one failure and complaint about patio heaters. They won’t start. When buying a patio heater look over the reviews for complaints about not lighting or other related starting issues.
It is also a good idea to buy a patio heater that can be safely lite with an external lighter. Giving you options if the ignitor just won’t work. It saves you buying a whole new heater or waiting for parts.
How Much Heat is Needed on Your Deck?
Heat is measured in BTUs.
“It is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by 1 degree Fahrenheit at the temperature that water has its greatest density (approximately 39 degrees Fahrenheit).”
The technical definition is largely irrelevant. More importantly, is how warm you are on your deck.
But to get an idea of heat output. Gas tabletop heaters generally produce 10 000 BTUs of heat. Pole propane or natural gas heaters on the higher end produce 48 000 BTUs, but not uncommon to be as low as 40 000 BTUs. Which also is standard for pyramid-style patio heaters.
With electrical often producing less heat than their gas counterpart but infrared heat.
Electrical patio heaters can be as low as 1700 BTUs and as high as 20 000 for commercial units, but most will be around 5 000 BTUs on high.
“1 watt x 3.41= 1 BTU”
When shopping for electric patio heaters, they will label in watts, not BTUs. 1500 watts is pretty standard and, as we see with the conversion, is on the lower end for heat.
1500 watts = 5 115 BTUs
Except electric heaters have the advantage of infare heat. Doing a better job of warming you, not just the air around you. A huge plus if there is a breeze.
Heat Range of Patio Heater
Closely related to heat output is range.
How much of your deck or patio do you want heated?
Most pole patio heaters will claim some were around a 20′ (6.09m) diameter. Roughly 400 square feet. Which is an excellent size for dinning or lounging on a deck.
But I love Cnet and Wirecutter testing, not just the range but the amount of heat the farther away from the heater you get. Showing the limitation with most beyond 4′ (1.2m) at table height offers little warmth. Even for 48 000 BTUs gas patio heaters.
But it is still good to consider placement and number of heaters for a larger space.
Also, it may be a good idea to consider a tabletop or overhead heater, which will provide the same impact of warmth despite the smaller size and BTUs. Plus, the convenience of a dining table. The one disadvantage of a gas tabletop heater is the higher cost of a 1 lb tank than a 20 lb refillable tank.
Aesthetic Consideration of a Patio Heater
There are three things to consider about the appearance of patio heaters.
First is design.
This is one of the most significant drawbacks about dome heaters with their classic “mushroom top”. They just don’t look very good. Compared to a Pyramid style heater which is designed more for appearance.
We all enjoy watching flames dance. This is what draws us to campfires.
Patio heaters can do more than warm you outside. The right one can entertain you also.
Another plus of a pyramid heater is the glass tube keeps the flame front and centre. You may also want to consider a fire table, which blends the beauty of fire with a table to enjoy sitting around on the deck.
A firetable lacks a reflector panel reflecting less warmth for those sitting around the table.
On the other hand, flame screens make heater safer on decks. A plus with screened-off heater as opposed to a fire table with open flames.
A quality patio heater is often made of stainless steel, durable material for the elements. But the finish will change the appearance and maintenance of the heater.
Unfinished stainless steel can look nice when clean but also an eyesore during the day when the sun glares off the steel into your guest’s eyes.
They also require special cleaning soaps to remove fingerprints and whatever else collects on the heater.
On the other hand, Powder-coated heaters don’t reflect the sun and hide fingerprints and dirt. Requiring less cleaning. And when you do need to clean them, mild soap and water is all that is needed. Nothing special.
First and the easy to access is the patio heater UL Approved and/or CSA-tested. No need to worry about knowing what makes a patio heater safe. Let’s the pros test and approve it.
I see this a lot like pulling a deck permit. No, it may not change how you build the deck, but it’s nice having a second set of eyes checking over your work or the manufacture, ensuring everything is done right and is safe.
Beyond certification check, if the heater has a
Like the name says, a great feature to prevent burning your deck. If the wind blows over your heater, it will turn off. Limiting burning of your deck.
Yes, the right composite decking will also limit flame spread but stopping the source of the fire is essential.
Safety Switch Shut-off
You should never leave a fire unattended. But we all get distracted especially late at night, as we scurry off the deck into the house after a fun evening. Auto shut off will turn off the heater preventing accidental fire and wasting your propane.
Stable base (especially for pole heaters)
There are 3 ways to prevent the heater from toppling over.
- Large base
The larger the base, the harder it is to fall over. Most pole heaters will have an 18″ (460mm) base or larger. Big enough to store a 20 lb propane tank on. But this also helps to keep the heater upright.
A base that can be filled with sand or water will also improve stability. It will make moving a little harder, making wheels more important. But the extra weight makes the base that much more effective.
Anchors make the entire deck the base. Ensuring nothing short of a hurricane will knock over the heater. Except you will need blocking under the decking to screw into. Decking itself, especially composite, is not strong enough to hold the heater in place in a windstorm.
Cost of Patio Heater
How much is extra heat on your patio worth?
Fortunately, patio heaters are not all priced the same.
With patio heater design and appearance are the most significant cost factors. The better looking, the higher the price.
Quality of build also comes into play. There has been an explosion of companies making heaters, especially mushroom or pole heaters. But unfortunately, many of these are simply built to be cheap. Trying to make the most sales by having the lowest price. Skimping on quality material results in a lower price and shorter life span. Rust and dents becoming way to common.
Portablefireplace.com gives an interesting tip for judging the quality of the heater material. The wieght of the heater. Lighter materials are often made from cheaper materials. Similar to how costs are reduced for composite decking by scalloping the underside of the decking.
Less material= Lower price
But with a heater, this may also mean an inferior material. Resulting in a lower quality heater.
Customer support can also be lacking on lower-priced patio heaters. Even with the most amazing built heater, problems will occur. Questions will need to be answered, replacement parts sent. Cheaper companies often can not afford the necessary support.
Warranty of Patio Heater
The longer the warranty, the better. Most patio heaters will include a 1 year warranty, but I have seen as long as 3 years. Again, a cheaper patio heater will have less support, warranty leaving some with as little as 90 days.
I never buy anything to use the warranty, but I do use it as a gauge of how much faith the manufacturer has in the product. If they don’t think it will last, why should I?
A common complaint on customer reviews is something didn’t work. Often to do with the regulator or ignitor. The required taking apart and shipping back to the manufacturer adds insult to injury.
Companies with readily available parts in stock minimize this problem. You still have to do all the hard work of ordering and replacing the part, but often this is easier and cheaper than throwing the whole heater out.
Patio Heater Assembly
The simpler, the better. You didn’t order a heater as a building project.
Most patio heaters will take about an hour to assemble. Often requiring 2 people to lift and hold parts in place. Be wary of reviews of long, frustrating assembly.
How clear are the instructions?
Often assembly frustration is a result of unclear instructions.
A clear step-by-step breakdown and the required parts are key.
Look at the instructions before ordering. If the seller doesn’t include an online version, I find manualshelf.com as an excellent source. A few minutes of looking over the instructions before ordering could save you hours of frustration if you order the wrong one.
Even better, find an assembly instruction. YouTube can be fantastic for this, or amazon may include some.