How to Choose a Patio Heater

Halogen Patio Heater

My recent guide to choosing a fire pit, chiminea or outdoor fireplace will have helped you to assess the options for heating your outdoor space. However, an open fire is not always practical, particularly for those living in tight urban areas. But you can easily swap the rustic charm of the naked flame for a little sophistication: enter the patio heater!

With so many designs, sizes and price points to consider, choosing the right patio heater for your outdoor space can be a little intimidating for the first-timer. Much will depend on your space, but with an understanding of how patio heaters operate, their intended use and an awareness of recent design trends, you will be halfway to making the right choice.

How do Patio Heaters Work?

Unlike open flame fires, where heat output is dedicated by how much fuel is burnt, patio heaters are designed to give a constant level of heat. Usually measured in BTU (British Thermal Units), a table top unit will produce around 10,000 BTU and a freestanding unit up to 40,000 BTU.

There are two ways in which patio heaters produce heat: either through burning gas or the heating of an electrical element. The heat source is then amplified via a reflector to warm a specific area. So far, so good…but not all heat is created equal.

Gas Patio Heaters

The most common form is the full size, freestanding unit which we are all familiar with. Their power output is between 7 and 15 KW and are effective within a radius of between 3 and 10 feet. To maximize their efficiency, these units should be centered in the area they are heating, though the reflector can often be adjusted to radiate in your chosen direction. Less common, but equally effective, are table top versions designed to heat the immediate vicinity of a patio table. They can also be wall / ceiling mounted, or mimic an ‘Olympic torch’ style open flame.

Electric Patio Heaters

If gas patio heaters are the heat-giving sun at the center of the patio universe, think of electric patio heaters as ‘spot heaters’ which radiate their heat with laser-guided like precision. Electric heaters will only heat the area in which they are directed, and thus work best to heat a specific area or enclosed / covered area. Electric heaters are less obtrusive than gas heaters, most commonly wall mounted and connected to your mains electricity.

Whether you choose gas or electric is dependent on the dynamics of your space and your desired effect. You should also consider purchase and running costs (the latter being dependent on your location), portability requirements and, of course, aesthetic appeal.

Patio Heater Trends

The Patio Heater arena has some of the most exciting, innovative operators in the outdoor living market. Many designs are incepted into the commercial sector – hotels, bars, restaurants – then adapted for residential use. Thus you can adopt a design feature from a style-savvy hotel straight onto your own patio or terrace!

The choices available have risen exponentially in recent years, with patio heaters available in an incredible number of designs and finishes. One particular trend has seen patio heaters incorporated into furniture and umbrellas, giving the heater some additional functionality.

As a case in point, admire this heater created by California based Kindle Living, which seamlessly integrates light and heat to stunning effect, and would create an amazing after-dark focal point…

Kindle Living Patio Heater


Patio Heaters & The Environment

Finally, a word on the environment. Patio Heaters have long been the bane of the environmentally conscious, and at first glance it’s easy to see why. All that heat aimlessly radiating into the night sky…why not put on a sweater or go inside, huh?

But the truth is that patio heater design has come a long way since the days of clunky, stainless steel patio heaters pumping out the carbon dioxide. Today’s heaters are energy efficient and available in sustainable materials, while EU and US regulations have clamped down on large, inefficient burners.

With the average patio heater in use for only a couple of hours a day, or less, your patio heater represents only a fraction of your home’s total energy output. Recent innovations include eco-friendly heaters running on carbon fiber tubes, which claim to cut emissions and running costs by 50%. You can relax and enjoy the warmth of your heater without the guilt.

What do you think?