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How to Manually Light a Patio Heater

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Patio heaters can add a simple touch of modernity and style to your back deck for a relatively low price. They look and perform very well, but their automatic ignition systems can sometimes break and require you to manually light the patio heater. When that happens, how do you manually light it?

To manually light a patio heater:

  • Ensure there are no leaks and the heater is in good repair
  • For automatic ignition systems, hold the control knob in and use a lighter to ignite the flame
  • For non-automatic systems, turn the control knob to the lowest setting and use a lighter to ignite the flame
how to light patio heater manually

While that may be a simple answer, there can be a lot of variance between types of patio heaters. There are also safety precautions, troubleshooting steps, and knowledge of the specific ignition systems you should be aware of. We’ll cover all of that and more in detail below!

Can You Manually Light a Patio Heater?

It is possible to manually light a patio heater – if done carefully and correctly. As long as all components of the patio heater are functioning properly, you should be good to go. 

One you know your patio heater a little better, you’ll be able to spot which components are working and which ones aren’t. So, we’ll cover how to learn more about your patio heater, including which parts cause common issues, how to look for them, and what to do when you find them. 

How to Manually Light a Patio Heater

First, we are going to cover what you need to check out before you light your patio heater by hand, in case there is an important issue you need to address before lighting it up. 

Use Caution

The most important thing to do before manually lighting a patio heater is to take precautions. Working with any sort of flame requires you to be extra cautious in order to prevent burning or injuring yourself. 

  • Clear away any flammable materials. In order to reduce the risk of any mishaps from occurring, keep the area around the heater clear from any flammable items or material. 
  • Keep your heater in good repair. Always check the condition of the heater before you light it. Removing dirt build-up, insects, and external debris is recommended. Repair or replace any broken components, if necessary. Fore more detailed information on cleaning and storing your patio heater read our other article.

Identify the Type of Patio Heater You Have

Lighting a patio heater vary depending on the type of heater. Some heaters might require that the igniter and flame knob be pressed down at the same time, while others may not. Don’t forget to read the instruction manual that came with the heater before lighting it.

The fuel and ignition types are also important details to know. Those that don’t have an automatic ignition system will often require the gas tanked (if the fuel type is gas) to be closed off before being lit. 

Know What Kind of Ignition Your Patio Heater Uses

Before you manually light your patio heater, verify the type of ignition it has. Patio heaters can have one of the two types of ignition, pilot or non-pilot. Non-pilot ignition heaters can only be manually lit. 

If you’re not sure what type of ignition your patio heater has, refer to the owner’s manual. Likewise, you can also check to see if there’s an ignition button or not.

Simple Steps to Manually Light Your Patio Heater

Once you’ve gone through every precaution to ensure the proper functioning of your patio heater, you may begin the process of manually lighting it. 

This part of the process may differ depending on whether the patio heater has a pilot ignition system or a non-pilot ignition system. Which is why you need to determine this in advance. 

Using a candle lighter or a standard match, here is how you will manually light whichever type of patio heater you have.

For Automatic Ignition Patio Heaters

  • Press the control knob and while still applying force to it, use a lighter or match to ignite the burner. This can be done by sticking a lighter into the match lighting hole on the patio heater. 
  • Once a flame appears, release the pressure on the control knob. With this simple task, you should have a fully functioning flame.

For Patio Heaters Without an Ignition System

  • Turn the control knob to the lowest setting and while still applying force, light the burner with a candle lighter or match until a flame appears. 
  • Once more, the lighting of the flame can be achieved by inserting the match or candle lighter in the match lighting hole of the heater.

If no flame appears the first time, repeat these steps again until you get the right results. Should no flame appear, refer directly to the guide or owner’s manual relative to your patio heater.

Know Your Patio Heater Before You Manually Light It

Lighting a patio heater by hand is simple but does require you to have a certain level of familiarity with the unit. Knowing what aspects of a patio heater are responsible for the actual heating mechanism of it is as equally important in order to for it to be properly lit.

Knowing aspects such as the type of fuel, as well as the type of ignition system, will make it easier to get your patio heater lit. Likewise, it can give you a better understanding of what may be causing the heater to malfunction if it typically ignites automatically.

Patio Heater Types

In addition to your average freestanding patio heater, there are also varieties that come in tabletop, hanging, and wall-mounted styles. Although the process of manually lighting a patio heater doesn’t differ that much when it comes to its style, some aspects such as the gas components, burners, and controls may differ slightly.

Here are the most common types of patio heaters:

  • Freestandingthis is the most common type of patio heater and one that you see adorning rooftop terraces, patios, and the backyards of residences, restaurants, and so much more. These heaters are generally powered by natural gas, and propane. Freestanding heaters also come in their own variety of styles, such as pole and reflector.
  • Tabletop—tabletop patio heaters are popular for their smaller size and versatility when it comes to placement. These tend to be ignited via electricity, but can also be manually lit.
  • Hanging—hanging patio heaters are also a popular choice for their versatility and can generally be ignited via gas and electricity. 
  • Wall-mounted—wall-mounted patio heaters tend to produce less heat compared to some of the other styles, and for this reason, you may find it harder to manage its heat output once it’s manually lit. 

Fuel Types for Patio Heaters

The type of fuel that powers your patio heater may influence how you go about manually lighting it. For instance, patio heaters that are powered by gas will require the proper functioning of all gas components in order to be lit manually versus one that is electronically ignited. 

These are the most common fuel types of patio heaters:

  • Propane
  • Natural gas
  • Electric fuel

Consider the type of fuel that powers your patio heater, as some may require more logistics than others. For instance, if your patio heater is powered by natural gas, you will have to keep in mind that it is connected to your gas line when manually lighting it. 

