If you’re here, you’re firmly sure of 2 things: you have an outdoor space, and you need to keep it warm. The best way to do that, though? It’s understandable if you’re not so certain about that. In fact, that’s the whole reason we put together this list of the most commonly asked questions about patio heaters. They’re not exactly household items, but they could be the secret to unlocking the year-round potential of your outdoor space.
Have a burning question that isn’t included here? Give our home heating experts a call at 1-877-743-2269, and they’ll resolve the issue faster than you can say “patio heater!”
Common Patio Heater Questions
The size of patio heater you should select depends on the size of your space and how much warmth you want to provide to that space.
A good way to determine how many BTUs (a fancy acronym that measures energy) you need from your outdoor heater is to multiply the total cubic feet of your space by the desired rise in temperature — the resulting number is the total BTU count you should aim for. You should generally cap the rise in temperature at around 7 degrees Fahrenheit because any more than that would make the space uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time.
The number of patio heaters you need to warm your outdoor space depends on the size of the area you want to warm.
On average, outdoor heaters can warm an area of approximately 100 square feet. So, if your outdoor space is larger than 10 feet by 10 feet, then odds are you’ll need multiple outdoor heaters to properly warm it. When in doubt, consult the experts at our Free Outdoor Living Design Service. Just be sure to measure your space before you call so they can help you figure out exactly how many heaters you need.
The “better” fuel type is whichever one you have easier access to. Homes that already have existing gas lines or a bulk propane tank, for instance, pair quite well with gas patio heaters. But if you don’t already have gas on your property, then you’ll probably find electric patio heaters much more convenient.
Keep in mind that gas patio heaters usually have only 2 modes of operation: on and off. Electric units, meanwhile, can be set to a dimmer switch for more customized heating. Price is another factor to consider — gas models tend to be more expensive upfront and are generally less efficient over time. That being said, the cost of operation largely depends on the price of electricity and gas in your area.
Operation expenses vary based on the prices utility companies charge for electricity and gas in your area.
We can tell you that electric infrared patio heaters are extremely fuel efficient, converting up to 98% of their energy input into meaningful heat. And because they use infrared wavelength to warm spaces, they’re less prone to heat loss from environmental factors like wind. Propane, on the other hand, is usually the most expensive fuel type for outdoor heaters, regardless of location.
Heat output for patio heaters is determined by the unit’s wattage and BTU, the amount of power it draws, and its ability to change the temperature of the area around it. But it’s worth noting that the average outdoor heater can warm an area of about 100 square feet while causing a temperature rise of 3–7 degrees above the ambient temperature. Anything more, and the space would quickly become uncomfortable to sit in.
The simple calculation for BTUs is as follows: the cubic feet of an area multiplied by the desired rise in temperature equals the total BTUs needed to heat the entire space.
The type of patio heater that’s best for you depends on your outdoor space and what you plan to use it for. Freestanding and wall/ceiling mount outdoor heaters bring different benefits to the backyard that must be taken into consideration.
With a freestanding patio heater, you can enjoy the freedom of nearly unlimited mobility around your outdoor space, as well as the luxury of storing it during warmer months. These models are typically fueled by propane or natural gas. Wall/ceiling mount units, on the other hand, run on either propane, natural gas, or electricity. As permanent installations, mounted patio heaters can’t be moved around but are especially handy when placed near regular sitting and dining areas. Their biggest benefit, though, is convenience of fuel — electric models are hardwired into your electric grid, while gas units are supplied fuel via utility lines. You’ll never need to worry about refueling them, unless you’re using a bulk propane tank that needs to be occasionally refilled.
No. In fact, most patio heaters can’t operate below 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wind affects conventional outdoor heaters far more than their infrared counterparts. This is because the warmth from conventional heaters is absorbed by air molecules and can be easily swept away by a gust of wind. Infrared patio heaters, however, warm only objects directly in their path instead of surrounding air molecules. Therefore, wind doesn’t disrupt the projection of infrared heat, resulting in much more efficient heating.
