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Outdoor Heater Buying Guide

Outdoor Heater Buying Guide

A nice outdoor space becomes an extension of your home or business, so why not enjoy it longer? Whether it's a restaurant patio, pool area, or nice backyard, adding a patio heater lets you enjoy your outdoor space long after summer has come and gone. And outdoor patio heaters do more than add warmth; they become an attractive centerpiece and bring ambiance to your space.

There are many types of fuel, various styles, and several other considerations to review before buying residential or commercial outdoor heaters. For quick reference, click on one of the sections below:

Benefits
Fuel Types
Styles
Size and Power
Safety Considerations
Cleaning and Maintenance
Features to Consider
Top Brands
Outdoor Heaters vs. Fireplaces/Fire pits
Other Resources

Outdoor Heater Benefits

  • Low-maintenance operation
  • Silent, instant  heat
  • Attractive designs
  • Less hassle and fewer air quality issues than fireplaces/fire pits
  • Built to handle outdoor elements

Fuel Types

Outdoor heaters generally use of these 3 fuel types: Natural gas, propane, or electric. See which one is best for your space:

Natural Gas

Natural gas patio heaters are popular because they offer continuous heat with little maintenance. You simply need to attach them to a natural gas line. They're less expensive to operate than propane gas or electric heaters and tend to be more efficient as well. Most natural gas models come with an included gas line that can be quickly hooked up for continuous heat.

The main disadvantages of natural gas heating is you may need a plumber to assist you set up the lines, and once the lines are connected, you can't move them around as easily as propane heaters (which just use tanks inside the units, so they're easier to move).

Most of the models we sell come fully-assembled and can heat areas up to 20 feet in all directions from the standalone heater.

Best-Selling Natural Gas HeaterLava Heat 2G Natural Gas Heater

  • Ideal for large pool decks, restaurant patios, and event spaces, since it warms up 36 square feet
  • Includes an adjustable flame, electronic controls, and remote control
  • Comes fully-assembled with commercial-grade parts and has 5-year limited warranty
  • Quick set-up gas line is included ($100 value)
  • Also available as a propane tank heater

Propane Gas

Propane gas heaters are commonly used outdoors because they're simple to use and provide instant heat. All that's needed is a gas tank (generally a 1-, 20-, or 40-pound tank), and they're easy to install yourself. Most of our models come fully-assembled, and select models use domes to offer heat in a circle up to 20 feet.

The main disadvantage, particularly for commercial applications, is that you have to replace gas tanks, which can run out at inopportune times. There is also the additional cost and maintenance of replacing these tanks.

Best-Selling Sylvane Propane Heater: Lava Heat Alto Propane Heater

  • Ideal for large pool decks, restaurant patios, and event spaces
  • 20-pound tank allows for up to 10 hours of continuous operation
  • Comes fully-assembled with commercial-grade parts
  • Available in brushed copper, gun metal, heritage bronze, stainless steel, and matte black finishes
  • Also available as a natural gas heater

Electric Fuel

An electric patio heater is a convenient way to quickly add heat to your patio or deck. These heaters typically require a 120-volt outlet and use a heating bulb to produce warmth. Since most use a standard residential outlet, you can plug them in almost anywhere—making electric heaters extremely low maintenance, particularly when compared to propane gas heaters. Another advantage of electric heaters is you can use them in covered and partially-enclosed spaces (you can't use propane heaters in these areas).

The biggest issue with electric outdoor heaters, of course, is that you have to plug them in. Most outdoor spaces don’t have easy access to plugs and users don't want to run long electrical cords outdoors. Also, these models generally don’t have the flame effect that customers appreciate in commercial settings. Propane and natural gas heaters often become a centerpiece and attractive addition to your space thanks to this feature.

Best-Selling Sylvane Electric HeaterEndless Summer New Orleans

  • Common in covered patios, decks, and sitting areas
  • Heats up to 12-foot circle around the unit
  • Plugs into standard residential plug and uses 1200-watt heating bulb
  • Tabletop version is also available

Styles

Outdoor heaters come in a variety of styles, but these are the most common types:

  • Standalone/Ground: The most common type of outdoor heater, particularly in commercial spaces, is standalone heaters. They're generally tall, thin heaters that give off a large amount of heat—making them ideal for large outdoor decks and patios. They're commonly placed in event spaces, hotel pool decks, and scattered around outdoor restaurant seating areas.
  • Tabletop: These models vary from looking like miniature floor heaters to traditional lamps (they're sometimes referred to as outdoor heating lamps). Ideal for side tables or large tables in event spaces, these models are usually 3-feet or less in height.
  • Mountable: Select outdoor heater models can be mounted to a ceiling or wall. These versatile models often come with a stand. They save floor space and commonly add heat to industrial and work spaces.

Size and Power

Most patio heaters use watts or British Thermal Units (BTUs) to measure heating power. Models often list their heating area as a number of feet around the unit. For example, our electric heaters offer up to 1200 watts of power, so they warm up to a 12-foot circle around the heater.  

BTUs are the standard measurement of power for many appliances (they're measured as energy used per unit time). You'll usually see them written as BTUs per hour; the higher the number of BTUs, the more the heater gives off.

 

If you're purchasing a propane gas heater, also look at the gas tank size. Small tanks will need to be replaced more often, and larger heaters tend to hold bigger tanks. Models with 20- or 40-pound tanks last for hours of continuous use.

