The Best Patio Heaters in 2022
What to look for in a patio heater
Matthew Griffith, prevention section chief with the Montreal Fire Department, said shoppers should look for patio heaters with certifications from the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC). These independent certification bodies test and ensure various appliances meet specific safety standards.
Griffith said a lot of inexpensive products don’t have these safety certifications, which can be quite expensive for brands to obtain.”There’s a reason why one company can sell it at half the price,” he said. Though a product with safety certifications often costs more, Griffith said it’s important to prioritize safety over price.
You’re buying a patio heater to keep warm when it gets cold, so heat output should be a key consideration. Most manufacturers list heat output in British thermal units (Btu) and estimate the square footage a heater can handle in ideal conditions. The higher the Btu of a heater, the more heat it will produce and the larger an area it will cover.
You can estimate the Btu you need to heat your outdoor area by multiplying the cubic footage of the space by your desired temperature increase. My patio is about 1,500 cubic feet (assuming a height of around 5 feet — I’m short, so I don’t need to heat the air too far above my head), and if I want to hang out outside in the fall when it’s 50 degrees outside, I’ll probably want to raise the temperature by at least 10 degrees. That means I’ll need a heater that puts out at least 15,000 Btu.
Bigger spaces or colder climates will require more Btu to heat comfortably. If you live in a colder area or are looking to entertain guests, we recommend looking for a heater that produces 40,000 Btu or more, which is enough to heat around 2,000 square feet comfortably. Dome or pyramid-shaped heaters are typically larger and have a higher Btu output, so they can usually heat a larger area than tabletop patio heaters. These tall patio heaters are often seen at restaurants because they can keep a large number of guests comfortable at one time.
Thomas Bonfiglio, CEO and founder of Triple T Hospitality, said that the high heat output is one of the reasons he chose pyramid and dome-top heaters for his New York and New Jersey restaurants. “Diners who may still not be comfortable eating inside anywhere can have a pleasant experience outside for many months,” Bonfiglio said.
Propane-powered heaters typically produce more heat than electric heaters because they aren’t limited by the circuit system of your home. That, of course, means there are some additional safety considerations for propane heaters since they won’t shut off automatically like an electric heater will when a circuit is overloaded. You can read more about safety considerations in the section below.
Most propane patio heaters are compatible with standard 15- to 20-pound propane tanks, but some portable versions work with smaller, 16-ounce canisters. You’ll have to buy propane tanks separately from the heater, as you would for a gas-powered outdoor fireplace or grill. Fortunately, small and large propane tanks are readily available at most hardware stores; it typically costs about $20 to $25 to refill or buy a 20-pound propane tank at Home Depot.
How much gas your patio heater uses depends on its heat output, what setting you’re using, and the surrounding air temperature. (The colder it is, the more gas you’ll use to heat the area.) Amerigas says that you can expect to generate 22,000 Btu per hour for each pound of propane.
So if you have a 40,000 Btu patio heater, it’ll burn through about 2 pounds of propane every hour you’re operating it on its highest setting. Patio heaters guzzle a lot of propane, so I always like to keep an extra tank on hand since I have multiple outdoor gas-powered appliances like a grill and an outdoor fireplace.
Electric heaters are usually cheaper and safer to operate because they produce less heat. They also don’t require regular trips to the hardware store for fuel refills. But the heat isn’t very powerful or far-reaching if you’re looking to keep a crowd warm.
If aesthetics are important to you, keep in mind that electric and propane heaters give off different types of light. Gas-powered patio heaters create actual flames, which produce a natural, fireplace-like glow. Bonfiglio said he settled on gas models for his restaurant because of their ability to evenly diffuse heat without adding unnecessary bright light.
Bonfiglio also chose patio heaters with controls that are high up and out of reach to customers, which keeps diners safe and the atmosphere consistent. If your household has children or pets, you might also consider a patio heater with out-of-reach controls to prevent any accidents. Most tall, freestanding patio heaters naturally have controls that are high up. My AmazonBasics patio heater has controls so high that I need to stretch to reach them.
On the flip side, if you don’t have any wayward hands in your home, you might find it a pain to break out the step ladder every time you want to turn on your patio heater. Some models come with remote controls for easier operation, or you may opt for a tabletop unit.
Portability and storage
Experts told us you can store most propane heaters outside all year round. Just add a cover to prevent unnecessary wear and tear during rainstorms and cold winter months. We recommend choosing a model with wheels if you’re opting for a standalone unit like a dome-top or pyramid heater so that it’s easy to wheel out of the way when not in use. If you’re storing a portable patio heater indoors, remove the propane attachment before doing so.