Operation cost depends heavily on your area, fuel type, and rates from local utility companies. Natural gas is normally the least expensive fuel and propane the most expensive, with electricity often falling somewhere in the middle.
To estimate operating costs for electirc heaters you can multiply the total kilowatts by your local power rate for a "kilowatt hour" (kwh). Standard power rates vary from market to market. Your rate should appear on any monthly utility statement. For example, a typical 3,000 watt (3 KW) heater, at full power, would cost 39¢ per hour based on a utility rate of 13¢ per kwh. Also keep in mind that your electric heater has a lower acquisition cost.
Freestanding propane heaters usually don’t come with a tank, though empty tanks can be purchased for less than $40 in most places.
It depends on the fuel type. Gas patio heaters, for example, burn gas to achieve heat (too obvious?), which is why they have larger clearances to combustibles and can’t be recessed or flush-mounted into a ceiling or wall. Electric models can be recessed or mounted, but their clearances vary depending on manufacturer. Always consult your owner’s manual for proper clearance to combustibles before attempting to mount a patio heater.
Clearances differ from one manufacturer to another, but fuel type also plays a large role. Gas-fueled outdoor heaters generally have larger clearance-to-combustible requirements than electric units do. Be sure to carefully read your owner’s manual for directions regarding clearances to combustibles.
First, it’s important to know that a standard, 20-pound propane tank contains about 433,000 BTUs when completely full. Just divide that number by the BTU rate of your patio heater, and you’ll have the total number of hours the unit will last on a full tank. Also worth noting: exchanged tanks are usually refilled to only 15 pounds. Oh no, more math!
Electric patio heaters are especially at risk in the rain, which can wreak havoc on their wiring, ceramic infrared emitters, and internal components. Rain will also discolor stainless steel. For these reasons, we highly recommend you purchase a cover for your patio heater when not in use, regardless of placement. Even if your heater is safely kept out of the rain beneath an awning, overhang, or deck ceiling, a cover will protect internal mechanisms from dust and stray moisture.
This is a highly variable problem that can’t be answered without an expert assessing your heater and outdoor space in person. That being said, it’s often caused by one of two issues: the gas pilot getting blown out in a particularly windy area, or problems with the unit’s thermocouple.
Absolutely, every time. You should always contact a licensed professional before starting any project that requires you to alter your home’s plumbing lines or electric grid.
Possibly, as long as the heater is rated below 1500 watts. Certain patio heaters below this wattage can be plugged into a standard, 120-volt outlet, while those above this wattage often require 240 volts and must be hardwired.
Many new homes and businesses are supplied with 208-volt power, as opposed to the more familiar 240-volt option. It is very important to determine your power voltage before ordering and installing a heater. A 240-volt heater on 208 volts of power will only produce about 60% of the desired infrared energy. Contact the marketing department of your local utility or consult a licensed electrician to determine the proper power for your property.
Only electric patio heaters can be used indoors or in an enclosed area, and even then, that applies to just certain models. As always, check your owner’s manual to make sure that installation indoors or within an enclosure won’t void your warranty. Gas patio heaters, on the other hand, should never be installed in an enclosure or an area with poor ventilation. This is because they produce harmful byproducts of gas combustion that require airflow to be properly ventilated.
Infrared heat comes from the projection of a certain wavelength of light, which behaves in the same manner as sunlight. Infrared radiation, also known as “radiant heat,” can pass through the vacuum of space and our atmosphere without being disturbed. Short- and medium-wave infrared outdoor heaters provide warmth the exact same way — by emitting warmth that affects only physical objects in its path and not nearby air. This has 2 major benefits: infrared heaters are highly resistant to wind and the movement of air, and they allow you to directly warm specific areas.
A few models are plug-and-play, but most require professional installation and hardwiring into their own dedicated circuits. Remember to consult a licensed electrician before making any alterations to your home’s electric grid.
Lifespan depends heavily on the following factors: the type of patio heater, how much you plan to use it, its installation environment, the fuel type you select, and the quality of materials used in construction.
Electric outdoor patio heaters must be UL-listed. For gas patio heaters, this depends on the manufacturer, though the vast majority of our selection is indeed UL-listed.