Types of Patio Heaters Explained

During winter months people often find themselves trapped indoors because of the cold. Break the cabin fever and get outdoors sooner with the investment of a patio heater. They are a great way to make your deck, patio or other outdoor space a more desirable during fall and spring months allowing you to get more from your outdoor areas.

Patio Heater Types:

Floor or Free Standing Patio Heaters

Floor Patio Heater

These heaters are similar to what you would often see in a bar or restaurant patio and are by far the most popular type of patio heater, and the most common type of floor and free standing patio heaters utilize propane as the fuel source. They are convenient because they can be easily set up just about anywhere outside as long as they have a source of fuel. They are typically made of 4 basic parts: base, pole, heat source and reflector.

The base prevents the unit from falling over and can double as a storage compartment for a propane tank if it is a propane heater. The pole extends the heat source upward so that the heat coverage is greater. The heat source or heater itself it rated by BTU (British Thermal Unit). The higher the BTU the more heat output the heater will be able to offer. Gas powered heaters offer the highest BTU range with some of them rated at 45,000 BTUs or higher. The reflector prevents the loss of heat upward by reflecting the heat back down to the area surrounding the heater. Not all floor heaters have a reflector, but those that do not usually have a moveable heat source that can directed to the area you would like to heat. These heaters can be fueled by propane, electricity or natural gas.

Tabletop Patio Heaters

Tabletop Patio Heater

Tabletop heaters are a great centerpiece to your patio table offering warmth while you and your guests sit and chat. They often look like miniature versions of the floor or free standing patio heaters and some are even made to look like outdoor table lamps, which, like the floor heat lamps extends your indoor living space to the outdoors.

These have the same basic parts as their larger free standing patio heater counterparts, they however, being smaller have a lower BTU range and therefore are not able to heat as large of an area. These heaters can be fueled by propane or electricity. The most common version is electric.

Wall-Mounted Patio Heaters

Wall-Mounted Patio Heater

Wall-mounted heaters are an easy way to have a heat source that is up and out of the way allowing you enjoy your patio to the fullest.

These are a great alternative if you need a heater but do not have the space for one. They are usually electric and use infrared heat to warm up your patio. They come with wall mount brackets and they often are able to tilt up or down so that you can point the heater in the direction needed.

Patio Heater Fuel Types:

Propane Patio Heaters

Propane is the most commonly used fuel source for patio heaters. Propane comes in easily portable tanks and therefore makes for the most versatile heater since you can place the heater just about anywhere. Because of their portability, many propane heaters come with or have a wheel kit that is purchased separately for ease of mobility. Propane heaters have a place for the propane tank to be stored in the base so the tank is out-of-sight and does not take up room on your patio.

Most require a standard 20 pound propane tank, but smaller propane heaters, such as the propane tabletop heaters will take a smaller propane tank. Once the fuel runs out, you simply purchase another propane tank and connect it. Propane tanks can usually be found at your local grocery store, and rather than refilling, empty tanks can be exchanged for full tanks at a discounted price.

Propane patio heaters are started using an ignition switch that is typically a Piezo or multi-spark ignition system. There is no electrical connection needed for the ignition switch. You simply press or turn the ignition switch and a spark is created to ignite the gas and therefore turn on the heater. These heaters have a higher BTU range than most of their electric counterparts and therefore can heat a larger area.

Electric Patio Heaters

If you don’t want to worry about buying or refilling propane tanks and do not have access to natural gas, electric heaters are a great alternative as long as your heater will be close to a power source. With these heaters you simply plug them in and turn them on. They typically have weather resistant hardware, but it is recommended to have them in a more sheltered location when they are plugged in. There are electric versions of all the different styles of patio heaters: Floor, tabletop or wall mounted. Electric heaters are by far the simplest type of patio heater, but they do not typically offer the same heating capacity as their gas powered counterparts so they are better for small areas.

Natural Gas Patio Heaters

If you have an outdoor natural gas outlet then you have the ability to use a natural gas patio heater in your outdoor space. These, like the propane outdoor heaters, offer a higher BTU range and therefore can heat a larger space. For these heaters, you simply connect the heater to your natural gas outlet. There is no worry of running out of fuel, like with propane heaters. To turn on these units there is an ignition switch that is typically a Piezo or multi-spark ignition system. There is no electrical connection needed for the ignition switch. You simply press or turn the ignition switch and a spark is created to ignite the gas and therefore turn on the heater. Natural gas heaters are the rarest fuel type for patio heaters and are typically a floor or freestanding patio heater.

Outdoor patio heaters are a great way to extend the use of your outdoor space. They can extend the life of your outdoor living area by one or two months in cooler climates and can be utilized year around in warmer climates. The heater you choose depends on your space and needs but the result is the same: a warm space outdoors for friends and family to enjoy.

Jeff Flowers

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  1. Jackie says

    Well written article. When choosing what type of unit to install, you should keep in mind the total square footage of the area to be warmed.

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