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Outdoor Patio Heating: Patio Heaters

Propane Patio Heater

Continue using your patio well into the chilly season with a patio heater. The now ubiquitous patio heater is available in many models and designs. Available in floor standing, tabletop and hanging mount models, there is a patio heater to suit your needs.

Patio heaters provide less visual impact than a roaring fire, but they also take up much less room, are generally less expensive and don't pollute like a wood fire. Patio heaters are available in both gas or electric models although gas models tend to dominate right now.

Patio heaters are rated in BTU's to indicate their heating capability. Floor standing models typically output about 40,000 BTUs and claim a circular heat zone of 20 feet in diameter. So, in theory, anywhere within 10 feet from the heater you should feel warmth. In our testing, we found that a realistic distance was about 6 feet (12 foot circle). Of course, results vary depending upon wind, nearby structures, temperature and other factors. We were quite comfortable within the 12 foot diameter zone when the temperature dropped into the mid 40's with a breeze adding a wind chill factor into the high 30's. Note that some manufacturers list the circle, some list the distance and some use radius (which is the same as the distance). One model we saw listed a radius of 20 feet, which would mean a circle of warmth 40 feet in diameter, an unbelievable claim leading us to suspect they misused the term and really meant a 20 foot circle.

Floor standing models use a 20lb propane tank, the same tank used with many BBQ grills. Manufacturers claim about 10-15 hours of continuous operation on a single tank; your results may vary. We recommend keeping a full spare on hand. Some models are designed for use with natural gas (NG) and can be connected to household gas supply lines. Some models may be convertible to NG from LP but check the specifications before you purchase one.

Tabletop Heater

Tabletop models output about 10,000 BTUs and their claimed circle of heat averages 7 feet. We found ourselves comfortable around a typical round patio table, but at a rectangular table the persons seated at either end were cold. These models operate on a 1lb propane canister (like the kind used with camping equipment) although many offer an extension hose to connect to a 20lb tank. On a 1lb canister we got about 90 minutes of operation when run at the highest setting.

Hanging mount models are available and tend to be powered by a dedicated natural gas line or electricity. BTU ratings vary widely with the size of the unit.

For heating a small group of people who are seated, one or two table top models may be adequate. A floor standing unit can adequately warm people seated at a table although people on one side will likely be warmer than those on the other side. If heating a patio full of mingling guests, a couple floor standing units placed 12-16 feet apart will create a large comfort zone. Add a fire pit in a central location and the heaters can be spread a few more feet apart.

We found the propane heaters to provide excellent warming and kept our guests comfortable. These heaters are large but weighted to avoid tipping. Select model with wheels to ease moving. Furthermore, all models we reviewed have a tip-over shut-off safety feature, an important feature we think is a must. Be careful to keep heaters away from combustible material such as overhanging branches, umbrellas and wooden patio covers.

Learn more about the options in outdoor heating in these articles listed below.

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Outdoor Heating Overview

Outdoor Fireplace

Freestanding Fires and Fire Pits

Patio Heaters

Commercial Heaters






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