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.
We tested the top heaters based on heat output, use, and style. The best patio heater enhances enjoyment of outdoor living and provides heat exactly where you need it on chilly days or nights. Ahead, learn the important features of outdoor heaters before you shop, and find out why our testing revealed the following products are worthy of a second look.
- BEST OVERALL: AZ Patio Heaters Hiland Freestanding Patio Heater
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Hampton Bay 48000 Btu Stainless Steel Patio Heater
- BEST PYRAMID: Pamapic Patio Heater 42,000 BTU Pyramid Flame
- BEST SPACE HEATER: Mr. Heater MH4B Portable LP Heater
- BEST WALL-MOUNTED: Dr Infrared Heater DR-238 Carbon Infrared Heater
- BEST PORTABLE: Outland Living Firebowl 883 Mega Outdoor Propane Pit
Patio Heater Power and Fuel Sources
When the temperatures drop and a chill is in the air, having a source of outdoor heat will make outdoor activities more enjoyable. Patio heaters are well suited to northern climates, where the mercury plunges as soon as the summer sun drops beneath the horizon. They’re also beneficial in warmer regions, day or night, during the winter months. When shopping for the best outdoor heater, you have several options for the type of power required to operate the unit.
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.
The upside to a natural gas patio heater is a lower operating cost because natural gas is usually a less expensive power source than propane. If you’re looking for a reliable source of patio heat, a natural gas heater could be a cost-effective way to entertain outdoors, even during cool weather.
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.
When shopping for an electric patio heater, compare the heat output of different models, but keep in mind that a higher heat output means increased electricity usage and a larger electric bill. Also, remember that the best electric patio heater includes a power cord, so it’s necessary to have at least one outdoor electrical outlet.
For an authentic campfire feel, there’s nothing quite like a wood-burning patio heater. This type of heater can generate a lot of heat, depending on the size of the firebox and the amount of wood it will hold.
Since wood fires can create smoke and ash, a wood-burning patio heater isn’t suitable for an enclosed patio. To reduce smoke, burn only seasoned hardwoods, such as hickory, birch, and white ash. Some communities don’t permit open firepits, so check with your local fire department before buying one.
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.
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.
- Tower-style heater: Most tower-style patio heaters are 6 to 8 feet tall, with the heat source located at the top, middle, or bottom of the tower. Available in electric or propane versions, these patio heaters can warm a 5- to 10-foot radius, making them an excellent option for yards and larger patios.
- Space heater: More about function than aesthetic, an exterior space heater is relatively small and designed to heat a limited space. For outdoor dining, a space heater tucked beneath the patio table may be sufficient to keep diners cozy as they enjoy a meal. Space heaters may be powered by propane or plugged into an outdoor electrical outlet.
- Tabletop heater: Smaller than freestanding heaters, tabletop units are often 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 to smaller gatherings.
- Mounted heater: Available in wall- or ceiling-mounted options, these patio heaters are typically infrared (they radiate heat) and are electrically powered. They are excellent if you have limited floor space but wish to heat a large area.
- Firepit/fireplace: Perhaps the ultimate in outdoor ambience, firepits and outdoor fireplaces offer the type of flickering ambience associated with a campfire, so it’s little wonder that they’re high on many outdoor entertaining wish lists. They may be powered by propane, natural gas, or wood and are ideal for being surrounded by patio chairs for a late-night s’mores session.
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.
Depending on the power of the heating element, a patio heater can radiate heat 4 to 12 feet or even farther. Many feature the ability to adjust the heat output—turning down the heater if only a bit of warmth is necessary or running it on the highest setting to heat a wider area.
A natural gas or propane patio heater’s heat output is measured in British thermal units (BTUs), while an electric heater’s output is measured in watts.
- BTU estimation: 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.
- Watt estimation: Electric patio heaters offer a maximum of 1,500 watts—comparable to 5,100 BTUs—so they don’t generate quite as much heat as gas heaters, making them well suited to smaller patios. Alternatively, consider using two or more electric patio heaters on a single patio if you desire additional heat output.
While the main function of a patio heater is to maintain a comfortable outdoor temperature, many go the extra mile to help create a cozy or romantic feeling. Some tabletop styles incorporate glass rocks that reflect various light colors, while others produce flickering flames that add a dreamy feel.
Except for the smallest space heaters, most propane patio heaters feature a cabinet that conceals the propane tank to create a cleaner look. For the best aesthetics, select a material that blends with the style of the home and patio. A sleek stainless steel patio heater will enhance the look of a contemporary home with modern décor, while a cast-iron firepit would better suit a rustic cabin getaway.
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.
- Move it away: Keep the patio heater away from walls, patio furniture, and flammable objects. The general rule is to position a patio heater with 3 feet of space on all sides.
- Keep it level: Some patio heaters provide a safety shutoff if the heater tips, but not all include that feature. Position the heater on a level spot to keep it from tipping over.
- Buy a fire extinguisher: Patio heaters don’t present a significant fire risk, but a wood-burning heater can eject burning ash, or a space heater could tip over. By having an extinguisher handy, you’ll be prepared in case of fire.