Natural gas patio heaters tend to be more expensive compared to propane and electrical fuel heaters. 

Pilot Ignition System vs. Non-Pilot Ignition System

All patio heaters feature a control knob that is responsible for igniting the flame. However, those without a pilot ignition system feature both a control knob and ignition button. In the absence of the pilot ignition system, the control knob releases the gas to the burner and the ignitor ignites the flame.

Pilot ignition systems:

  • Can be ignited with the flip of a switch or by pressing an ignition knob.
  • Are featured in most standing and mounted patio heaters.
  • Allow heaters to be turned on and off in the same manner, by pressing the control knob.

While heaters with pilot ignition don’t need to be lit manually, they can be if necessary.

Non-pilot ignition systems:

  • Can only be manually lit.
  • Most freestanding, tabletop, wall-mounted, and hanging heaters have non-pilot ignition systems.
  • Does not have an automatic valve control system. 

Patio heaters that have a pilot ignition system have an igniter built into the gas control system.

“An igniter has been built in as part of the gas control valve, which will be activated when the valve stem is depressed and turned counter-clockwise.”

With this feature, manually lighting the heater would only require you to press the control knob and provide the flame yourself.

Patio Heater Common Troubleshooting

While manually lighting a patio heater isn’t too difficult, there are situations in which doing so doesn’t go as planned. For instance, say you followed every step of the guidelines mentioned above and your heater still doesn’t light, you may have to refer to the owner’s manual for more detailed instructions.

Struggling with keeping your patio heater lit is a common issue many owners run into when trying to manually light their heaters. This dilemma may require you to inspect the heater once more to make sure all parts are in place and functioning.

Make Sure the Propane Tank is Full

Aside from a general malfunction, such as a control switch not working, for example, sometimes one of the propane components is to blame for a heater not being able to light up or stay lit. This is where knowing the type of fuel heater you have comes in handy. 

For patio heaters that are fueled by propane, you should check the tank first. Most propane tanks for patio heaters are located at the base of it and, if applicable, will have a delivery pipe connected to it

  • Check the connections. Making sure the propane tank is connected is essential to getting the heater to light properly and remain lit. 
  • Make sure it has propane. A patio heater will not light up on an empty tank. Take your tank to be filled or replaced so that you can light it. 

Check Other Propane Proponents

Patio heaters that rely on propane or natural gas will require the proper functioning of all gas components in order to function. In addition to having a full tank, having a clean delivery pipe and a gas regulator that properly functions is necessary for the patio heater to light. The gas delivery pipe does exactly as it sounds: delivers gas to the heater.

Gas Delivery Pipe

This part of the patio heater is responsible for delivering gas to the heater in a timely manner which means, if not functioning properly, it will not heat as effectively. 

With propane or natural gas patio heaters, you should be able to hear gas traveling through the pipe once the heater is turned on via the control knob. With patio heaters that have electric ignitions, a sparking sound will indicate that the igniter has been triggered.

“A soft hissing sound will be heard once the gas reaches the burner.”

Source: Patio Heater Expert 

Some indications of a faulty gas pipe are:

  • The sound of gas traveling through the pipe is absent.
  • A gas odor whenever the heater is turned on.
  • The slow releasing of gas when the control knob is turned on.

Replacing a broken gas delivery pipe is essential in preventing a potential disaster such as a hazardous blast.  If the pipe is clogged, it is recommended to manually clean the it to remove any blockage. 

Gas Regulator

The gas regulator for a patio heater used to control the heat. It is connected to the gas delivery pipe as well as the burner of the heater. This control regulates the gas to make sure too much isn’t delivered. If a malfunction occurs, this too could cause issues.

Inspect the Condition of the Burner

The burner is the part of the patio heater responsible for hosting the actual flame that delivers heat. To operate properly, it is important for the burner to be clear of any external elements that could prevent the patio heater from lighting up. 

Having a blockage or debris on the burner disrupts the even distribution of heat from the burner. Furthermore, it prevents the gas from mixing with the air to create a more sustainable flame. 

If you find that the burner of your heater is blocked, make sure the heater is turned off to prevent yourself from getting burned by any flames before cleaning it off. 

Clear the Bug Screen

The bug screen of the heater prevents pesky mosquitos and other insects that are attracted to the light of the flame from getting too close and potentially becoming fuel for the heater themselves. Most heaters come equipped with bug screens as a precaution. These can easily be removed for cleaning, if necessary.

Sometimes a pile of pesky insects on the bug screen can disrupt the flame. For this reason, detaching it from the patio heater and cleaning it is important for preventing too much build-up on the surface. 

Even if your patio heater is functioning properly, you should clean the bug screen often to prevent it from becoming too dirty. 

Closing Thoughts

Should you find that your patio heater is not working, do a quick inspection and light it up manually. If that does not work, consider some of the common troubleshooting tips mentioned above. Referencing the owner’s manual is also not a bad idea. 

Before you do anything to your patio heater, remember that your safety is always a priority. Remove any flammable materials from around the heater before lighting it, and be aware of the health dangers of propane and natural gas. Working with any kind of flame, big or small, poses the risk of you getting burned. Remember to keep your fingers clear of the flame when lighting the heater.

Successfully lighting a patio heater guarantees plenty of warmth and light. Having a patio heater to warm you up makes all the difference when the weather is cold. Not only do you have the warmth, you also have a bright flame to lighten things up!

For a visual guide to lighting a heater, visit these how-to videos below:

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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