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Do you enjoy spending time in your home's outdoor space? If so, you don’t have to let the cold weather drive you inside when the temperature drops. You can stay outside and enjoy the view with a good patio heater.
The best patio heaters are simple to use and relatively inexpensive. What’s more, they can extend a pleasant evening by several hours.
There are hundreds of patio heaters to choose from, too. Whatever the size or style of your outdoor area, there's an efficient solution to be found. So how do you find it?
At BestReviews, we’re here to help you find the products you need.
We understand that with lots of choice comes lots of conflicting information. No problem. Unraveling this kind of challenge is what we do best.
We conduct deep research, evaluating the markets and consulting experts and owners. We test some products in our own lab facilities, and we never accept free manufacturer samples or other perks that might sway our viewpoint.
The result: honest, unbiased reviews and recommendations you can trust.
In this shopping guide, we’ll discuss three basic types of patio heaters: table-top patio heaters, full-size electric patio heaters, and full-size propane patio heaters.
Full-size electric patio heaters come in a variety of styles, from single, wall-mounted heating bars to three- and four-element configurations fixed at a central point that look a lot like ceiling fans.
The main drawback of full-size electric patio heaters is that they require a cable. Most are designed to be fixed in position on a wall or overhead. We suspect that's why they're mostly seen in restaurants and other commercial locations rather than residential decks and yards.
You may have seen an electric patio heater on the wall of a restaurant with an outdoor dining area.
As the name suggests, a table-top patio heater sits atop an outdoor table. Some have quite a limited range; if your outdoor space is small, that could be ideal. But other table-top patio heaters pack a powerful punch. In fact, their performance may rival that of a full-size unit.
The main drawback to table-top patio heaters is that they are quite large. We tend to envision a “table-top” item as small, but in truth, table-top patio heaters usually stand three to four feet tall.
Even at that size, propane table-top patio heaters have relatively short run times of an hour or two. The reason: most can only hold a one-pound glass bottle.
If you’re considering a table-top patio heater, remember that these units are quite large. Placing something that big on a table makes a definite visual impact.
Full-size propane patio heaters come in two primary shapes. Some are cylindrical with a narrow stem and mushroom-like hood. Others are tall, pyramid-shaped units that house a flame in a crystal glass tube.
If full-size propane patio heaters have a disadvantage, it's that you must change the propane tank periodically. The standard 20-pound bottle lasts weeks if not months, but it's a good idea to keep a spare on hand.
Perhaps the biggest plus is that these types of patio heaters are portable. Many have small wheels to help you move them, giving them great flexibility.
For many consumers, a free-standing propane patio heater will be the best choice. These appliances are by far the most flexible option.
When selecting a patio heater, the most important question would seem obvious: how much heat does it provide? But in fact, heat output is not the whole story. Let’s look at the two kinds of heat used by patio heaters: radiant heat and convection heat.
Electric patio heaters emit radiant heat. The heat warms nearby objects and people, but it doesn’t actually warm the air. Electric patio heaters are particularly efficient at heating enclosed spaces that might otherwise be drafty.
How quickly do you want your heat? Electric patio heaters deliver radiant heat almost instantly. Standard propane models take a few minutes to start warming the air.
Propane-fueled patio heaters emit convection heat. These units do heat the air, and thus they also heat the objects and people within their reach.
How far their reach extends depends on the power of the heater, which we'll look at in a moment.
Convection heaters are excellent for larger spaces and situations in which people move from one area to another — in and out between house and deck, for example.
Convection heaters are particularly effective in completely open areas, such as patios, decks, and yards.
In the last few years, the boundaries between electric and propane heaters have been blurred by the introduction of patio heaters that feature a live flame within a glass crystal tube.
The result is radiant heat from a propane patio heater. Some people see it as the perfect combination.
Glass tube patio heaters combine electric and propane technology. For this reason, they are very popular — and also quite expensive.
Before you lay money down on a patio heater, you undoubtedly want to know what kind of heat output to expect.
An electric patio heater’s output is measured in watts, whereas a propane patio heater’s output is measured in BTU/h (British Thermal Units per hour).
The following ratings are reasonable minimum estimates for efficient heat generation:
Table-top electric heaters: 1,000 watts
Wall-mounted electric heaters: 1,500 watts
Table-top propane heaters: 10,000 BTU/h
Free-Standing propane heaters (radiant or convection): 40,000 BTU/h
Don't use a propane patio heater indoors due to risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous as it has no odor. Some patio heaters have an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) that turns the heater off if it senses an overabundance of carbon monoxide.
You may be tempted to opt for a patio heater with a larger numeric rating, but these numbers aren’t always indicative of efficiency.
You'll find wall-mounted patio heaters that can warm an area of 10 to 15 square feet and table-top patio heaters that can warm an area ten times that.
All of which is perhaps necessarily vague, because the effective range of a patio heater depends on the ambient temperature. On mild days, your patio heater will seem to warm more space than on frigid days when the temperature drops towards freezing.
Propane and butane are similar, but they’re not the same. Propane can’t freeze, but butane can. Almost all gas patio heaters can use either propane or butane, but it requires a change of regulator. For the purpose of this patio heater review, we use the term “propane” because that's how most models are sold.
At the lower end of the pricing scale, you'll pay around $75 for a table-top propane heater.
For $10 to $15 more, you can get a glass tube version.
An electric table-top patio heater costs far more. You’re unlikely to find one for less than $200 on the market these days.
You can get a good patio heater without spending a fortune. During the course of our research, we found patio heaters from highly reputable companies on sale for $200 or less.
Entry-level wall-mounted electric models can dip as low as $90. In fact, you’re unlikely to pay much more than $150 for one.
Free-standing propane patio heaters start at about $130. During the course of our research, we found some terrific models of this type that cost no more than $200.
A patio heater cover isn’t a necessity, but it’s nice to have.
If you have a more informal outdoor space, you'll want to look at the best propane patio heaters. The reason: propane heaters warm the air, not just the objects around it.
If you want to heat a specific area designed for outdoor dining (under an awning perhaps), an electric patio heater would probably be most efficient.
You might need more than one patio heater. Sure, you can look at manufacturer details to get an idea of the effective range of each model. But a heater’s effective range depends heavily on how cold the air gets.
Because patio heaters are stationed outdoors, some are vulnerable to rust. Opt for a patio heater made of a hearty, rust-resistant material like stainless steel or hammered bronze.
If you opt for a propane patio heater, there is a danger that it could topple over in windy weather. To guard against this, choose one with a weighted base. Better yet, choose one with a tilt sensor and automatic shutoff.
If you want an easy time igniting your propane-powered patio heater, choose one with Piezo-electric ignition. It doesn't require batteries and should make lighting your propane patio heater as easy as the flick of a switch.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.