- Stay with it: Don’t leave a patio heater on without an adult present.
- Keep it covered: Some patio heaters include a cover. If not, invest in one, and cover the patio heater when not in use. A cover will keep bugs, dirt, and debris from blowing into the heating element, which can clog it or create a fire risk.
The ability to move a patio heater from one side of the patio to the other or relocate it near a pool will be simpler if the unit includes wheels.
The largest propane patio heaters can weigh 60 pounds or more—and that’s not including the weight of a 20-pound propane tank—so carrying one can quickly become cumbersome. Electric patio heaters are typically smaller and more lightweight, weighing up to an average of 20 to 30 pounds, but wheels will still come in handy.
The smallest portable heater may weigh only a few pounds and easily be packed in the trunk of a car or moved to any yard location.
When it comes to electric patio heaters, the real cost often comes in paying the utility bill because electricity is usually (not always) more expensive than either natural gas or propane. That said, electric heaters are a less expensive option.
Propane patio heaters run the gamut in price from inexpensive space heaters to tall tower-style heaters, but operating them is generally more cost-effective than electric models.
Natural gas patio heaters are often at the top of the price line because they are frequently designed for installation in permanent outdoor kitchens and living areas. They’re among the least expensive to operate, but you may require a licensed plumber for installation.
Wood-burning firepits and fireplaces also span a large range in cost, from inexpensive firepits to high-end fireplaces permanently built into outdoor entertaining areas.
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.
If you’re looking for a heater that pushes out plenty of heat, this mushroom-style patio heater is the way to go. The steel-constructed heater offers a diameter of warmth between 10 and 12 feet around. It also features an adjustable table for added convenience for guests and a wheeled base for maneuverability on paved surfaces. The heater has a clearly marked ignition mechanism that allows you to easily and safely start the heater.
Overall, we found this heater to be convenient and efficient. Its construction was primarily sound, except for the cylinder access door for the propane tank at the base. However, we wish this unit came with a rain cover to help keep it clean when not in use.
- BTU rating: 48,000
- Dimensions: 32 by 32 by 87 inches
- Use: Standing
- Wheeled base for easy moving on paved surfaces
- Incorporates an adjustable-height tabletop
- Hinged door in the base to access the gas cylinder
- Adjustable flame, easy to control
- No rain cover
- Bulky size, difficult to store
- Cylinder access door somewhat flimsy, can bind on frame
Similar to the Hiland mushroom-style heater, Hampton Bay’s version offers 48,000 BTU of heat output. It’s built almost identically to the Hiland heater, with a couple of exceptions. This heater does not have an adjustable table or wheels. Hampton Bay’s version is less expensive than Hiland’s heater, making it an economical option if you do not mind lacking those accessories.
This heater did not come with a rain cover, and we found the wheelless base made it difficult to move. However, the biggest frustration was removing the protective film off the stainless steel base. Overall, it’s a good heater if you do not plan to move it often.
- BTU rating: 48,000
- Dimensions: 18-inch diameter, 88 inches tall
- Use: Standing
- Lift-up housing allows easy tank access
- Adjustable flame, easy to control
- Durable stainless steel construction
- No wheels, difficult to move
- No rain cover
- Bulky size, difficult to store
Flickering flames dance up and down the transparent glass tube at the center of the Pamapic Pyramid Flame Patio Heater. This propane heater stands 89.4 inches high and provides a variable heat output setting. The base of the pyramid features a solid cabinet designed to conceal a 20-pound propane tank.
This pyramid heater weighs 19.8 pounds (without the tank), is broader at the base to help prevent tipping, and provides a safety shutoff if it is knocked over. It produces a generous 42,000 BTUs of heat and includes wheels for easy portability. The top reflector shield radiates warmth, while a metal cage protects the quartz glass tube. The heater also comes with a zip cover to protect it from dust and the elements when not in use.
Although it features an amazing design, we did find that the heat off the Pamapic Patio Heater wasn’t quite as effective as a mushroom-style heater. It was also awkward to move, even with a wheeled base. This heater is perfect for those who value style over functionality.
- BTU rating: 42,000
- Dimensions: 20 by 20 by 88 inches
- Use: Standing
- Pilot light and adjustable heat setting
- Ornamental visible flame and decorative pyramid design
- Includes a rain cover
- Wheeled base for moving on paved surfaces
- Undersized heat reflector allows heat to escape
- Weaker heat output compared to other large patio heaters
- Awkward design for propane tank access and moving
At less than 11 inches tall, the Mr. Heater Portable LP Heater is just the right size for heating small spaces, such as under a patio table. It connects to a 1-pound propane cylinder and produces up to 3,800 BTUs of welcoming heat. The heater offers an easy push-and-hold sparking ignition button and weighs just 5.85 pounds (without the propane cylinder).
Mr. Heater features an automatic shutoff in the event it tips over. It also includes an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) that will turn off the heater if the oxygen level drops below 18.5 percent. This ODS sensor makes it possible to use the space heater in enclosed patios or tents without fear of depleted oxygen levels.
