What Makes a Good Patio Heater?

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The three most important points when choosing a Patio Heater are Heat output, (Btus or kW), Efficiency (how much the patio heater costs to run) and usability (how easy it is to light, look after and move around). In this article, we go through each of the points which, when all put together, makes a good patio heater and will ultimately help you to choose which patio heater is best for you.

We want to help you decide which patio heater best suits your needs. Armed with a few useful facts, you can make a decision on which patio heater best suits your needs and gives you the best bang for your buck!

What to Look for when Choosing a Patio Heater

There are many factors that will make the best patio heater and what may be right for one person, might not be right for another. When we put all the data together, we came up with what we think is the best patio heater.

However, you could also take each of the factors below and build them into a list of the points that you find most important. This might help you decided which patio heater to choose.

Patio Heater Heat Output

– How much heat does a patio heater produce?

Heat output is full of variables and you can find an in-depth look at how to measure heat here.

However, for simplicity, the heat output of Patio Heaters is measured in either BTUs (British Thermal Unit) or kW (Kilowatts). In simple terms, this is a measure of how much heat is produced by an appliance and could be thought of as BTUs per Hour or Kilowatts per hour.

TIP: If you see patio heaters quoted as having an output of 50,000 BTUs you could say it has an approximate heat output of 14.7 kW and vice versa. You can convert BTU/hr into kW and kW into BTU/h. This may help you to compare different patio heaters and how much heat they produce.

The Environment

– How does the environment affect the heat you actually feel?

Of course, heat output isn’t the whole story. There is another important factor that you may want to think about when heating your outside space. The environment you are heating can greatly affect how much heat you actually feel, which at the end of the day is what you are trying to achieve with a patio heater.

Imaging sitting in front of a bonfire in your garden and the wind is blowing from behind you. Although you will feel warmth on the front of your body, the wind is moving the heat immediately away from you.

Additionally, as we all know, any kind of heat rises, this means that you are going to need a lot more heat from your patio heater than you would if you were trying to heat a room with four walls and a ceiling. This is why you will encounter much larger numbers quoted for the heat output of outdoor heaters than indoor radiators.

Patio Heater Effectiveness

– How much heat will you actually feel?

Now that we have discussed heat output and the effects of the environment. We need to look at how effective patio heaters are at making you feel warm.

Gas powered patio heaters and fire pits will warm the air around it and as you stand in this zone, you will feel warm. However, the warm air can quickly be replaced by cold air if the wind is blowing. This kind of heating is known as convection heating.

Infrared heaters heat people and objects in a similar way to the sun (super-efficient), rather than convection heating which warms the air around you and will cool very quickly (inefficient). This is what makes infrared heaters for patios the most effective at making you feel warm and depending on the cost of your energy price, probably the cheapest patio heaters to run.

TIP: Infrared is not harmful, it’s just the clever use of science and technology! These heaters do produce immense amounts of heat so although it is protected with a grill, they are often mounted on a wall out of reach of children, pets and the odd irresponsible adult!

Patio Heater Efficiency

Ok, this could open a whole new can of worms! There are so many variables, from the size of the heater, the cost of the energy to how long you run it for and on what setting.

In the table below we have put some useful data together, to give you an approximate cost per hour of running a patio heater, depending on the fuel and the heat output.

If you are looking for a straight-up recommendation for the most efficient cheapest patio heater to run, it’s going to be an infrared electric patio heater but as we discuss next, they are not always the most aesthetically pleasing patio heaters or produce the most amount of heat.

Heat OutputGas Powered Patio HeaterGas Powered Fire PitElectric Patio Heater
30,000 BTU£2.20 /hr£2.20/hr
40,000 BTU£2.80 /hr£2.80 /hr
50,000 BTU£3.50 /hr£3.50 /hr
1 kW14.37 pence /hr
2 kW28.74 pence /hr
3 kW43.11 pence /hr
Cost per hour of running electric and gas powered patio heaters

Average Patio Gas price and Electric price:

14/02/2021 Update
The average cost of electric in the UK is 14.37 pence kWh
The average cost of 13 kg of Patio Gas (propane) in the UK is £42 for a refill and £82 for a new bottle

Patio Heater Usability and Aesthetics

The last factor that may influence your decision. How easy is the patio heater to use, turn on, move about and most importantly what the heater will look like on your patio when it is being used and when it’s not being used! Let’s go through the Pros and Cons of each patio heater.

