Now that it’s fall, chilly weather chases you indoors after dinner al fresco, and low temperatures in the morning keep you from reading the newspaper on your front porch. So long as conditions remain on the cusp of comfortable and cold—and at least in the Northeast, doesn’t that define autumn, and for that matter, early spring?—a patio heater lets you enjoy your outdoor living areas for more hours of the day.
Available in a variety of sizes and a multitude of designs, and suitable for a range of purposes, patio heaters are not the novelty they once were. Whereas you used to see them only at curbside cafés, patio heaters are now appearing with greater frequency on residential properties. For homeowners who love to entertain friends or share family moments on the patio or deck, the advent of patio heaters is indeed welcome.
If you are in the process of choosing a patio heater, here’s what you should know:
PROPANE VS. ELECTRIC
- Propane: Propane patio heaters can warm up a space quickly. Some are quite big, holding a propane tank as large as 20 gallons—a boon when you wish to heat a large area for an extended period of time. Due to the risk of carbon monoxide buildup, a patio heater of this type should never be used in an enclosed area, such as a greenhouse or the garage.
- Electric: There’s no need to buy fuel for an electric patio heater, but its bulbs must be replaced occasionally. Before purchasing a unit, take time to understand its running costs. Because electric patio heaters have no open flame, they are, for some families, safer than the alternative. But they are usually smaller, so an electric may not match the power of its propane cousin. When shopping, compare the heat output of different models. Also, remember that an electric heater comes with a power cord; having at least one outdoor outlet is a plus, if not a prerequisite.
- Stand-alone: Most freestanding patio heaters are seven to eight feet tall; typically, the fuel source is at or near the bottom, and the heat emanates from the top. Available in electric or propane versions, these patio heaters can warm a 5- to 10-foot radius, which makes them a great option for yards and larger patios.
- Tabletop: Smaller than freestanding heaters, tabletop units must be secured to a patio table (usually through the hole where a sun umbrella would fit). Either electric or propane, they offer the advantage of portability but tend to be less powerful, making them well suited for smaller gatherings.
- Mounted: Whether wall- or ceiling-mounted, these patio heaters are, in most cases, infrared and electrically powered. They are excellent if you have limited floor space but wish to heat a larger area.
Bear these considerations in mind when choosing a patio heater of any type:
1. Have realistic expectations. Patio heaters are meant to ease the chill of cool weather. You are outdoors, not in a sauna! In very cold weather, they will not keep you warm very long.
2. Give your patio heater some help. Since hot air rises, some heated air will be lost to the atmosphere, but you can conserve by placing your patio heater at a safe distance beneath an umbrella or awning. Avoid exposing a propane unit to wind, however, as breezes will make it difficult to light.
3. Safety first. Always keep pets and children away from patio heaters, and consider only models that feature an automatic shutoff, which cuts the heat in the event that the unit gets knocked over.
Investing in a patio heater is an outstanding way to enhance your outdoor lifestyle. Breathe more fresh air. Hear more crickets. See more stars. And stay comfy cozy while you’re at it.