Outdoor Heater Buyer's Guide
- Infratech Slimline single element heater on a covered patio
Outdoor heaters were invented because we can't all live in San Diego. Cold evenings? We have a solution. These heaters extend the comfort of your outdoor space well into the colder months. It means more dinners on the patio or more time lingering on the back deck.
And with so many options, easy assembly, and cost-effective heat, what are you waiting for? If you're looking to add some heat outside, you're in the right place. We'll take a look at what's available and how to choose the best model for your space.
What Are Outdoor Heaters?
Outdoor heaters, sometimes called patio heaters, are gas or electric outside heaters built to function in a space like a deck or a patio. Some of the models are portable, while others are designed to mount to something like an overarching rafter. You can find options for both residential and commercial use.
- Bromic outdoor wall-mounted heater
Not only do outdoor heaters work well to heat zoned areas outside, but they also work well in situations like a covered deck where a fire feature would be a major hazard.
However, there are some drawbacks to trying to heat the outdoors. Unlike indoor heaters that are aided with good insulation and circulation, outdoor heaters may struggle to heat larger areas. You may need to use more than one heater to keep larger spaces warm.
Before You Buy
Start by measuring (or at least estimating) the square footage of the space you want to heat. Next, decide whether you want a free-standing heater, or whether you prefer to mount it. Heaters come with clearance requirements of how far they need to be from combustible material, so allow for enough clearance when choosing the location of the heater.
You can also decide what type of fuel you want and which method of heating works best for your space. The fuel options are electric, liquid propane, and natural gas. Propane is the most versatile since most of the propane units are designed with a built-in compartment for a propane tank.
- Portable outdoor propane heater with tank enclosure
Natural gas requires a natural gas hookup, and electric options require a suitable electric source. The nice thing about both of these options is that you never have to worry about refilling your propane tank - the fuel source is always hooked up and ready to go.
There are two methods of heating (also called heat transference): radiant infrared and blue flame. We'll compare these two and their pros and cons in the next section.
Radiant Infrared vs. Blue Flame Heating
The main difference between radiant infrared heating and blue flame heating is that radiant infrared heats the surrounding objects, while blue flame heats the air. There's also a difference in what fuel they use because blue flame heat is only for gas models, while radiant infrared can be either electric or gas-powered.
Radiant infrared uses gentle, low-frequency rays to transfer heat to nearby objects. This is similar to how the sun heats objects, except that infrared heating only uses a section of low energy rays instead of the whole spectrum that comes from the sun. (Red is the lowest frequency light that the human eye can see, so these are called "infrared" because they are even lower.)
Because infrared heaters focus on heating objects instead of heating the air, they're perfect for areas with low insulation (like outside!). Even if the air blows around a little, the patio furniture or other objects continue to stay warm and radiate their warmth to the surroundings. Of course, this is only really effective if you have objects, to begin with. If you're trying to heat an empty outdoor space, you might be better off with a blue flame heater.
Blue flame is a gas-powered heat created by a small flame that burns very hot behind a shield. The flame heats the air which is then distributed to the room. Blue flame heaters are quicker to heat up than infrared models. However, since they rely on heating the air, they are not always ideal in outdoor spaces where the air is constantly leaking away into the open. They can also create uneven heat, with "hot spots" right next to the heater, and cold pockets in other parts of the space.
As mentioned above, outdoor heaters come in freestanding or mounted models. The larger freestanding units sometimes even have wheels to make moving them around that much easier. Mountable units (either ceiling mount or wall mount) give you the option of securing the heater up out of the way.
- Infratech single element 3000W flush-mounted heater
Most of the freestanding models have an enclosure that houses a 20-pound propane tank. Depending on the model, a 20-pound tank will give you approximately 10 hours of burn time. Smaller freestanding units like this tabletop heater run off of smaller propane tanks.
To prevent tipping, the freestanding heaters have weighted bases and many of them also have automatic shut-offs in case the unit ever did tip.
- Infratech heater for outdoor living room
Mountable models are easy to install and are great for covered patios and decks. You can find mountable units in all three fuel options, although the majority of the ones we carry are electric.
