Patio Heaters Buyer's Guide
When the cold months roll in, it can be tough to find the same enjoyment from the outdoors you had in the summer. The right patio heater can change that feeling. A patio heater can warm up your outdoor area through the holidays and into the breezy spring nights.
The market for patio heaters is big. There are a lot of options to pick from, and within those options, there are even more options! What kind of patio heater do you want: freestanding or wall-mounted? What fuel will it use? How many BTUs should it put out? The choices, while great, can be overwhelming. This guide will answer all the questions you have. When you're done, you will know which patio heater best suits your home or business.
Types of Patio Heaters
To start, you must know about the main types of patio heaters: tabletop, wall-mounted, and freestanding. There are also pole-mounted patio heaters, but many can be wall-mounted so we will consider those as such. The primary differences in these patio heater types are size and appearance.
Tabletop - These are great for warming up everyone sitting at the patio. Tabletop heaters stand on the table, providing heat for everyone around it. Because they are only designed to heat the seating area around a single table, output is lower than a freestanding heater. They are great for home use, and many use electric power. With easy installation, plug your tabletop heater in and enjoy.
Wall-mounted - These are perfect in restaurant settings and great at home. Freestanding and tabletop heaters are sturdy enough to stay put but light enough to move. Wall-mounted heaters stay where you install them. There's no accidental tipping over or need for lugging it into a safe space during a storm. Installing wall-mounted heaters can be difficult, though. You have to wire it into the electrical system or install a gas line. The complexity of installation varies from home to home.
Freestanding - These models are a popular choice at bars and restaurants. They can be set up anywhere if you're using propane. These do not use electricity. If you decide to use natural gas as a fuel source, you must hook the freestanding unit to a gas line. This limits mobility. In most cases, a freestanding heater is taller than the average person, with the fuel in the base of the unit. If you're looking for max heat output, a freestanding unit is the one for you.
What fuels your patio heater determines a lot about how you'll use the appliance. There are two different fuel types to choose from - gas or electric. Electric heaters use an electrical connection, and gas heaters use propane or natural gas. The fuel you pick affects not only the mobility of your patio heater but how much you spend each year to keep warm.
Electric - You'll find electric patio heaters in all styles mentioned above. They can be hard wired to your electrical system or plug in to an outlet. Plug-in tabletop units offer the most straightforward installation of any patio heaters. On the other side of the coin, some models must be wired directly to the circuit when being mounted or built in. Electric models are available in both residential 120/240 volt applications and commercial 208/277/480 volt applications. This means that there is truly an electric heater for all applications, but be certain you are selecting the correct voltage before you buy. Electric heaters do not need ventilation, so you can use them both indoors and out. Also, electric heaters create no carbon emissions known as greenhouse gases.
Propane - While not as easy as plugging it in, propane-fueled patio heaters offer a simple setup. Attach a propane tank to the heater and turn it on; that's it. Most propane-fueled heaters store the tank in the base of the heater. They are also mobile. You can bring the heater inside during nasty weather or move it to fit the layout of your party. There are also wall-mounted propane heaters. These heaters need a permanent gas line installed by a professional. Be sure to keep your propane patio heater away from combustible material, and don't use it indoors.
Natural Gas - Unlike propane patio heaters, natural gas heaters never run out of fuel. A natural gas patio heater connects to a permanent gas line. Because of this connection, they are static. There's no moving your natural gas patio heater. You will have to hire a professional to install a natural gas line if you do not already have one at your home or business. While natural gas patio heaters can be expensive to install, they do cost less over time compared to propane and electric heaters.
Cost of Operation?
Let's put aside the cost of purchase and installation, as that can vary from home to home. Instead, let's look at the expense of your patio heater's energy consumption. Natural gas, propane, and electric heaters all cost money to run, but how much?
Natural gas and propane heaters use BTUs to measure power output. Electric heaters use watts.
To determine the cost of your use with an electric patio heater, use this equation:
- (Watts/1,000) x kw/hr = total cost per hour
Take the maximum amount of watts your electric heater uses and divide that by 1,000. Now, multiply that number by the kw/hr rate from your utility statement. This will help calculate your total cost per hour.
If you're allergic to math, there are some general numbers you can go with as well.
- At 4,000 watts, an electric patio heater will cost anywhere between $0.60 and $1.50 to run per hour.
- At 40,000 BTUs, a propane-fueled patio heater will cost around $1.50 to $2 per hour.
- At 40,000 BTUs, a natural gas patio heater will cost between $0.40 and $0.50 per hour.
