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Outdoor Heater Buying Guide

Outdoor Heater Buying Guide

A nice patio offers a great extension to your home or business—but your time spent there can be limited due to weather conditions. If you've invested time and money into improving your space, then why not extend how long you can enjoy it? A patio heater can add style and warmth to your space so you can enjoy it long after summer ends. Patio heaters are particularly popular in restaurants and other commercial spaces since they create a comfortable outdoor area even in colder months—or even all year!

Unlike most heaters, outdoor heaters don’t maintain a specific temperature; they typically produce constant heat to a specific area. Outdoor heaters are weather-resistant and durable enough to withstand unpredictable weather but are also portable, so you can move them during warm months.

If you're considering an outdoor heater, review specifications like fuel type and safety features. Understanding what to look for can be half the battle, so use these links to help you find the best outdoor heater for you:

Fuel Types

The 2 most common types of outdoor heaters use liquid propane or electric power to produce heat. Liquid propane is the most common type, particularly for large spaces, but electric heaters are easier to use and maintain.

Electric: An electric patio heater is a convenient way to quickly add heat to your patio or deck. These heaters typically use a grounded 120-volt outlet and bulb to produce warmth. Since most use a standard outlet, you can plug them in almost anywhere—making electric heaters extremely low maintenance, particularly when compared to propane gas heaters. Another advantage electric heaters have over propane heaters is you can use them in covered and partially-enclosed spaces (you can't use propane heaters in these areas). Our selection includes tabletop and standalone designs that heat areas with up to a 12-foot radius.

Propane: Liquid propane is a great way to provide instant heat to cold outdoor areas. Propane patio heaters use a direct flame and an igniter to efficiently heat your space. Typically, a manual dial provides a range from low to high heat, which you can adjust depending on your outdoor temperature and the size of the space. Propane heaters usually offer a radius of available heat. Our selection of propane heaters includes standalone units with heating radius's as large as 20 feet. While you have to refill the gas used—which requires maintenance and additional costs—propane gas heaters are generally more powerful than electric heaters. Since they require air ventilation, they're only intended for outdoor use and are unsafe for enclosed spaces.

Styles

Electric Styles

  • Tabletop: These heaters can be easily placed on top of tables and are designed to match patio décor.
  • Standalone: These tall, thin standalone heaters are great for warming decks or larger outdoor areas
  • Mountable/With Stand: Some models come with a stand or are wall-mountable. This design lets you direct the heat exactly where you need it and saves floor space.

Propane Gas Styles

Our propane gas heaters are all standalone units and are popular in restaurant and bar patios. They're much taller than other heater types, so be sure they fit your space appropriately. One design feature to look for is the number of domes located on top of the heater. Models with one dome only direct heat downward around the unit, while models with multiple domes "throw" heat downward and out (meaning they can heat larger spaces). If you're looking to heat a large patio for commercial purposes, consider a model with multiple domes.

  • Single Dome: Ideal for smaller outdoor spaces.
  • Triple Dome: Perfect for cooling larger outdoor patio areas.

Size and Power

Patio heaters use watts or British Thermal Units (BTUs) to measure heating power, and most models offer a specific heating area around the heater (measured in feet). Determine the heating area you need before purchasing yours.

Many of the electric heaters we offer use 1,200 watts, which means they heat a 12-foot radius around the heater. These electric heaters plug directly into a wall socket and all models in our selection fit a standard 120-volt outlet.

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 larger space the heater can warm. For example, if a propane heater uses 40,000 BTUs, it's considered a large outdoor heater that warms areas up to 20 feet in diameter.

If you're purchasing a propane gas heater, also look at the gas tank size. Small tanks will need to be replaced more often, but larger heaters tend to hold bigger tanks. These models are good options for commercial use.

Safety Features

As with all heaters, portable outdoor heaters have safety features to ensure you and your family members are 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 one the heater is knocked over, then a switch automatically turns off the heating element to prevent fire.
  • Safety Approvals: Look for heaters that have been approved for safety; UL- and CSA-tested are common safety approvals to look for. These products have been evaluated to ensure all safety requirements have been met.  

Location and Clearances

Liquid propane is flammable and hazardous if handled improperly. For this reason, propane heaters are only approved for outdoor use. They shouldn’t be used in a building, garage, or any other enclosed area. All 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.

In addition, check the clearances to combustibles and appropriate wall clearances offered by the manufacturer—this information will be in your owner's manual. Clearances vary for all heaters.

Additional Safety Considerations

  • Don't touch the units while they're in use or before they cool down after use. Carefully supervise children and pets around outdoor heaters while they are in use.
  • Never hang clothing or any other flammable material on or near the heater.
  • Make sure you follow the manufacturer's assembly instructions carefully.
  • Check your propane gas tank for any leaks, dents, or rust.
  • In propane gas heaters, look for obstructions in the air vents (all propane gas heaters must have proper air ventilation).
  • Always turn the heater off before completing maintenance or moving it to another location.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Always turn off your heater before performing any maintenance or cleaning. To clean an outdoor heater, simply wipe surfaces down with water and mild soap or simply a damp cloth. Abrasive cleaners and oven cleaners can cause damage to them, so check your owner's manual for specific cleaning requirements.

Outdoor heaters are low-maintenance, but make sure the airflow is unobstructed. This keeps your heater running efficiently and ensures safety precautions are being met. You'll also have to replace gas tanks once they're empty.

Consider This

  • Propane Heaters: Never use propane-fueled heaters indoors. Doing so can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide—a fatal gas that's both colorless and odorless.
  • Electric Heaters: Some commercial-sized electric heaters may require more voltage than the standard 120-volt plug. Be sure to check your heater's electrical requirements before you purchase and assemble it.

Still Have Questions?

For more information on specific outdoor heaters or other air treatment solutions, shop our products and visit our Knowledge Center. Not sure what's best for you? Contact our product experts toll free at 1-800-934-9194. We want to help you make your indoor environment healthy and comfortable.

Other Resources

Bestselling Electric Patio Heaters
Bestselling Propane Patio Heaters
Portable Heater Safety Tips

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