The whole point of having an outdoor space is to spend more time outdoors, right? Well, the idea of being in the elements after the sun goes down or the calendar turns to winter can be enough to send a chill down your spine. But not when you invest in an outdoor patio heater! Inexpensive and low maintenance, these appliances ensure there is no off-season for your outdoor space. To help you find the right patio heater, our experts have compiled the ultimate guide so you can buy confidently.

Patio Heaters Extend Your Outdoor Living Season

Keep the Party Going

Frigid night? Frosty winter? Patio heaters tackle such obstacles head-on. No matter the climate or season, heaters maintain comfortable temperatures and ensure happy party guests.

Extend Your Space

Don’t let your outdoor investment go to waste. Patio heaters promise that your backyard can continue to serve as an extension of your home during any season, no matter what.

Low Maintenance

Because patio heaters require very little upkeep, you can spend even more time hosting outdoor get-togethers without the worry of your unit requiring regular maintenance.

Instant Warmth

Infrared patio heaters create inviting warmth with no waiting around for elements to heat up or for heat to permeate a space—just instant toastiness!

Area Your Outdoor Heater(s) Need to Cover

You can’t very well purchase a patio heater (or heaters) without first knowing the average heating area of your space. We recommend you begin by measuring the length, width, and total square footage of space that you’d like to heat. Understanding that the average heating area for a patio heater is about 100 square feet, the size of your outdoor space will determine both the type and number of units required.

Also account for the type of patio heater and the heat that is emitted from those specific models. For instance, most freestanding heaters and post-mounted units produce heat in a circular radius, so they’ll need to be positioned centrally. Ceiling mounts or hanging heaters direct heat downward and can be situated where needed most without leaving a footprint on your patio.

The range of a patio heater refers to the total area it can effectively heat, while the radius specifies the maximum distance from the heater's center where warmth is felt. Range is an overall coverage measure, while radius focuses on the extent of heat from the center. By combining patio heaters, you can expand the overall range of warmth, increasing the collective radius of heat coverage for larger areas.

Lastly, you must consider BTUs. To gauge the necessary BTUs for your space, multiply the area’s square footage by 20. If your space is 500 square feet, then a patio heater with a 10,000 BTU output is needed.

Text Version for Radiant Heat Infographic

Text Version for Radiant Heat Infographic

Radiant Heating

  • Here’s the heating range, by square footage, of patio heaters based on their total wattage.
  • The infographic displays the heating range, by square footage, of four different patio heaters based on their total wattage: a two-thousand-watt model, a three-thousand-watt model, a four-thousand-watt model, and a six-thousand-watt model.
  • The two-thousand-watt patio heater covers an area of eight feet ten inches by six feet six inches, providing approximately sixty-five square feet with a total of two kilowatts of heating power.
  • The three-thousand-watt patio heater covers an area of nine feet ten inches by nine feet ten inches, providing approximately one hundred square feet with a total of three kilowatts of heating power.
  • The four-thousand-watt patio heater covers an area of eleven feet five inches by eleven feet five inches, providing approximately one hundred and thirty square feet with a total of four kilowatts of heating power.
  • The six-thousand-watt patio heater covers an area of thirteen feet by thirteen feet, providing approximately one hundred and sixty square feet with a total of six kilowatts of heating power.

What Does BTU Mean?

British Thermal Unit or BTU measures the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of a single pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. BTU doesn’t measure how hot a patio heater can get, but it is one of the factors. Instead, think of BTUs as a measurement of fuel efficiency.

Patio Heater Types & Mounting Options

So, patio heaters can extend your outdoor living season, but what type of heater is right for your backyard? There’s no shortage of heater types and corresponding mounting styles, it’s just a matter of accommodating your current (or planned) outdoor space. Let’s explore the options available to you.

Freestanding/Movable Patio Heaters

These standalone heaters are easily moved to suit your warming needs. They are often tall units that are equipped with wheels or handles for mobility purposes. They almost always have a propane-tank enclosure to hide fuel cylinders, but we do offer freestanding natural gas heaters that attach to fuel lines via a quick-disconnect gas hose as well as freestanding pellet heaters and electric units.

Post-Mount Patio Heaters

Post-mounted heaters are installed into the ground or concrete of your outdoor space, usually around the perimeter of your patio for a more stable, permanent heating solution. Their heating element is positioned at the optimal height to distribute heat effectively and can often emit heat in a 360-degree radius.

Tabletop Patio Heaters

Often paired with rear infrared burners, rotisseries create mouthwatering dishes and add a wow factor for outdoor entertainers. Food is placed on a spit rod and slowly rotated over the burners, allowing meat to baste in its own juices that continually roll across its surface. The results are tender and flavorful, and a slowly rotating, glistening cut of meat makes for quite the sight. Some Luxury grill brands, like Hestan and Fire Magic, have chain-driven rotisserie motors hidden within the grill body that steadily spin and can support up to 60 pounds of food. Other models are compatible with rotisserie kit accessories.

Wall/Ceiling Mount Patio Heaters

A wall or ceiling-mounted patio heater saves valuable floor space, but in this case, they have a lower profile as they are installed closer to the ceiling surface. They’re perfect for areas that you know will need consistent heat such as seating or dining areas. These often can be controlled via a switch, dimmer, or remote control.