As you can see, natural gas is the least expensive choice. Depending on your utility company's kw/hr rate, it might suit you to run an electric heater over propane.
BTUs and Coverage?
A BTU is a measure of power. More BTUs means more power, and more power means more space gets warm. The hard part is finding out how much energy you need to heat your area. Well, not anymore. There's a simple, one-step solution to find out how many BTUs your outdoor space will need.
Take the BTU output of the heater you're looking at and divide that number by 40. That number is a rough estimate of how many square feet your patio heater can heat.
For example, a heater with a maximum BTU output of 50,000 divided by 40 can roughly heat an area of 1,250 square feet (50,000 BTUs / 40 = 1,250 square feet).
Remember, this is just an estimate. It does not take into account the number of objects or people around the heater or the weather.
When searching for the right patio heater, take note of the control options available to you. There are simple controls like an on/off switch to more complex controls like zone heating systems. Below, we will detail the different types of control setups there are. But, for more detailed information on a custom setup, speak to one of our certified professionals at 1-800-203-1642.
On-the-Unit Control - These can be manual igniters or electric igniters mounted on the patio heater itself. Many times, they are as simple as an on/off switch to a knob that controls the heat output. They are simple to use, inexpensive, and give you the control of only turning on the heaters you need. But, if you have more than one patio heater, it can be a pain to walk around and manually turn on each unit.
Remote Control - These are like a TV remote with fewer buttons. A remote works by sending a signal to your heater to turn it on and off. Of course, these are very easy to use and come in wired and wireless versions. You can mount the remote to a wall permanently or keep it handheld as well. Some manufacturers only offer remotes with multiple heaters. And, if you have multiple zones, you will need more than one remote to keep up with.
Zone Control - This works best in situations with many heaters like in a restaurant or a huge outdoor area. This system sets up your heaters in zones. The controls tell which heaters to turn on and when. A zone system gives you the most control over your heaters, but it's the hardest and most expensive to set up. Even then, some manufacturers do not offer zone control systems. Get a professional to set up your zone control system. Zone systems have wattage thresholds to adhere to so that your heaters can operate safely.
Smartphone/Home Integration - Some manufacturers offer heating controls that connect to your smart home system. You control your heaters through your phone at home or away. This option is great for the tech-savvy family.
Along with these systems, there are options within that give you even greater control. These systems are variable controls, timers, and dimmers. Variable controls are in charge of the intensity of the heat. Timers program how long the heaters stay on, and dimmers affect the brightness of the heater.
Depending on what unit you buy, the difficulty of installation varies. This section details what you can expect from each type.
Wall-mounted - Wall-mounted and pole-mounted heaters must connect to a gas line or electrical system. These installations can be difficult, as they take pre-planning and professional help. For electric heaters working on zone controls, you have to be wary of wattage limits. Natural gas-fueled heaters need a connection to a gas line, which if you don't have, can be costly to install. The result is often worth it for wall-mounted heaters. They are eye-catching and contemporary. Plus, if using natural gas, they're less expensive.
Freestanding - Open the box, follow the directions, set it up and you're done. Attach a propane tank to the base, and you are ready to heat up. The mobility and simplicity of a freestanding unit make installation simple. You can attach a freestanding unit to a gas line as well, but that cuts down the mobility of the unit.
Tabletop - These heaters offer simple installation. They use either propane or electric fuel, so it's a matter of connecting a small propane tank or plugging the unit into an outlet. No headaches, just warmth.
Accessories are a great way to extend the life of your patio heater and provide a little extra comfort as well.
Propane Tank Covers - Having an extra propane tank lying around can be unsightly. Propane tank covers give you a space to hide the tank while offering an extra piece of furniture. Some covers double as sturdy tables that guests can lounge on or set a drink.
Vinyl Covers - Think of these like a tarp, tailored to fit your patio heater. A vinyl cover protects your heater from the elements. It keeps your heater clean when you're not using it and keeps you from having to move the heater every time the weather changes.
Reflector Plates - A reflector plate increases the heat coverage of your patio heater. Reflector plates are made of the same material as your heater. Assembly is easy too, so increasing the range of your outdoor patio heater is just a matter of cost.
Bromic - Hotels, restaurants, luxury homes all trust Bromic's outdoor heaters. You'll most likely recognize their popular wall mounted or pole mounted heaters. Bromic is at the cutting edge of technology, offering smart home controls and custom heating preferences.
Fire Sense - An innovator in fireplace creation is also a leader in the patio heater market. Fire Sense offers quality units that have superior performance. If you have a heating issue, there is probably a Fire Sense unit to help you out.
