People ask: “What is the best outdoor heater for my patio?” Be it on the patio, deck, or further out in the backyard, the answer is that it depends on many factors. Outdoor heaters are powered by these three sources, natural gas, propane gas, or electricity.
Your personal needs are going to vary from your neighbor’s use of an outdoor patio heater.
Let us take a look at the different types, ease of use, the general cost of the unit, and operational / maintenance costs of heaters that are offered on the market; and then I hope you are more able to determine what type of outdoor patio heater would fit your needs.
Types of Heat
Maybe it’s more than you want to know about heat, but it’s important to understand so you can make the right decision as to what type of patio heater to purchase.
Heat, is heat right? Well, not exactly; there is radiant heat, convection heat, and conduction heat. Since we are looking into outdoor patio heaters, we’ll be most interested in Radiant heat sources as they heat objects and not the air.
Infrared heat is transmitted through electromagnetic waves / infrared waves, and it heats objects, such as patio furniture, and not the air. The hotter the source of heat, the more infrared energy is emitted.
If you were to come from the shade, walk into the sunlight and feel the instant heat from the sun, you would be experiencing radiant heat. Infrared heat warms the objects it hits as they absorb the infrared light energy; infrared heat does not heat the air; otherwise, you would have felt the heat in the shade.
Items affected by the radiant heat will disperse the energy that they have absorbed and, in the right conditions, can help to warm an area itself.
All you ever wanted to know about heat and then some is right here: Types of Heat.
Outdoor Patio Heater Types
Natural Gas Heaters
Natural gas heaters are really convenient; as long as the gas bill is paid, turn it on. Natural gas in a home setting typically comes in from the main gas line out at the street and flows to the furnace, possibly the kitchen, clothes dryer, and sometimes the home’s fireplace.
It is possible to connect to natural gas for an outdoor heater if the Gas Co serves your street. If a storm comes, knocks out the power, you should still have gas service and a source of heat.
If you’re not already hooked up with a natural gas meter, it’s going to cost you to install it.
According to Home Advisor (they have a gas line cost calculator) https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/plumbing/install-or-repair-gas-pipes/, the price varies greatly to connect to natural gas anywhere from $120.00 U.S.- to nearly $1400.00, which only makes sense as we all have different situations and live in many different areas.
The national average is just over $500.00, my area averages just under $600 to connect. You can expect to pay a master plumber up to $150.00 U.S. an hour labor charge to install.
When deciding to add a natural gas outdoor heater, there are options to consider whether to have a free-standing heater or a wall/ceiling mounted type.
A free-standing heater allows you more freedom for placement options (keeping in mind that you need to allow for three feet of clearance over it and two feet of clearance on the sides of the heater).
Still, you will probably need to run a separate stationary gas line to the patio (regardless of a stationary heater or free-standing) to connect to the heater via a flexible hose.
The longest gas hoses that I found are twenty-four feet long, which would give you some flexibility when it comes to the placement of your non-stationary free-standing natural gas heater.
I have seen hoses protected by braided stainless steel covering; that is what I personally would opt for; natural gas is nothing that you want something to go wrong with.
I have read, and in my study on this subject found that some think that natural gas patio heaters were stationary only, this turns out to be false information, there are natural gas heaters for your patio that can be moved from one area to another as long as the hose reaches.
Ease of Use
Attaching the hose with the Quick-Connect fittings to the heater and then to the house’s meter is fairly straightforward after reading the directions.
Natural gas patio heaters use either a piezo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piezo_ignition flame igniter to cause a spark, which in turn ignites the gas to create the flame, or a battery to create a spark and ignite the gas.
If a storm comes, knocks out the power, you should still have gas service and a source of heat.
Cost of Natural Gas Heaters
There are many brands of natural gas outdoor heaters on the market, and with that comes questions and decisions as to what fits your needs. Is it the free-standing unit, an outdoor fireplace, a fire pit, or a ceiling-mounted version?
Probably the first thing to consider is the space you want to heat, how many square feet it is, and how many BTUs (see link below) will it take to heat the area to a desirable temperature.
Click here for a handy BTU calculator that will help you decide how many BTU’s you need to heat your space.
Once you know that, then you can start shopping for a heater that will fill that need.
As there are many natural gas patio heaters choices as there are red cars, I looked at the major “Big Box” stores; they all have them offered relatively inexpensive.
The concept is basic “spark and gas,” so if a person was to pay more for a certain product, I believe it would be more aesthetics than functionality that could justify the extra cost.
