Patio heaters are a great way to extend the usable seasons for your outdoor space. They can provide a fair amount of heat to keep you warm in the colder months, or even in the winter for the higher BTU devices. If you have a big patio, however, you may wonder how many patio heaters you need for your space.
You can determine the right sort of patio heater based on its power output in BTU (British Thermal Units) and the square footage you’re trying to heat. A more extensive patio will require a patio heater with more BTUs. Generally, depending on the shape of your patio, you can use one heater of the correct power output to warm the entire space.
Unless you’re having massive outdoor parties with guests all over your patio, you can generally use one patio heater if it’s a more extensive, freestanding model. If you use a smaller mode, you may need more. This guide will help you determine how many heaters you need to keep your patio space comfortable for as long as possible.
How Many Patio Heaters Do I Actually Need?
The table below can help you determine exactly how many BTUs you need to heat a given area. Simply take the square footage of your patio and find the corresponding BTUs. You can then use that information to guide your decision making when you’re looking for a nice patio heater.
|Area (in square feet)||BTUs Required to Heat|
*Table data obtained from patioliving.com
This table assumes you’re heating a square space since the heat from a freestanding unit radiates outward in a circle. If you have a patio that has alcoves or areas that are separated, you may need a couple of heaters if you want the entire space to be heated.
In these cases, you can treat separate sections of the patio as a whole patio and measure the square footage for those areas, then purchase a heater with the right BTUs. As we’ll find out later, there are also patio heaters that are mounted and push heat in one direction. In these cases, you may need several heaters to fully cover your outdoor space.
It’s also imperative to note that you shouldn’t expect a patio heater to make your patio as warm as it is in your house. With nothing around it to trap the hot air, your patio is still going to be chilly. Therefore, expect only the five or ten-foot radius around the patio heater to feel much temperature difference. If you have other spaces you want to heat, you’ll need more heaters.
Different types of patio heaters radiate and direct heat in different ways. Mounted units, for example, often direct heat towards a relatively small area, so you’ll need to have several to cover your patio (similar to the way a camera can only see a certain angle in front of it). On the other hand, standalone patios radiate heat 360° around it with varying levels of efficiency.
Assessing Your Needs
Before you start looking at patio heater options, you need to first assess your needs. Patio heaters are by no means cheap, and you don’t want to make a mistake and pick the wrong one for the job you want it to perform. The following table describes some of the most important criteria to consider.
|Space||The size and shape of the area you want to heat|
|Price||The cost of the unit and the cost of maintenance/fuel|
|Aesthetics||What the heater looks like and whether it fits with your patio decor|
|Fuel||What type of energy the heater requires – typically propane, natural gas, wood, or electricity|
Just how vital these criteria are is primarily up to you, but they are items to consider. You may have other criteria you’re looking for as well, but these items are the main differences you’ll find among patio heaters on the market.
Options for Patio Heaters
If you’re researching outdoor patio heaters, you’ll find that you have four basic options. Which type you go with will be dependent on your space and your needs. These four options are:
- Stand-alone Patio Heaters
- Table-Top Patio Heaters
- Wall-mounted Patio Heaters
- Pit-Style Options
Stand-Alone Patio Heaters
One of the most common types of patio heaters is large stand-alone heaters. These heaters vary in size and space requirements, as well as their construction and how they put out heat. Two of the most common types of stand-alone heaters are quartz tube heaters and mushroom style heaters.
Quartz tube heaters are somewhat less efficient with their energy use and heating because the heat isn’t directed anywhere; it just radiates out from the tube in the center. They’re rated by BTUs and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but if you’re using one, expect it to take up at least 2-3 square feet of space on your patio.
Mushroom style heaters have a large base, with a tall rod, at the top of which is a reflecting dish that reflects the heat downward. With this method of heating, mushroom-style heaters are more energy-efficient than quartz tube heaters. One of their benefits, therefore, is reduced fuel cost and, in many cases, a larger heated space.
In summary, stand-alone patio heaters have the following pros and cons:
- Often an attractive addition to the patio as a decoration
- Can provide a large amount of heat output
- Can usually be moved around easily
- Can be powered by either electricity or propane gas
- Among the most expensive types of heaters (prices range from $200-$1000 and up)
- Take up quite a bit of space and get in the way
- Use a lot of fuel and/or energy
- Mushroom style are easy to knock over
- Needs a cover or to be brought inside during inclement weather
- Doesn’t cover a huge space
Small Portable Patio Heaters
A smaller version of patio heaters is the portable heater. These heaters are a bit bigger than the size of a camping lantern typically, and they’re intended to heat a much smaller space for one or two people either sitting at a table or around at the campground when you can’t have a campfire.
Portable heaters are usually much less expensive than stand-alone heaters, but again, they’ll heat a smaller space (up to a four-foot radius or so). They are very similar in design to stand-alone heaters, but their fuel sources are usually propane.
Portable heaters are a great option if you want a heater than can move with you and double as a camping heater or whatever else you may need it for. It would be hard to take a stand-alone heater out camping, but a portable heater can be packed with your camping gear. They’re also a good option for restaurants with outdoor seating who may want one at each table.
In summary, table-top heaters have the following pros and cons:
- Highly portable and versatile to suit a variety of needs
- Less expensive option ($50-$200 price range)
- Wide variety of attractive designs
- Tend to be less powerful and will heat a smaller space
- Usually limited to propane powered.
Wall-Mounted Patio Heaters
Another option for patio heaters is the wall-mounted variety. These heaters are permanently affixed to a wall or roof support column and emit heat downwards towards the patio. Many of these heaters are powered by electricity and heat up very quickly. They can also provide heat for a large area, in some cases, up to 400 square feet.
