A good outdoor heater has the power to bring a deck or patio from strictly warm-weather use to a year-round living space for relaxing and entertaining. Outdoor heaters come in 1,500-watt electric units that can produce up to 5,100 BTUs, gas models that can pump out a scorching 50,000 BTUs of heat, and wood burning heaters that add warmth and the appeal of a crackling fire.
Beyond fuel source, outdoor heaters are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including 7-foot-tall tower heaters that warm within a 360-degree heating zone, wall heaters that take up very little room, and inviting table models that resemble the classic fire pit.
This guide covers a variety of different patio heater types and presents the vital factors to consider when shopping. We also put one of the most popular patio heaters to a hands-on test. Read on to learn about the best patio heaters and find out how our top pick performed in real life.
- BEST OVERALL: Amazon Basics Outdoor Patio Heater
- BEST WALL-MOUNTED: Dr Infrared Heater Wall Mount Carbon Infrared Heater
- BEST ADJUSTABLE HEIGHT: Briza Infrared Patio Heater
- BEST HEATER & TABLE: Outland Living Series 403 Fire Table
Types of Outdoor Heaters
Outdoor patio heaters use three different possible fuel sources: gas/propane, electric, and wood. Electric heaters are convenient and versatile, while gas and propane heaters offer superior heating power. Wood offers the allure of an open fire. Ahead, discover the advantages and disadvantages of each outdoor heater type.
Electric outdoor heaters work much like their indoor brethren. They plug into a standard 120-volt outlet, offer the same max power of 1,500 watts (the equivalent of 5,100 BTUs), and produce infrared heat, which warms skin and clothing directly as opposed to the surrounding air.
One of the biggest advantages of an outdoor electric heater is ease of use. Simply flip a switch to activate the heating element. Electric outdoor heaters also come in a variety of forms. They can function as stand-alone heaters or as wall-mount heaters. They can even be moved indoors for heating a garage or living space. That said, they don’t provide the same amount of heat as a gas heater, so users may need to don a good outdoor blanket for supplemental warmth.
Given that they use electricity for power, there are safety factors to take into account with an outdoor electric heater. An outdoor electric heater should have an IP Code (International Protection Code) rating of 55 or higher, which means the heater can withstand dust and low-pressure streams of water.
Gas and propane outdoor heaters generate more heat than electric models, with the ability to pump out a blazing 50,000 BTUs. While a gas heater will heat more space, it is more susceptible to wind and heat dispersion, because a gas heater warms the air around it while an electric heater warms people and objects directly. This type of heater also isn’t as easy to fuel. It requires a propane tank, which the user must periodically replace with a full one, and this can be inconvenient.
Gas and propane outdoor heaters feature all-metal construction that’s weather resistant. This type of heater also does not present the same hazards as outdoor electric heaters. Most gas outdoor heaters have safety devices that automatically shut off the unit if it tips over.
Wood backyard patio heaters are made of either metal or stone. Shoppers might find box-shaped or bowl-shaped open fire pits that provide heat in all directions around the pit. Chimeneas are also available; they feature a firebox and a small chimney that provides heat from all slides or one side, depending on the design.
Chimeneas and fire pits both typically sit a foot or more off the ground to prevent the flames from reaching the patio below. The amount of heat a wood patio heater can produce is based on size.
A 36-inch-diameter fire pit can hold more fuel, and hence produce a larger fire than a 20-inch-diameter model. Wood fire pits require more work than a gas or electric fire pit, as the user must build and maintain the flame and periodically clean ash out of the unit.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Outdoor Heater
Heat output, style, and coverage area are crucial factors to consider when selecting the right heater for an outdoor living space. Read on to learn about these and other important considerations one should make when shopping for the right patio heater for an outdoor living space.
The area of the patio largely determines the required size of the heater. A freestanding patio heater that produces 40,000 BTUs per hour can heat a 20-foot-diameter space, while a tabletop heater pumping out 30,000 BTUs can heat a radius of 5 to 8 feet.
Keep in mind that the heater’s ability to heat an area to a comfortable temperature depends on the air temperature. A gas outdoor patio heater will warm the air around it between 3 and 7 degrees above the air temperature with the area closest to the heater receiving the most warmth. Electric heaters will only heat people and objects in close proximity to the heater.
Patio heaters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Consider which style would best suit your outdoor space:
- Freestanding heaters often have a cylindrical base with a pole that extends upward to a large heating element and heat shield. This style of heater is ideal for patios as it provides a 360-degree heating zone. They come in different colors and finishes to suit different styles.
- Wall-mounted heaters attach to the wall and are typically elevated about 6 feet off the ground. They are long and narrow and radiate heat using an electric element.
- Tabletop heaters consist of a small heater with an exposed gas flame. This type of heater doesn’t produce as much heat as other models but does add an aesthetic element that other styles lack.