Hanging Patio Heaters

Suspending from the ceiling or an overhead structure such as a pergola, these types of heaters provide heat from above and are perfect for preserving floor space on your patio. They can create a warm, comfortable area but do require professional installation.

Patio Heater Fuel Options

Now that we’ve covered the style of patio heaters that we offer, let’s talk fuel types and, equally as important, the potential installation required for those specific styles. Because there are different considerations to keep in mind when purchasing a gas heater versus an electric one, which may impact your decision.

Electric Patio Heaters

Electric patio heaters are energy efficient and eco-friendly, thanks to a lack of harmful emissions or byproducts produced when the fuel is combusted. Because they don’t require any gas, they are relatively easy to install and often just require access to a standard electrical outlet. This also means that they are low-maintenance units and a convenient heating option for any outdoor space.

Propane Patio Heaters

Propane patio heaters are a popular choice as they rely on a standard, 20-pound propane tank or a property’s bulk tank. These heaters are most often the more mobile freestanding or tabletop models, which usually have a tank storage area hidden from sight at the base of the unit. In the case of homes that have a bulk tank, a licensed professional will be required to connect the gas directly.

Natural Gas Patio Heaters

If you already have natural gas piped into your home, or business for that matter, then this is likely the best fuel option for your outdoor heater. No need to concern yourself with refilling propane tanks, instead contact a licensed plumber and make the connection and be sure to consider the placement of your patio heater in relation to your gas main.

Outdoor Heater Installation

It is always important to consider what is required to properly install your patio heater style of choice for your outdoor space (as well as the fuel that unit uses, which we’ll address below). For instance, those buying freestanding models or tabletops will have a relatively easy installation that calls for simply assembling and situating a unit in your desired location. Wall or ceiling-mounted heaters and some hanging models may require a licensed professional to ensure a safe and proper installation. Be sure to reference all manufacturer instructions before undertaking any such installation.

Patio Heater Innovations

Today’s modern patio heaters have come a long way, and, thanks to technological advancements, there doesn’t seem to be any signs of slowing as far as innovations go. While we stand by the more conventional outdoor heating models discussed here in this buying guide, it is worth noting the advancements made in heating units.

Quartz Infrared Heating

More of the luxury variety, quartz infrared heaters rely on a tungsten heating element that is bottled in a quartz tube. Heat is generated at appropriate wavelengths and then directed forwards by reflective mirrors, allowing for a far faster heat response. That heat is also wind-resistant.

Low Visibility Patio Heaters

Early instances of infrared heating relied upon short-wave lighting, which produced bright light and an intrusive glare. More modern brands have learned from those mistakes and instead created patio heaters that produce medium-wave infrared heat with glare reduction technology for heat that is felt but not seen.

Multi-Heater Zone Control

For those operating a business or with an especially large personal outdoor area, multi-heater zone control can be a serious game-changer. Rather than purchasing many freestanding heaters and strategically placing them in your space, have a professional hardwire several wall or ceiling-mounted heaters into enclosed circuits that can then be controlled by a single channel.

How Do Infrared Radiant Heaters Work?

Speaking of infrared heat, let’s discuss just how infrared radiant heaters work and why they might be perfect for your outdoor space. Infrared radiant patio heaters operate using a heat source, which is often a high-intensity infrared emitter like a quartz tube, ceramic heating element, or metal that emits radiant energy. This radiant energy directly heats objects and individuals, unlike traditional heaters that heat the surrounding air. Infrared heat is, therefore, incredibly efficient and offers immediate comfort without considerable heat loss, making them an excellent choice for your outdoor space.

Patio Heater Accessories

In addition to patio heaters themselves, we offer several accessories that can enhance the operation of these units while in your outdoor space. Below is a brief list of such accessories but, if you’re interested, there are plenty more to explore.

  • Control Devices - Permanently mounted heaters often require hardwiring and if installing just one, you usually have either an on/off switch, a dimmer switch, or remote control. That said, if you’re relying on multiple units, some brands provide various control systems based on the complexity of your arrangement.
  • Covers and Mats - As we recommend with all outdoor appliances and furniture, covers can help to extend a patio heater's lifespan by protecting it from elements such as moisture and dust. Meanwhile, a mat made from heat-resistant silicone can protect the surface of your patio from any damage inflicted by the unit itself.
  • Mounting Brackets - For those using wall-mounted heaters, mounting brackets allow you to tilt or turn your unit right where you need warmth most. Similarly, drop brackets do the same for ceiling-mounted patio heaters. As always, check your owner’s manual for proper clearance from combustibles and mounting options before installation.

Patio Heater Warranties

We’re proud to feature outdoor heating brands that offer a wide range of product warranties. To find out the length of warranty per brand—and the specifics of those warranties—check out our Patio Heater Warranty Comparison Chart.

BBQGuys Team Can Help!

We’re dedicated to helping you find the right heater for your outdoor space and eager to prove it. Don’t hesitate to call our experts at 1-877-616-0499 if you have additional questions. We also invite you to visit our Free Outdoor Living Design Service, especially if you’re having trouble figuring out how many units you need to properly heat your space. With their help and the information from this article, you’ll have a warmer backyard in no time!