A patio heater offers the opportunity to enjoy your outdoor living spaces on chilly nights and during the colder months of the year. While there are some options that cost thousands of dollars, patio heaters are more affordable than many folks think. Therefore, regardless of your budget, you should be able to find a heater that fits your needs, including plenty of options for less than $200 and many models coming in below or right around $100.
Let’s take a look at some of the available options to help you determine which is best for your outdoor living areas.
We are mostly talking about electric and propane patio heaters here, so we will not spend much time on fire features, but they at least need to be mentioned. An outdoor fireplace or fire pit is the most attractive way to heat your outdoor living areas. If your budget allows and you have the space for a fire feature, we suggest looking into installing a fireplace or fire pit, and then using patio heaters as supplemental heat sources. Also, keep in mind that these are not the only fire features available for your backyard. Other options include tables with fire features in the center and chimeneas.
Propane Patio Heaters
Propane patio heaters – like the ones you see on patios at restaurants or that you see folks gathered around at parties – are the most common and readily available options for heating your outdoor living areas quickly and easily. These heaters can be purchased at most stores selling patio furniture or yard maintenance supplies, can be easily set up by homeowners, and can be used as soon as you get them home. This makes them a good choice when you need heat in a hurry.
Propane heaters require propane tanks to fuel the heat, but they do not require electricity. This means that propane options are easier to place anywhere on your patio and can be moved relatively easily throughout the night, if needed.
You are probably most familiar with the propane heater models that are about six or seven feet tall and sit on the ground; however, if you are only heating a small space or need something less cumbersome, there are several smaller options. There are some that stand on the ground at a height of about four feet, and there are even smaller models that are meant to be used on a table.
If you plan on purchasing a free-standing, propane heater and you live in an area where wind is an issue, look for an option that does not have a pilot.
For a particularly portable and budget-friendly option, there are even outdoor propane heaters that are basically made of up a heating dish that mounts directly to a propane cylinder. You can purchase this type of propane patio heater for right around $40, making it one of the most affordable options available.
Electric Patio Heaters
Electric patio heaters are often a good choice for homeowners with a sunroom, screened porch or other enclosed patio area to heat. You must have access to an electrical outlet, so that is something to consider before making a purchase. Of course, this does mean that you can avoid purchasing and refilling propane cylinders, as well as turning the cylinder on and off, so if you are not comfortable working with propane, electric heaters might be a better choice for you.
Electric heaters come in several styles, including free-standing heaters, wall-mounted heaters, tabletop heaters, heaters that look like hanging lamps or floor lamps, and even tables with a heater in the base. There are also electric heaters designed for use under umbrellas. They can be portable or stationary and are usually better for heating smaller spaces and covered patios.
Electric v. Propane Patio Heaters
Now that you know a bit more about propane and electric heaters, let’s run down a few quick differences to help you decide which is right for you.
Running Out of Fuel
Propane heaters require cylinders that must be swapped out and filled regularly. If you run out of propane during your party, you either have to find a store that is still open so you can go purchase more or you will no longer have heat for your patio.
With an electric heater that is plugged into an outlet, you never have to worry about running out of fuel.
On the other hand, if the power goes out, your electric heaters will not do you any good (unless you have a generator) but your propane heaters can keep you warm until the power comes back on. Just keep in mind that outdoor heaters are only for outdoor use.
Portability and Placement
Electric heaters can be moved around on your patio but only as far as their cord will extend. Since they have to be plugged into an outlet in order to work, using electric heaters limits your placement options. Propane heaters have their fuel cylinder inside, so they can be moved around anywhere you would like.
While you will see lots of folks using propane heaters on covered patios, it is generally recommended to use propane options in open spaces. Electric heaters are generally considered better options for sunrooms, screened porches, and covered patios.
Propane heaters with a flame and pilot will not perform as well in windy conditions; however, there are propane-fueled options that do not have a pilot or a flame. These options should work just as well as an electric heater in wind. Therefore, as long as you do not get heaters with flames and pilots, you should not have to worry too much about the wind.
Most propane heaters look like patio heaters. If you go for an electric model, many also look like heaters, but there are some options that look like floor lamps or that function as tables and have a heater in the base, which might be a better fit for your style or the design of your patio. A table with an electric heater in the base functions as patio furniture all year, even when it is too warm to need a heater. Plus, an electric table heater also saves space, if that is a concern.
Free Standing v. Mounted Patio Heaters
Wall- or ceiling-mounted patio heaters have a more upscale feel, since they are permanently mounted. However, while you get a more pulled-together look that feels more upscale, they are not necessarily more expensive than free-standing options. There are some mountable heaters available for right around $100, which makes them a surprisingly affordable option.
The downside to mounted heaters is that they cannot be easily moved around. So, if you have seating areas or multiple outdoor living areas you hope to use for your next social gathering, you will need additional heat sources for areas that are not near your mounted heaters.
Free-standing heaters can be moved around as needed (particularly if they are propane fueled) and can be stored in a shed or garage when not in use.
Best Low-Cost Patio Heater
If you are looking for a patio heater that costs less than $100, consider a tabletop model or a lower-end infrared heater that can be mounted on the wall. For the lowest-cost option, choose a dish heater that mounts directly on a propane cylinder. They will not look as nice, but they will get the job done and are a budget-friendly option.
Best Mid-Range Patio Heater
If you have between $100 and $200 dollars to spend, your options really open up. In this price range, you can go for free-standing or mounted, propane or electric, and conventional or more stylish.
Best High-End Patio Heater
When you get into the $200+ range, you need to decide if you want style or function. There are some nice, glass-tube, free-standing, propane heaters at the low end of this price range, but you can also go industrial if you want something that is going to put out some serious heat. For around $300 to $400, you can pick up a kerosene- or diesel-fueled heater like those used in workshops and on construction sites. These options are going to produce plenty of heat, but they are not going to win any awards for attractive patio décor.
One option that combines style and function quite will is the Q-Stoves Outdoor Wood Pellet Patio Heater, which looks like a combination between a conventional patio heater and a wood-burning stove. At the time of this writing, you can pick up this portable, storable heater for $499 on Amazon.
Patio Heater Safety Tips
No matter which type of heater you choose, you need to follow some basic safety tips to ensure proper function, limit fire hazards, and reduce the risk of injury.
1. Do not place patio heaters near flammable objects, such as curtains, blankets or cushions.
2. Keep animals, children and guests who have been drinking away from heaters to avoid injury or accidentally tipping the heater over.
3. Only purchase heaters that have an anti-tilt safety switch that automatically turns the heater off if it tips over.
4. Heat radiating from your patio heater can damage a natural grass lawn or synthetic turf. It is best to avoid placing your heater on grass or a deck and to stick to solid, non-flammable surfaces, such as concrete or pavers.
5. Patio heaters should always be placed on an even surface, such as pavers, concrete or bricks.
6. Never move a propane heater while it is lit. Place the heater before lighting it.
7. Keep propane tanks turned off except when in use.
8. Outdoor heaters should not be used indoors.
9. Many propane heaters should not be lit or used in high wind conditions.
10. Refer to the manufacturer’s user manual for the distance mounted heaters should be placed away from walls and ceilings.
11. Read your manufacturer’s user manual to learn how to properly use, maintain and clean your heater.