Patio Heaters: Which One Is Right For You?

Patio heaters can help create a comfortable environment for late-summer fun, enabling homeowners to make extended use of their revamped backyard patios, decks, porches and outdoor living spaces. 

Patio heater sitting outside.

As summer turns to fall, cooler evenings become the norm. Of course, it seems that no one is ever ready for long, lazy summer nights to end, and people still want to stay outside as long as possible. Patio heaters can help create a comfortable environment for late-summer fun, enabling homeowners to make extended use of their revamped backyard patios, decks, porches and outdoor living spaces.  Here are some different patio heater options and some considerations for how to choose the right one for your home and family.

Consideration #1: Where will you put your patio heater?

First, consider the outdoor space or the backyard patio design that you need to heat.  How big is it?  What is the space configuration – is it round, rectangular or square?  Is it an open area, or is all or part of it under a roof or overhang?  Are there trees and nearby landscaping to consider?  Do you have an outdoor electrical outlet nearby? Do you need to protect small children and pets from a heater or open flame?  Does your home or outdoor furnishings have a particular style that you wish to complement?

Consideration #2: How will you fuel your outdoor patio heater?

There are three basic fuel/energy types for home outdoor heaters, with propane and electric being the most popular.  

  • Natural gas is sometimes used to power patio heaters, but not many homes have a readily available natural gas outlets outdoors. If you are building or remodeling a home, you might want to consider adding a convenient natural gas outlet if you want to power your patio heater this way. 
  • Propane heaters have the advantage of warming up spaces quickly but should not be used in an enclosed area because of the risk of carbon monoxide buildup.  Breezes and strong winds can also interfere with the operation of propane powered units. If you choose propane, of course, you also have to plan ahead in order to be able to refuel the heater.
  • Electric heaters may not be as powerful as most propane heaters, but because many homes have outdoor electrical outlets readily available, it’s a convenient way to power a patio heater. Make sure that outdoor electrical outlets are adequately protected from water and moisture to eliminate electric shock dangers.  While you don’t have to worry about replenishing fuel with electrical power, some heater models may have bulbs that will require replacement.  In addition, electric heaters may be a safer option for families with small children or pets because they don’t have an open flame.
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Consideration #3: Basic Patio Heater Styles

There are three basic patio heater styles. Stand-alone or free-standing heaters are usually tall units and can heat about

Stand-alone or free-standing heaters are usually tall units and can heat about a five- to 10-foot radius.  You may have seen stand-alone heaters used in the outdoor areas of restaurants, bars and public spaces.  This style of heater can be found in electric, propane and natural gas versions.  Because of the height of stand-alone heaters, you’ll need to make sure that your outside space has the clearance to safely accommodate this type.  Free-standing heaters are typically made up of

Free-standing heaters are typically made up of four parts --  the base, pole, heat source and reflector. 

Tabletop heaters are a great choice if your space is limited because they are usually smaller than stand-alone heaters.  Many are designed to look like table lamps, and they can come in propane and electric versions. Of course, since they are smaller they often emit less heat than their free-standing counterparts.  As their name implies, tabletop heaters are usually secured to patio tables, so you’ll need to have a sturdy table or countertop outside for the installation of this type of heat source.  Choosing a tabletop heater that looks like a lamp has the added advantage of bringing a warm, living-room touch to your outdoor area instead of a utilitarian heating unit. 

Wall-mounted, [remove comma] or ceiling-mounted heaters are efficient ways to heat outdoor spaces while keeping equipment out of the way.  This type of heater is a good option for smaller spaces, especially when there isn’t much floor space or if you don’t have a table or countertop available.  Most mounted outdoor heaters are powered by electricity using infrared heat. Mounted heaters can usually be adjusted in different directions, and most require brackets for installation.  Carefully consider where to place a mounted heater for the best temperature control. 

When choosing an outdoor heater, always put safety first.  In addition to choosing a style and model that will keep any small children and pets out of danger, look for units with an automatic shut-off feature which activates in case the heater gets knocked over. Make sure to read and understand the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use.  Remember too that since you’ll be able to stay comfortably outdoors longer, you may need to add lighting outside to keep everyone safe.  

Remember, a patio heater may not only help you enjoy summer longer – it may also help you enjoy summer sooner.  When the days start to warm up next spring, just turn on the patio heater and get a jump start on your summer fun.  With the right patio heating option, you can add days, weeks and maybe even months to your outdoor living enjoyment. 

AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

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