Ultimate Buying Guide: Outdoor Heaters

Looking to provide heat and warmth to your patio or outdoor area? A heater can be a great option, but what kind of outdoor heater is best for you? Read this guide to understand the different types of heaters and their features!

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When the temperature drops outside, that shouldn’t mean you can’t use your backyard or outdoor space. An outdoor heater (also called a patio heater) can be a great solution to provide warmth to your backyard area during colder temperatures. But which one is right for you? There are several types of heaters to consider, and some may be better suited for your backyard.

This guide will give an overview of key characteristics of outdoor heaters that you should consider when purchasing an outdoor heater to provide you with peace of mind knowing that you are making the best buying decision.

Scroll down to learn more!

Outdoor Heaters Buying Guide
Table of Contents

Location: Where should I put an outdoor heater?

The spaces you will want to place an outdoor heater will likely be the same areas you use during warm months to socialize with your guests – your seating and dining areas. As you identify these areas, measure out the space of these areas to know how big of an area you need to heat. With that being said, you can place a heater in many locations, and there are different heater options to fit your space perfectly.

Heat amount: How much heat do I need from an outdoor heater?

As you look for heaters, you will likely find some measurement of how large of an area that the heater can heat. This will usually be in the form of a distance from the heater (ex: 20-foot diameter) or square footage (ex. 200 sq. ft). Compare this coverage to the size of the area that you would like to heat.

Additionally, you will likely find outdoor heaters measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units). A BTU is a quantifiable measure of heat created by the heater. Knowing how many BTUs are appropriate for your area is a key factor in helping you find the right heater. This will help avoid buying a heater that puts off too much heat or doesn’t provide enough heat for your area.  A general formula to determine how many BTUs are needed for your space is: Square feet of your area x 40 = BTUs Needed. Example: If you have a 200 sq. ft. patio, you will need a heater that provides about 8,000 BTUs.

Fuel Sources: What fuel type should I get for my outdoor heater?

There are three main types of fuel for outdoor heaters: electric, propane, and natural gas. Knowing which type is right for you depends on where you want to place the heater and any restrictions in using a particular fuel type in that area.

Electric: Electric heaters are a versatile option for patio heaters that can be used in various backyard areas. Unlike propane and natural gas, these heaters do not emit emissions. As a result, these heaters have fewer safety precautions compared to propane and natural gas. A limiting factor, though, for electric heaters is access to an outlet to power the heater. If you do not have an electrical outlet or access to your home’s power supply, you may be limited in using these heaters. 

Propane: Propane heaters are a great option if portability is a critical factor for you. These heaters can be used to heat small and large areas and can be moved around your backyard to best suit your heating needs. Propane-fueled heaters are usually designed to hide the propane tank within the heater. These areas should be easy to access as you will need to replace these tanks often, depending on how much you use the heater.

Natural Gas: A key benefit of a natural gas heater is there is no need to refill tanks because these heaters are connected to the natural gas supply of your house (if you have it). These heaters are generally placed in a permanent location because the connection to a natural gas line cannot be moved around. Additionally, you will need to contact a plumber to properly install this heater to ensure that the gas connection is appropriately set up.

Types: What are the different types of outdoor heaters?

There are several types of outdoor heaters in various designs and sizes that may be ideal for your backyard. Below are general categories of heaters that you can use to help narrow your search for the right outdoor heater.

  • Free-standing: These are portable heaters generally used to heat large areas. These heaters usually stand about 7 feet tall, and the heat source (typically propane) is hidden within the heater.
  • Ground-Mounted: Ground-mounted outdoor heaters are set in a permanent location to heat a specific area. Natural gas is an excellent option for ground-mounted outdoor heaters.
  • Wall or Ceiling-Mounted: As the name implies, these heaters are mounted in a permanent location on your wall or to your patio ceiling (you can find some outdoor hanging heaters). You will usually find these options in electric, natural gas, or propane.
  • Tabletop: These are small, portable heaters that are great for providing heat to those gathered around the table. These smaller heaters can be a more affordable option than buying a larger heater.
  • Recessed: Recessed heaters are recessed into your ceiling or wall. Due to ventilation requirements for gas heaters, these are typically electric. These can be a great permanent option if you do not prefer the look of having a ceiling or wall-mounted heater.

Safety: What safety features should I look for in an outdoor heater?

Depending on your heater’s type and fuel source, you should look for several standard safety features. Look for UL or CSA certifications for all heaters, as these signify that the heater meets established safety standards. Additionally, a ‘safety shutoff’ or ‘automatic shutoff’ are features that enable the heater to shut off in case the heater gets too hot. Finally, for portable free-standing and table-top heaters, a ‘tip-over switch’ will automatically turn off the heater if the heater tilts beyond a certain angle.

Hi, I'm Ashley!

Hi, I'm Ashley!

I started Live Your Best Backyard to share my (and my family's) hands-on experience and countless hours of research on all things backyard to help you find the best products, ideas, tips, and information for your backyard!

Read More About Me
Hi, I'm Ashley!

Hi, I'm Ashley!

I started Live Your Best Backyard to share my (and my family's) hands-on experience and countless hours of research on all things backyard to help you find the best products, ideas, tips, and information for your backyard!

Read More About Me
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