We loved the portability of the little heater. It kept us toasty and required minimal assembly. This heater is perfect for outdoor activities away from home. It’s ideal for RVs and camping and the perfect size to store in your car for unexpected events.
- BTU rating: 3,800
- Dimensions: 9 by 9 by 18 inches
- Best use: Seated or standing
- Fast, easy assembly
- Burns through disposable fuel bottles in only 5.6 hours
- Not as effective in open or windy conditions
- Easy to knock over (but includes a safety shutoff)
For delicious warmth in an enclosed patio or three-season room, check out the Dr Infrared Heater that runs on electricity and emits up to 1,500 watts of infrared heat. The unit measures 35 inches long by 8 inches tall and weighs just 8 pounds, making it well suited to installation on a wall or ceiling (mounting brackets included).
The Dr Infrared Heater features adjustable heat output and plugs into a standard 120-volt household outlet, so there’s no need to fill and haul propane tanks. It includes a remote control, features a programmable timer, and also boasts an automatic overheating shutoff. The heater is designed for exterior use but only in a protected location, as it can’t come into contact with precipitation.
This unit required minimal assembly, and it offered decent heat output. However, we felt that the legs on the tripod stand seemed flimsy, and it took a bit of maneuvering to get the heater to sit level. We liked the heater’s portability, but an extension cord will be required if moved away from an outlet.
- BTU rating: 5,115
- Dimensions: 35 by 8 by 4 inches
- Best Use: Seated or standing
- Compact, lightweight, with adjustable base height
- Easy to set up and store
- Works with any electric outlet, no need to buy gas
- Includes remote control
- For sheltered outdoor use only, not in damp weather
- Requires power outlet and extension cord
- Needs weights to secure the base (empty sandbags included)
The Outland Living Firebowl 883 Mega Outdoor Propane Gas Fire Pit includes a 10-foot propane hose so users can position a propane tank out of sight while enjoying the lava rocks and glowing flames inside this rustic fire bowl. The fire bowl generates up to 58,000 BTUs of heat, and the heat output is adjustable to suit the outdoor temperature. Once heated, the lava rocks (included) will retain and radiate heat.
This patio heater is relatively compact and portable, measuring 13 inches high and 24 inches in diameter and weighing in at 34 pounds. It comes with a cover and carrying straps for even easier portability.
We found the tank hose to be the biggest drawback. The hose is about 4 feet long, meaning the exposed propane tank will only be a few feet from the sitting area. The hose presents a tripping hazard, and the exposed tank is unattractive. However, the heat emitted from the firepit is excellent, and its portability makes it an attractive option for those who prefer not to deal with wood fires.
- BTU rating: 58,000
- Dimensions: 24 inches diameter, 13 inches high
- Use: Seated or standing
- Excellent heat output with help of included fire rocks
- May be used on uneven surfaces
- Includes rain cover
- Smokeless alternative to traditional fire pit
- Fire rocks stay hot after the fire is out
- Low height and exposed flame dangerous for unsupervised children
- Tank hose could be a trip hazar
After testing each of these heaters, we found that the AZ Patio Heaters Hiland Freestanding Patio Heater and Hampton Bay 48000 Btu Stainless Steel Patio Heater offered the best heat output, concealed the propane tanks the best, and were stylish overall. These two top picks will help keep your family and guests warm on the patio while complementing most outdoor decor.
How We Tested the Best Patio Heaters
The patio heaters were rated by their BTU output, maneuverability, and overall style. We tested each heater’s ability to heat by gauging the farthest distance one needed to stand from each unit in order to stay warm. Overall, we found that the tower style with dome covers distributed heat more efficiently at a distance.
Fortunately, many of the larger heaters were easy to maneuver thanks to wheels on the base. The few that did not would be a better option if the heater is placed and stored in a single location. For patios without overhead coverage, a heater with a cover is strongly recommended.
Having a heat source in an outdoor area offers the ability to entertain comfortably when the temperatures drop. For those thinking of buying a patio heater, some questions are to be expected.
Q. Which electric patio heaters are the best?
The Dr Infrared Heater DR-238 Carbon Infrared Heater is among the best options for those wanting convenient electric heat in an enclosed patio setting.
Q. How many BTUs do I need for my patio heater?
When it comes to patio heaters, one size does not fit all. Natural gas and propane patio heaters range from around 5,000 to 40,000 BTUs or more. Choose an option that best suits the level of desired heat output.
Q. How far should the patio heater be from the house?
Place a gas patio heater and a freestanding electric patio heater a minimum of 3 feet from walls and other items, such as furniture. However, some electric heaters are designed to be safe even if mounted on a wall or ceiling, so it depends on the type.
Q. Can you have a patio heater under a covered patio?
Most electric patio heaters are designed for use in sheltered patio conditions, like under a covered or enclosed patio. A small gas patio heater, such as a tabletop model, can usually operate safely under a covered patio, but a traditional tower-style model may stand too high (within 5 feet of the ceiling) for safe use.
Q. Can you put a patio heater under a gazebo?
It is safe to put a patio heater under a gazebo as long as it isn’t within 3 feet of the gazebo’s sidewalls or ceiling rafters.