Operational/ Maintenance Cost
A natural gas heater will be the friendliest to the pocketbook, though possibly more for the heater upfront than a propane heater (see the cost per state link below).
Unlike propane that will misbehave at cold temperatures and electricity prone to go out, natural gas is usually a constant heat source.
Sticking with a brand that gets good reviews, has replacement parts available is the way to go. The mechanics of a heater are pretty simple and straightforward.
I include a link to our friends at Fire Sense, where they have an outdoor patio troubleshooting guide:
Overall, a natural gas setup is more of a permanent option for having the patio’s heat than a propane heater or electric heat that you can pick up and go and set up elsewhere. For example, If I were leasing the home and not the homeowner myself, I personally wouldn’t go to the expense of natural gas.
Cost of Natural Gas
The cost of natural gas fluctuates with supply and demand. The more demand, the more we pay. I have put a link here to give you some idea of your cost of Natural gas in your state, courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Presently 2021, the cost of Natural Gas in my area is down to the lowest levels since 2010.
As I’ve stated, and most people are aware of, natural gas is not anything you want to have something go wrong with. Be sure to follow all directions to the letter when hooking up/igniting/using a gas heater.
Natural gas emits gases when combusting. A natural gas patio heater is never to be used indoors.
I have included a link here to a short two-minute video from ATCO on a Natural Gas Patio Heater’s benefits that I think you might find helpful.
Propane Outdoor Heaters work and operate like natural gas heaters, except in temperatures 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, propane begins to turn from a gaseous state to liquid, and the stove works with less efficiency.
I don’t want to sound like I am not for propane heaters, but they are the most cumbersome to operate, and propane heaters emit the most harmful gases.
Most people must travel to fill the propane tank once in a while (depending on usage), and you have to disconnect/reconnect when changing out the propane bottle.
On the other hand, Outdoor propane heaters can be put anywhere that allows for adequate ventilation. They work when the power goes out, and fuel is readily available just about anywhere, it seems.
Operating a Propane Heater
A person should have a certain respect for propane and any other flammable gas and follow the manufacturer’s suggestions when operating a propane heater.
Relatively maintenance-free, electric heaters are extremely user-friendly for patio use. Given enough electrical cord, you can place them anywhere, but of course, you don’t want them next to the pool. Let’s now look at electric heaters.
Be it stationary (mounted to a wall etc.) or freestanding, if it’s outside, you want Radiant heat, so it warms you, not the air.
It comes in a box, you set it up, plug it in, and have heat, but everyone has different ideas and needs.
Hung from the overhead beams plugged into an electrical outlet with a switch cord that hangs from the heater, easy. The different styles, models, shapes, and sizes seem endless, so many options you do have.
Again, there are a million (seems like) sellers of these electric heaters; read reviews on Amazon or check out the people at BBQ Guys they just updated their reviews for 2021 here: https://www.bbqguys.com/patio-heaters/resources/top-rated/best-electric-patio-heaters.
Cost of Fuel
The cost per 1000 cubic feet of natural gas has remained fairly steady in the past twenty years.
Cost of Natural gas in your state courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Administration: https://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/n3010nm3m.htm
The cost of propane has remained around $2.50 the U.S. per gal. For the last five years. A gallon of propane weighs 4.2 lbs—a full 20lb. Bottle should have 4.7 gals. Of propane in it and cost you roughly $11,50 in the U.S.
Electricity will cost you a little more to obtain the same energy output as natural gas and propane.
|Natural Gas||430.7 cubic feet||430,001||$15.67 per 1000 cubic ft.**|
|Propane||4.7 U.S. gal. – 20 lb.||430,270||$11.33 per 4.7gal. – 20lb.***|
|Electricity||126 kilowatts||430,000||$16.81 ****|
*British Thermal Units **As of June 2021 ***As of March 2021 ****As of June 2021
When it comes to running an outdoor patio heater, natural gas is by far the cheapest, in fact about four dollars cheaper than propane and half of what the power co. Is going to want.
If I were in the market for an outdoor patio heater, I would first access my needs. What kind of service I had to the patio, for example, do I have a gas line close by, do I have an outlet that can accommodate the power usage of an electric heater, etc.; and then do I have proper ventilation or have enough clearance, so the heater is operating safely, do I have a child or pet safety concern?
There are many things to consider when purchasing an Outdoor Patio Heater; thank you for reading, Cheers!
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