- Hanging heaters are usually installed from the ceiling of a covered porch. They look similar to a light fixture; however, instead of emitting light, they emit infrared heat.
- Fire pits are a popular outdoor heating option and add a stylish touch to the deck or patio. These elements are available as electric and gas models, and many are multifunctional; for instance, certain fire pits can be used as grills and some have a built-in tabletop.
Outdoor heaters use different energy sources, which affects their functionality:
- Propane heaters use propane gas that comes in a 20-gallon steel container. These containers provide about 10 hours of heat before requiring a refill.
- Natural gas heaters connect directly to a home’s gas supply, providing a limitless amount of fuel and eliminating the need for inconvenient runs to the gas station or supermarket for a replacement propane tank.
- Electric heaters plug into a standard 120-volt outlet for power, while wood requires a steady supply of firewood for fuel.
The amount of heat put out by a patio heater is measured in BTUs (British thermal units) for gas heaters and watts for electric heaters. Naturally, the heat output of a wood-burning patio heater is determined by the size of the fire. Electric heaters are limited to 1,500 watts, which is just under the 1,800 maximum watt output of a standard 120-volt outlet.
A 1,500-watt heater puts out roughly 5,100 BTUs of heat (3.4 BTUs of heat per watt). Propane and natural gas heaters, in comparison, can generate up to 46,000 BTUs of heat, making them ideal for covering large spaces.
Patio heaters range in size and, hence, portability, though most have fairly limited portability. Particularly wall-mounted, hanging, and fire pit heaters, which are stationary units. That said, there are some smaller, lighter fire pits available.
Large freestanding patio heaters have small wheels on the base that allow the user to move them to different locations on the patio. These models tend to be large and heavy, making them impractical for transport to another location.
Most tabletop heaters are less than 3 feet high, weigh less than 20 pounds, and use 1-pound propane canisters. For these reasons, tabletop devices are ideal for camping trips and other excursions.
Given that outdoor heating units put out a tremendous amount of heat, they are fire and burn hazards. Most outdoor heaters have safety shutoffs to prevent fires. Gas and electric heaters have tip-over safeties that automatically shut off the unit in the event it falls over.
Models with heating elements that are within reach of children and pets feature protective grates that prevent accidental burns. Many electric models have programmable shut-off timers to prevent the heater from being left on.
When using a space heater, it’s important to pay attention to its safety guidelines. Be sure to adhere to the clearance requirements, which dictate how far the heater should be from structures and patio furniture. Never use an outdoor patio heater indoors unless it is rated for indoor use.
Cost and Maintenance
When it comes to the cost of running an outdoor heater, propane is generally the most expensive, followed by electric and natural gas. The cost of running a wood-burning patio heater depends on the cost of firewood. If you live in a wooded area, this would be a cost-effective power source.
Electric patio heaters require the least amount of maintenance, as they do not have ignition devices that can wear out if not periodically cleaned, nor do they produce ash. That said, once an electric patio heater malfunctions, it is not easy to repair, typically requiring replacement.
In comparison, parts on a gas patio heater, such as the valve and ignition, are fairly easy to replace. Wood fire patio heaters will generally last the longest since they have no mechanical parts.
Our Top Picks
Armed with ample knowledge about outdoor heaters, shoppers can now review a host of quality models. These picks take into account the above considerations, narrowing the field to some of the best outdoor heaters by price level and class. We also report our findings for our hands-on test of a popular model. Any of the outdoor heaters below are worthy of warming a backyard living space.
For those looking for a high-performing patio heater that won’t break the bank, this Amazon Basics model is a great choice. After subjecting this tower heater to a fall, winter, and spring’s worth of use, I found it to be a worthy option for keeping a backyard living space comfortable when the mercury drops. Its 46,000 BTUs created enough warmth to let me leave my winter jacket on the coat rack, even when the temperature dipped into the low 40s.
Assembling this patio heater was easy, thanks to clearly labeled parts and hardware, as well as well-written directions with illustrations. A wrench and a Phillips head screwdriver are the only tools required for assembly. While it doesn’t offer the aesthetics of a pricier pyramid-style patio heater, I did have a wide choice of color and finish options to choose from.
- Portable propane heater with wheels
- Auto-shutoff safety feature if tipped over
- Heats quickly even in cold temperatures
- Easy to put together
- Best for well-ventilated outdoor areas
- Possibly too tall to provide heat where you want it
A remote control, easy mounting, safety features, and an affordable price make this wall-mounted electric heater a great pick for outdoor heating needs. It boasts a powerful heater with three operating levels: 900 watts, 1,200 watts, and 1,500 watts.
A carbon fiber heating tube that’s hot in just moments emits infrared heat that warms people and objects directly. The heat levels are adjustable by a handy remote control, allowing for convenient operation. A built-in temperature protection feature will shut off the unit to prevent possible fires.