Endless Summer - Endless Summer crafts reliable products that work year-round. They offer freestanding propane units and electric tabletop units that customers love.
Infratech - Focusing on wall-mounted or pole-mounted outdoor heaters, Infratech can heat areas of all shapes and sizes. Their multiple series of heaters are stylish and made of durable materials. And, if you're looking at a more massive installation, Infratech will talk you through the process. They also offer a large number of control options as well.
Anything that generates a lot of heat is going to have some safety dos and don'ts. These tips will make life a little more comfortable in the long run, if you choose to follow them.
- Never place your patio heater on the grass. A patio heater needs to be on stable level ground like concrete. An accidental tip over is a real issue.
- Do not use your unit during lousy weather. It could fall over and get damaged, or the weather may damage the controls in some way. It's best to put the patio heater away or cover it up using a cover.
- Do not use your outdoor patio heater indoors. You could easily catch something on fire.
- Do not turn the heater on when it's near combustible objects or low-hanging trees.
- Keep an eye on pets and children near the heaters. Many heaters have stylish designs and large tactile knobs that could attract children.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Before you attempt any care and maintenance of your patio heater, consult your owner's manual. Your unit's manual will specify what is best for your heater. The tips below are for basic care.
- Wipe surfaces clean with a mild detergent.
- Do not use abrasive cleaners; at most, use citrus-based cleaners for stubborn debris.
- Rinse with water and let air dry.
- Keep burner and pilot assembly dry at all times.
- If the gas control becomes submerged in water, replace it. Do not use it.
- High-quality automobile wax works wonders to maintain the appearance of your heater.
- Keep airflow to your heater unobstructed. Popping noises, low temperatures, or an uneven glow are signs of an airflow blockage. Look and listen for those signs.
Shipping information varies by unit. All wall and ceiling-mounted, and tabletop heaters are small enough to ship parcel. Some of the smaller freestanding models can ship parcel as well. Larger freestanding models will ship freight. Wall and ceiling mounted heater accessories like the mounting posts will also ship LTL freight.
When your shipment arrives, inspect it for damage before signing off on the delivery.
When you need heat for your outdoor area, you now know which patio heater will be right for your home. There is a multitude of options to pick that are not only great looking but sturdy, too. Patio heaters are the low maintenance solution to bring warmth to outdoor space year-round.
If you have more questions, feel free to speak to one of our NFI Certified specialists at 1-800-203-1642. If you want to read more about outdoor heating or start the search for your very own patio heater, check out the links below.
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Patio Heaters Q&A with the NFI Certified Specialists* Please Note: All customer questions are answered by our NFI Certified Specialists free of charge!
If left in the rain uncovered, will the unit get damaged? We plan to purchase a cover, but if someone forgets to cover it, will it get damaged?
Depending on the heater, it may or may not be able to withstand constant rainfall. Either way, we would strongly recommend thoroughly drying the unit before igniting it again.
Tyler M. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on January 26, 2021
from New Jersey asked:
September 22, 2020
Can a freestanding 87.5" high heater be used under a wooden pergola that is approx. 5 inches above the top of the heater?
The particular heater you are referencing would have clearance requirements that need to be checked and verified. We cannot speculate without knowing the model information.
Tyler M. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on September 23, 2020
from South Hadley, MA asked:
April 27, 2020
How much heat does a patio heater radiate from the top upwards?
We would have no way of providing an accurate answer to this question since manufacturers of patio heaters do not allow placement underneath any sort of covering.
on April 28, 2020
from Irvine, CA asked:
March 20, 2020
I am trying to convert from propane to natural gas, and need a replacement heating head for natural gas that fits a 2.5" pole. Do you have this?
Unfortunately, we do not offer replacement parts or universal components for patio heaters. I suggest contacting the manufacturer of your heater directly for further assistance.
on March 20, 2020
from Sun City, AZ asked:
November 6, 2019
What is the safest clearance between the top of heater and the ceiling on my patio?
The answer to this question will depend on the specific model and its clearances.
Tyler M. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on November 6, 2019
from Lexington, KY asked:
May 2, 2014
If I purchase one of the tall flame heaters, will there be any residue or discoloration to a vaulted white porch ceiling?
As long as the clearance for the particular model is maintained, there will not be any yellowing or browning of the paint.
Collin C. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on May 2, 2014
Can a patio heater be used in a garage?
The patio heaters are intended to be used in a non-covered area.
on November 9, 2012