If you’re hard up for space on your patio and you aren’t too concerned about the visual appeal of your heater, a mounted heater might be an excellent option for you. They emit a relatively large amount of heat, and they’re relatively affordable as well. If you have a very large space, you might consider getting a second one and mounting them so your whole patio is covered.
In summary, mounted heaters have the following pros and cons.
- Energy Efficient
- Heat a large space
- Don’t take up floor space
- Fuel source limited to electricity
- Not the most attractive option
- May be challenging to install
- Not portable; moving them requires some work
Ah, the fire-pit; the gathering place for many an outdoor party for time immemorial. A pit-style heater is almost a given for many patios; people even build permanent fire pits as a focal point for their patio spaces. While they do take up the most floor space, they also provide a nice spot to gather around and can be an attractive addition to any patio.
Also, pit-style heaters come in a wide variety of styles and designs, and they can be purchased to use any energy source, from propane to electricity to natural gas to wood. They’re generally not too portable unless you get a small dish-style pit, and if you have a natural gas pit heater, you won’t be able to move it.
Wood-burning fire pits can add a nice amount of ambiance to your outdoor space, adding the smokey smell many people associate with outdoor fall parties. If you’re not looking for that, you can of course find a fire pit that runs off gas or electricity.
Fire pits are among the most affordable options to heat your patio, but they aren’t necessarily the most energy-efficient and they often don’t give off heat to a large area. They also take up quite a bit of space on the patio.
In summary, pit-style heaters have the following pros and cons.
- Available in a wide variety of styles, designs, and sizes
- Take a wide variety of fuels
- Generally affordable ($50-$250 price range)
- Very attractive option
- Certain models may not be portable
- Takes up quite a bit of space on the patio
- Doesn’t heat a huge amount of space
Believe it or not, there are more options for patio heaters. Outdoor restaurants can find tables that have heaters built into the pedestal supporting them, which heats outdoor diners’ legs while they’re near the table. Heaters are built to be mounted under patio umbrellas as well. All of these are good options for an unusual solution to heating your patio.
Patio Heater Energy Sources
As mentioned above, you have basic options when it comes to energy sources for your patio heater. We’ll describe these energy sources below as well as how efficiently you can heat large surface areas with them.
Electric patio heaters heat up very quickly and can put out quite a bit of energy, but they’ll likely be more expensive in the long run, as electricity can be expensive to pay for. You may find your electric bill increases when you’re using electric-powered patio heaters.
Electric patio heaters are often highly portable as well, although you’ll be tethered to the nearest power outlet. It can often be inconvenient to find a good outlet on your patio. One very good benefit is that they don’t have carbon monoxide as an output, so they can often be used in enclosed spaces as well as outdoors.
Propane-powered heaters can often be expensive, as propane tanks are expensive to replace once they’ve been depleted. However, they’re very easy to install, and they heat up very quickly. Usually, propane-powered heaters hide the unsightly propane tank well so it doesn’t detract from the aesthetic appeal of your heater. How long they last you depends on the size of the tank as well as how much you spend outside in the cold.
One drawback of propane-powered heaters is the carbon monoxide by-product they produce, so they can’t be used inside without suitable ventilation. They are portable as well, perhaps even more so than electrically powered heaters, as they’re not tied to an electrical outlet.
Wood burning heaters are usually the pit-style variety, like a wood-burning fire pit. Wood creates a nice smokey smell that can add to your patio’s ambiance, but it also requires more maintenance as you need to clean out the ashes after each fire.
Wood can be difficult to ignite, however, and it takes a while for it to heat up to the point where it can keep an area warm. You also have to tend the fire while it burns, and it requires constant supervision while it’s burning. You may also not be able to have outdoor fires where you live, so it’s something to check out with your local fire department.
Natural gas heaters are the trickiest ones to install, as you’ll need to run a gas line from your tank to your heater. You may need a professional to do it for you. This means that natural gas heaters are often the most expensive in terms of installation costs, but, depending on the cost of natural gas, they’re among the cheapest to run long-term.
Natural gas heaters are typically not portable, as they have a gas line running to them that isn’t easy to move. They’re very easy to maintain and use once they’ve been installed, though, so if you’re looking for something to simply fire up and enjoy, these can be a great option for you.
Safety and Patio Heaters
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how to safely use patio heaters. Propane heaters produce carbon monoxide, which is poisonous if breathed in, so they need to be in a well-ventilated space or outdoors. Wood burning heaters involve fire, so you’ll want to make sure you’re monitoring the fire and you won’t be able to use it in high winds or dry conditions.
Your patio heater will be hot, so you also should keep children or pets away from them. This may be more of a concern with stand-alone heaters or with pit-style heaters than with table-top or mounted heaters that are harder for small children to reach.
Many heaters have a recommended clearance distance which should guide how close you place furniture or other items near it, as well as the amount of space you should give it when cozying up next to it. If you’re using a wood-burning pit, you should keep water or a fire extinguisher close by in case of an emergency.
Finally, the taller stand-alone models are can be top-heavy and may tip over if you’re not careful, so keep that in mind. You may not be able to use it when it’s windy, or you may have to use something to weigh it down or keep it from shifting.
How many patio heaters you need will depend on how much you’re willing to spend and how big of a space you have. If you have a very large patio and you plan on having large gatherings in colder months, you may need several heaters to heat your space. However, if you only will be having small gatherings on your patio, you can probably get away with one.
Patio heaters differ in how much power and heat they put out, as well as how efficiently they heat their surroundings. You’ll have to assess your situation and take into account the pros and cons of the various styles described above and make a decision based on that. Once you’ve done that, though, you’ll be able to enjoy your patio most of the year in comfort.