Location and Safety Considerations

Before installing your outdoor patio heater, there are several safety considerations to look out for:

  • Propane and natural gas heaters are for outdoor use only. Some electric heaters can be used in semi-outdoor spaces like covered porches.
  • Outdoor heaters should sit on completely level surfaces that can hold their weight.
  • They shouldn't be placed in areas with a lot of wind or close to low-hanging tree branches or plants that can catch fire.
  • Check the clearances to combustibles and wall clearances offered by the manufacturer—this information will be in your owner's manual.
  • Never hang clothing or any other flammable material on or near the heater.
  • Turn the heater off before completing maintenance or moving it to another location.

Safety Features

Portable outdoor heaters have safety features to ensure you're safe from fire and other risks. Keep an eye out for the following features:

  • Automatic Shutoff: A switch inside turns off the heater if it gets too hot and becomes a fire hazard. 
  • Tilt-Over Protection: If the heater is knocked over, then a switch automatically turns off the heating element.
  • Cool-Touch Glass: Most commercial outdoor heaters come with cool-touch glass that make them safe around kids or pets. 
  • Safety Approvals: Look for heaters that have been approved for safety; UL- and CSA-tested are common safety approvals. These products have been evaluated to ensure all safety requirements have been met.  

Cleaning and Maintenance

  • Cleaning Your Heater: To clean an outdoor heater, simply wipe surfaces down with water and mild soap or a damp cloth. Abrasive cleaners and oven cleaners can damange them, so check your owner's manual for specific cleaning requirements.
  • Maintenance: There is little maintenance required with outdoor heaters, which is one of their biggest advantages. Other than the occasional wipe down, the only real maintenance you'll need to worry about is replacing gas tanks (for propane heaters).

Additional Features to Consider

Assembly-Type: Most of the outdoor patio heaters we offer come at least partially-assembled. Many models, like our Lava Heat patio heaters, come fully-assembled in one box. You simply have to attach the top/domes for some models. Be sure to look for this feature, because building completely unassembled patio heaters can take a significant amount of time. If you're looking for a model you can immediately remove and start using, find one that comes fully-assembled.

  • Electronic Controls: Models with electronic controls to adjust heat levels and turn the heat on and off are much easier to use. Look for outdoor patio heaters with one-touch ignition and simple setting controls. Select models even have a remote control.
  • Adjustable Flames: Most propane and natural gas outdoor heaters include some type of flame, and many of these flames can be adjusted to match your desired ambiance and heat level.​

Length of Warranty: If your outdoor heater has a long warranty (some have up to 5-year limited warranties), you can be confident it's built with quality materials and won't suffer from tough environmental conditions.

Sylvane's Top Outdoor Patio Heater Brands

Lava Heat

Lava Heat outdoor heater models use either propane or natural gas as fuel. They're popular in both commercial and residential locations due to their high-quality parts and attractive designs. Most come fully-assembled, so they take just minutes to put together. Electronic controls and large, adjustable flames add to their appeal.

We offer tall, standalone models and tabletop heaters. Available standalone heaters offer up to 60,000 BTUs of heat for large spaces. Our selection of tabletop models from Lava Heat offer similar features but less power for small areas.

Shop Lava Heat Patio Heaters here.

Endless Summer/Blue Rhino

Manufactured by American propane gas company Blue Rhino, Endless Summer heaters come in both electric and propane gas models. These affordable heaters vary in style and design, with electric models coming in both tabletop and full size models.

All of their electric heaters can be plugged into a standard residential outlet (110-120-volts), so their popular in residential outdoor spaces and covered porches. Using up to 1,200 watt bulbs, their electric models cover up to 12-feet circles.

Powerful propane heaters are also offered by Endless Summer and are more powerful than their electric heater counterparts. Ideal for balconies, pool decks, and patios, these outdoor heaters warm surrounding areas up to 20-feet in diameter. Many of them use domes at the top to radiate heat farther than other outdoor heaters.

Shop Endless Summer Outdoor Heaters here.

Heat Storm

Ideal for outdoor areas, workshops, job sites, and even garages, Heat Storm heaters are a top-choice for industrial heating. Currently we offer one model, the Heat Storm Tradesman. This versatile heater can be mounted on a wall or ceiling, put on a tripod, or in a small "cage" for quick transport to different job sites. It uses infrared heat to directly warm people and objects rather than the air. Its lightweight design, quiet heating, and various uses make it a top choice among construction and other industrial professionals.

Outdoor Heaters vs. Fireplaces and Fire Pits

Some customers consider fireplaces or fire pits for their outdoor space, but for they're not the best option for many people. While fire pits add ambiance, many outdoor heaters—particularly natural gas and propane heaters—use real, adjustable flames and elegant designs that enhance the outdoors as much as fireplaces. In addition, there are many factors that push customers towards patio heaters instead:

  • Forget the Mess: Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are messy and require a lot of cleaning and maintenance. You won't have to worry about ashes, wood, and other messy components if you use an outdoor heater.
  • Air Quality Issues: Fireplaces also cause a lot of smoke and can irritate guests' eyes and allergy symptoms.
  • Contained Heat: In general, outdoor heaters are much safer to use. You won't have to watch out for ashes and sparks associated with an open fire.

Other Resources

Still Have Questions?

Not sure what's best for you? We can take the guesswork out of decision-making. Contact one of our air treatment specialists at 1-800-934-9194. We want to help make your indoor and outdoor environment healthy and comfortable.

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