The leaves are falling, pumpkins are starting to show up on doorsteps and porches, and the previously-warm wind of summer is turning to a chilly fall breeze. And we all know what comes next: cold temperatures and snow for much of the country.
But being cooped up inside isn’t everyone’s idea of fun (especially since Coronavirus struck). If you want to spend some more time outside this fall and winter, you may be looking at patio heaters as a possible solution. But there’s always one question that needs answering first: Do patio heaters really work?
Patio heaters do work. Some work incredibly well. However, like anything else, there are good and bad patio heaters. There are also determining factors you should consider, like how cold it gets where you live, how many cubic feet you need to heat, and the kind of fuel you want to use.
Read on to discover which heaters are best for various temperatures, how well they work, how much they cost, their safety features, and more as we dive into everything you need to know about patio heaters.
Note: This article focuses on patio heaters and not fire pits of fire features. For info on fire pits, check out our article here.
A Note About Heat
When shopping for patio heaters, you’ll see that the common unit of heat measurement they use is BTUs or British Thermal Units. One BTU is the amount of heat energy it takes to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit at sea level. Most patio heaters range from 40,000 to 50,000 BTUs, but there are exceptions on both the high and low ends.
How To Determine The BTUs You Need
There’s no getting around a little bit of math if you want to determine how many BTUs you need to heat a certain space. For example, let’s say you want to heat a patio 10-feet by 15-feet, or 150 square feet. You’ll also need to determine the cubic feet by figuring out how much space above the patio you want to heat. We’ll say 6-feet for this example. That’s 900 cubic feet total.
Next, we need to figure out how much heat we want to generate in degrees Fahrenheit. So we’ll say that it’s 45-degrees outside and we want to get the patio up to 65-degrees, a 20-degree difference. So, 900 square feet times 20-degrees would require 18,000 BTUs to heat.
This is just an estimate, and it’s on the high side, at that. Many patio heater manufacturers calculate BTUs by square footage to simplify the matter. Still, it’s better to get a patio heater that you can turn down than a heater that doesn’t have enough power to heat your area.
Do Patio Heaters Work in the Winter?
As you can see from the example above, patio heaters can definitely work in the winter. They’ll simply need to have sufficient BTUs to reach your preferred temperature. So, when deciding on a heater for your patio, it’s best to think about the lowest temperature at which you’re likely to use it.
If you want to have your morning coffee on the patio in the middle of winter when the temperature is below freezing, you’ll need to get a heater with a high BTU rating. If it doesn’t get that cold where you live, you can get a heater with a lower BTU output.
How Well Do Patio Heaters Work?
How well any given patio heater works will depend mostly on the size, space, and temperature of the area you’re trying to heat, as well as the BTUs of the heater. It also depends on the placement, size, and quality of the heater itself.
The fact is that if you’re trying to raise the temperature from 0-degrees to 90 with a single space heater, you’re out of luck. Even with multiple space heaters, it may not be possible, unless the space is incredibly small and the heaters powerful.
However, for most people’s needs, one or two patio heaters does the trick just fine. But there are many different types to choose from, with many different styles and sizes to consider.
Different Types of Patio Heaters
There are so many different types of patio heaters that it can be overwhelming looking for one that fits your needs. Some are portable where others are not. Some stand on tables while others are meant to be mounted on a wall or ceiling. Before we get into all that, let’s talk about fuel.
Propane vs Natural Gas vs Electric
Propane is probably the most popular type of patio heater out here. Chances are you’ve seen these heaters on the patio of a bar or restaurant, producing an orange and blue glow from the top. Many people like them because they don’t have any cords to trip over and they’re portable. However, you do have to replace the propane tank when it runs out.
Natural gas is ideal for those homes with an existing natural gas line on their patio. These models are usually permanent, but they are convenient because there’s no need to replace a fuel tank, since they run off of the home’s natural gas. If you don’t have an existing natural gas line, a professional will need to install one for you, which can drive up the cost of the heater.
Electric patio heaters have always been on the lower side as far as BTUs. They just can’t generate as much heat as their gas counterparts. However, they are getting close thanks to advances in technology. As you can probably guess, most electric patio heaters need to be plugged into an outlet to work. Electric heaters come in many styles, and they can be mounted to a wall or ceiling to keep them out of the way.
You can also get infrared heaters for your patio. These are powered by electricity and typically wall-mounted. They tend to heat up faster and work better than traditional electric heaters due to their infrared technology which heats objects through radiant heat instead of simply heating the air like other similar heaters.
Size and Placement
The size of your heater and where it’s placed can also determine how well it works. Most people will benefit from the typical free-standing patio heaters because they’re well designed and generate heat in a circle around the heater. However, if you have limited space you may consider a wall-mounted heater or a miniature stand-up version that you can safely place on a table or a stand.
Are Patio Heaters Safe?
Any type of patio heater comes with the risk of injury or fire due to improper use. Like a hot stovetop burner, patio heaters can burn you if you touch them in the wrong place. However, they are generally considered very safe. Most of the gas versions have a safety switch inside that shuts the system down if the unit is tipped over.
If you use common sense and follow the instructions that come with the heater, safety shouldn’t be an issue. However, it’s good to know what you’re getting into before you buy. Some heaters shouldn’t be placed underneath a roof while others need a minimum amount of space around them to prevent accidents. It’s never a good idea to use a gas heater in a closed area, even if it’s a porch with temporary walls or curtains to help keep out the cold.
You’ll also want to consider buying a cover for your heater or moving it indoors if it shouldn’t be out in the elements. It’s also a good idea to clean your patio heater once a year, following the manufacturer’s instructions to do so.
Take a look at the place(s) where you are planning to use the heater, and make sure that the manufacturer says it’s okay for use there.
How Much Do Patio Heaters Cost?
Patio heaters range from surprisingly cheap to incredibly expensive. It all depends on what you need it for. The average cost of a mid-range outdoor heater is around $300, but you can find ones for as low as $100 and as high as $1,000. For most, a $300 heater is just about right for their needs. We’ve gathered one top-notch heater in each fuel category for your consideration.
- FDW Portable Propane Patio Heater – This highly-rated outdoor heater is capable of 48,000 BTUs, features a steel base, and runs off of 20-pound propane tanks. It has wheels for easy transport, a safety switch, and comes with screws and brackets in case you want to secure it to the ground.
- Heatstar Radiant Natural Gas Heater – This small natural gas heater doesn’t look like much, but it’s capable of generating some serious heat. So much so that one customer reported some of the paint coming off the structure. Still, for the price range, you won’t find a natural gas heater that generates this much heat. Rated for 125K BTUs.
- EPROSMIN Electric Infrared Heater – This 1500W infrared heater uses electricity to generate radiant heat. It has a tip-over safety function and a large circular base to keep it from falling over. But, it’s also fairly lightweight and easy to move. It features three heat settings for use in any temperature.