Investing in a patio heater is a great way to extend the entertaining outdoor season any time of the year. Patio heaters are designed to add enough warmth to make staying outdoors comfortable even when the temperatures are chilly. So, start up the grill, light some tiki torches, and let the patio heater keep everyone warm and toasty.
Patio Heater Power and Fuel Sources
Propane patio heaters can warm up spaces quickly. Some are quite large and will hold up to a 20-gallon propane tank—a boon when you wish to heat a large area for an extended period. These outdoor heaters are often portable, depending on the style, and many include wheels.
Due to the risk of carbon monoxide buildup, don’t use exterior propane heaters in an enclosed area, such as a greenhouse or enclosed patio, unless a clear safety feature is built into the unit to prevent operation under insufficient oxygen levels.
Gas heaters fueled by natural gas are more likely to be considered permanent fixtures on the patio than propane heaters because they connect to a home’s natural gas line. Depending on local building codes, running a natural gas line to the patio probably requires the services of a licensed plumber.
There’s no need to buy fuel for electric patio heaters, but plan to replace the heating lamps occasionally. With no open flame, electric heaters may be safer than other types for some families both indoors and out. But they are usually smaller and not as powerful, so an electric patio heater may not generate as much heat as its propane cousin.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Patio Heater
Some patio heaters are large and serve as a focal point on the patio around which merrymakers gather, while others are strictly functional—they heat the area but don’t add much in the way of ambience.
Choosing the outdoor heating option that best suits a specific patio is mostly a matter of individual taste, but a few factors are worth considering.
Restaurants are “winterizing” to accommodate outdoor dining in the chilly months. And some items they need are in high demand—and seeing surging prices.
Just because it’s a patio doesn’t mean this outdoor space shouldn’t receive the same decor attention as any indoor room. A variety of patio heater styles can add a unique aesthetic to a backyard oasis.
The maximum area a patio heater will comfortably heat depends on several variables. Many large patio heaters are radiant, meaning they reflect heat waves rather than distribute heat via a fan. Radiant heat is more effective because it warms objects in front of it rather than just warming the air. On a breezy day, a fan-based heater (convection) won’t keep anyone warm if the wind blows away the heated air.
The general formula for estimating suitable BTUs for a patio heater is to multiply the patio’s square feet by 20. For example, a patio that measures 20 by 20 feet equals 400 square feet of space. Multiplying 400 by 20 is 8,000, so a gas patio heater with an 8,000-BTU output would effectively heat the area. Gas patio heaters range from about 5,000 to 40,000 BTUs, depending on style and size.
Anything that produces enough heat to warm a patio comes with some safety challenges. Manufacturers reduce the risk of burns by encasing patio heaters in materials that remain cool to the touch or placing the heating element above a level where humans can reach it (in the case of tower-style heaters). Still, consider the following tips to more safely use a patio heater.
Our Top Picks
Consider power source, material, design, safety features, and more to find the best patio heaters to keep warm. While needs vary, the following patio heaters are all at the top of their respective categories, and any one of them would be a suitable choice.