Fire pits

Fire pits are probably the least manoeuvrable, so if you have different outside spaces you like to use, then gas-powered fire pit heaters are probably not for you. These fires can weigh a minimum of 15 kg without the gas bottle and because of their size, could be awkward to move around your garden.

Fire pits are easy to light, the only downside is making sure you have enough gas to last the evening.

Electric Garden Heaters

Electric garden heaters come in various shapes and sizes. There are many different freestanding units but bear in mind, you may need an extension lead that can cope with the electric draw.

Electric patio heaters produce instant heat at the flick of a switch but they can emit an unnatural red glow. This may not suit the atmosphere you want to create in the garden.

Infrared Patio Heaters come in two forms, Far and Near infrared. Far infrared heaters do not produce any light so are great for discreet heating. They are however more expensive than Near-infrared heaters which will emit a red glow.

As a guide a 2 kW Electric Patio Heater will heat an area of 9 m2

Standard Gas Powered Patio Heaters

Although tall and a somewhat imposing, standard gas powered patio heaters are relatively easy to move around, by tilting the unit back and wheeling the heater to the required position. Again, these heaters weigh a minimum of 20 kg without the gas bottle, so take this into consideration when making your decision.

Gas powered patio heaters are not always easy to light. They are often lit by holding the gas control knob in while pressing an ignition switch. Similar to relighting your central heating boiler. If the patio heater is outside for long periods, these small ignition units can degrade and fail just when you don’t need them to!

Real Flame Patio Heaters

There is no doubt about it, a real flame flickering conjures up warm relaxing feelings. Whereas a constant red/orange glow can seem somewhat artificial.

Fire pits and many gas-powered patio heaters have real flames and can really pack a punch when it comes to heat output. The most common of which, have outputs of between 30,000 (8.8 kW) and 50,000 BTUs (14.7 kW). Patio heaters with real flames are usually encased in a glass tube so they are not affected by the elements.

TIP: The glass-encased patio heaters can be light enough to blow over in the wind if they do not have a gas bottle inside to weigh them down. The glass is replaceable, but moving the heater to a sheltered spot might save you the cost of replacing broken parts.

The Best Patio Heater – Conclusion

So to conclude, electric patio heaters are the most efficient to run and produce the most amount of heat. However, they will not heat a large area.

Gas powered patio heaters will warm the patio area sufficiently but can be imposing on small patios. They can also suffer from ignition problems if not properly looked after, i.e. using a cover when not in use.

Gas powered fire pits produce a good amount of heat and real flames. They are easy to maintain and ignite but are not as mobile. The gas could run out halfway through the evening If “SOMEONE” has forgotten to check the gas level!

As with everything, buying a patio heater is one thing, running the heater is another. You can read our article on how much it costs to run a gas powered patio heater here.

Expect to pay between £250 and £450 for a good patio heater, whether that’s electric or gas-powered.

Gas powered patio heaters are large and it’s not possible to deliver them fully made-up and ready to go. Expect to do some assembly when buying these heaters. It won’t be difficult but it is worth bearing in this mind.

What size Patio Heater do I need?

If you want to heat a gazebo or covered patio area, for safety reasons, only use an electric heater. Similarly use electric heaters under parasols or tabletop fires. However, as a general rule, to heat an uncovered patio area:

  • 50,000 BTU Gas Patio Heater will heat an area of approximately 20 m2 (4m x 5m)
  • 40,000 BTU Gas Fire Pit will heat an area of approximately 4 m2 (2m x 2m)
  • 2 kW Electric Patio Heater will heat an area of approximately 4 m2 (2m x 2m)
  • 3 kW Electric Patio Heater will heat an area of approximately 9 m2 (3m x 3m)

Patio Heater Heat Information

  • BTUs (British Thermal Units) are an imperial measurement and the equivalent metric is a calorie.
  • BTU equates to the amount of energy needed to raise one pound of liquid water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.
  • A calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
  • BTUs are used in America and kW are used more often in the UK.
      The Heat Chief