With an IPX4 weather rating, this model is waterproof as well as dustproof for sheltered outdoor use; it should not be exposed to rain or moisture. A silver aluminum housing adds durability while making for an attractive addition to outdoor living spaces. This model is also rated for indoor use.
- Runs on electricity; no propane tank is needed
- Can be mounted anywhere there’s power
- Instant, radiant heat that’s odorless and flameless
- Works indoors or outdoors
- Remote control may wear out quickly
This versatile patio heater can function as a freestanding or wall-mount unit and comes with a tripod stand that raises the heater from a minimum of 4 feet to a maximum of 7 feet. Its electric heating element uses infrared heat to warm surfaces and bodies around the unit.
A wide tripod base keeps this unit upright, while a protective metal sheath surrounds the heating element to prevent accidental burns. An auto-shutoff sensor automatically switches off the unit should it tip over. A remote control allows for easy operation of the heater, while a programmable timer automatically shuts off the unit after one to nine hours of use.
Moisture is always a concern with outdoor electric appliances. With its IP 55 rating, this unit can stand up to low-pressure water. This heater also comes with a kit for mounting the heater to a wall, making it one of the more versatile outdoor heaters on the market.
- Can be mounted on walls or the included 7-foot tripod
- Runs on electrical power to produce infrared heat
- Weatherproof and auto-shutoff if tipped over
- Great for use inside or outside
- Infrared ambient heat isn’t as intense
The Outland Living fire pit table does double duty. As a full-size coffee table, it can hold drinks and plates, while its oblong center fire pit sets a relaxing mood with dancing flames that flicker throughout 15.5 pounds of fire glass (included). This fire pit produces up to 50,000 BTUs of heat and is constructed from high-quality aluminum, covered on both sides by durable polyethylene wicker.
The cabinet beneath the fire bowl conceals one or two 20-pound propane tanks, so you can always have a spare tank ready to go if the other runs out. It comes with a push-button igniter, and a tempered-glass insert is available (sold separately) for covering the fire bowl when not in use.
- More aesthetic than most outdoor heaters
- Mimics a live fireplace without hassle of burning wood
- Uses a standard propane tank to operate
- Durable and weather resistant
- Some reports of damage to the ignitor during shipping
Outdoor heaters should be reliable, easy to use, and actually produce the heat you need. The Amazon Basics Outdoor Patio Heater does just that, which is why it’s our top pick.
How We Chose the Best Outdoor Heaters
On a chilly evening, relying on an outdoor heater can mean the difference between a great night and an early night back in the house. Outdoor heaters come in a variety of styles, shapes, sizes, and heat sources, which means there’s an option for everyone whether they prefer an electric or propane tank option. These recommendations include heaters that may work for open-air patios, enclosed workshops, animal shelters, indoor spaces, and other areas. Safety features and the amount of coverage the heater provides were also crucial elements we considered when selecting our top recommendations. Some patios or rooms do well with infrared heating, while others work best with a more intense propane-fueled heat source. Finally, we made sure to include an option for homeowners looking for a more stylish and traditional outdoor heater, so a popular propane fire pit option is also included.
If you’re still wondering about what size outdoor heater is right for your patio, then read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about outdoor heater performance.
Q. Do outdoor heaters work in the winter?
Outdoor heaters work well in winter. Although propane can be affected by extreme cold with temperatures well below zero, the fuel will work just fine in other conditions.
Q. Can you use a patio heater on a covered porch?
A patio heater can safely be used under a covered porch as long as it meets the heater’s requirements for clearance. If using a tower heater, make sure there is adequate space between the top of the heater and the ceiling of the covered roof.
Q. How big an area does a patio heater heat?
The average outdoor heater can heat about 100 square feet of space.
Q. How many BTUs do I need for my patio heater?
Begin by determining how big a space you are warming. Calculate the area of the patio by calculating the length times the width. Then multiply the square footage by 20 BTUs to determine the output you need to adequately warm the space. For example, a 300-square-foot patio would need a heater with 6,000 BTUs of output. Keep in mind that multiple small patio heaters spaced out will provide more even heat than one large one.
Q. How many watts does my patio heater need?
An electric patio heater isn’t as powerful as a gas one, so it’s essential that an outdoor electric heater have 1,500 watts of output, which is the most an electric heater can produce.
Q. Do patio heaters use a lot of electricity?
Patio heaters do use a lot of electricity, in the sense that they operate continuously at 1,500 watts. However, as is discussed above, the cost of using an electric heater is still significantly less than the cost of using a propane heater.
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Tony Carrick is a freelance writer specializing in home improvement, landscaping, and design. A recipient of a degree in journalism and a Master of Arts in English, he spent ten years writing for a variety of local newspapers and business publications before becoming an English teacher. Mr. Carrick now works as a freelance writer from his home in North Carolina. When he isn’t furiously typing away on his laptop or working on his latest home improvement project, he enjoys spending time with his family and cycling through the beautiful North Carolina countryside.