Ignition Systems and Controls
Patio heaters use electronic ignition. Even the gas models use electronic ignition, although this does not mean that they need a power outlet. Instead, many gas models use a battery to create the electrical circuit to power the ignition. The nice thing about electronic ignition is that it often comes with more control like remote switches or thermostat settings.
- Infratech heater controls
Some units even come with variable heat settings so you can fine-tune the heat output depending on the weather.
If you're going to invest in an outdoor heater, you want something that will last. Here is a list of our top recommended manufacturers to get you started on your search. You'll find a wide range of outdoor heating options including the different fuel types and mounting options.
- Infratech Comfort - As the name implies, Infratech specializes in infrared heaters. Their slim, electric infrared heaters are perfect for mounting on a covered deck or patio.
- Fire Sense - Fire Sense was established as a brand in 1998 and has a wide variety of quality outdoor heaters. You'll find electric, propane, and natural gas options, as well as different styles like mountable heaters or freestanding heaters.
- Dimplex - Dimplex has focused on providing electric heating appliances since 1991. They carry a quality selection of mounted electric infrared heaters.
- Bromic - Bromic specializes exclusively in outdoor heating products. They make a wide selection of heaters including electric, propane, and natural gas models.
When you purchase an outdoor heater, don't forget to check out these accessories to help protect the unit or enhance its performance! Accessories include things like protective covers to keep out the rain, heat deflectors, and recess kits for ceiling-mounted heaters.
- Portable outdoor heater with a cover
One of the downsides to outdoor heaters is that they are often exposed to wind and rain. Protect your outdoor heater with a vinyl cover to shield it from the elements and extend its lifespan.
Heat deflectors protect the surrounding walls or ceiling from radiant heat. The shield allows you to install the heater closer to combustible materials so you can save space.
- Recessed ceiling-mount heater
Recess kits also allow you to save space and create a sleek design. The kits allow you to mount the corresponding heater so that the face of the heater is flush with the ceiling of your patio.
Care and Maintenance
Care and maintenance for outdoor heaters may be simple, but that doesn't make it any less important. Following proper maintenance make a big difference in the safety and longevity of your appliance. As always, the first step is to read and follow the manual and any other instructions from the manufacturer.
Most outdoor heaters have electronic ignition systems. At the beginning of the heating season, check the ignition to make sure everything fires up properly. If the unit has blowers or a thermostat, you can also cycle these and make sure they are working.
If the unit has a lot of dust built up, take the time to gently clean it off. A can of compressed air is often helpful in getting into tight spots. Don't ignore any odd noises or odors. This is especially true if you have a gas unit and smell gas. Call the fire department immediately if you smell gas or detect a gas leak.
- Cleaning an outdoor heater
After the heating season is over, turn off the gas to the appliance (if applicable). This is also a good time to do a final dusting and put on the cover if you have one.
Again, these are just basic tips. You should follow any specific guidelines from the manufacturer of your heater to make sure you take care of it.
Smaller units like the tabletop portable heaters and some of the mounted electric or gas heaters will ship via small parcel post. The larger, heavier heaters like the freestanding propane heaters will ship via LTL freight. The shipping company will contact you to schedule a delivery.
As with any delivery, inspect your outdoor heater before signing off on the shipment. Once you sign, the delivery company is no longer liable for any damages that could have occurred during shipment. If you do notice anything wrong or missing, contact the manufacturer and they can help make things right.
- Infratech mounted heater on an outdoor enclosed patio
Outdoor heaters bring the comfort of climate control to the beauty and freshness of your outdoor space. What's not to love? If you live in a climate that has colder seasons or evenings, it's a great opportunity to extend the usability of your deck or patio.
You have so many options when it comes to choosing an outdoor heater. They come in gas, electric, freestanding, mounted... the list goes on! The variety makes it even easier to choose a unit that fits perfectly with your outdoor living area.
If you have any questions about outdoor heaters, please let us know! Our NFI Certified technicians are happy to help!
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