Choosing the Right Patio Heater Posted on 23 Feb 05:05

Choosing the right patio heater

Patio heaters are an essential tool for enjoying the outdoors during cool months.There are several things to consider when deciding which patio heater is right for you.

Propane fueled patio heaters fire sense

Propane fueled patio heaters are still the biggest selling patio heaters in the U.S. market. Most patio heaters have the same basic shape and work in the same way. Typically, the patio heater has a base upon which the LPG tank sits and connects to a propane tank via a LPG regulator and hose. The tank is covered by the heater’s tank cover. The hose runs through the center pole and connects to the heater head.

The heater head has an ignition button and a gas control knob which regulates the strength of the gas flow.  The patio heater head has an emitter screen which is heated from the inside by a gas burner. The emitter screen has tiny holes in it which allow the heat to release. Sitting on top of the heater head is a round saucer shaped aluminum disc called the “reflector”.  The reflector extends beyond the heater head by several inches and catches the heat produced by the emitter screen and forces it downward so that the user can be warmed.

Most patio heaters in the United States are fueled by a 20 pound propane tank.  It is the same type and size of propane tank that is regularly used to fuel gas BBQ grills in the U.S.   A 20 pound tank will typically fuel a full size patio heater for approximately 10 hours of use.

There are numerous features that separate one patio heater brand or model from another. The most obvious is the type of material that is used in the overall construction of the patio heater. These materials include steel, stainless steel, aluminum and all-weather wicker. Each material has its own costs and benefits.

Stainless steel if used in higher end patio heaters and is reflected in the higher cost of such units.  The stainless steel used in patio heaters is typically one of three grades of stainless steel.  430 grade stainless steel is less expensive and is the least rust resistant of the three grades.  If you do not live in a salt water environment then 430 grade stainless steel will very likely suit your needs.

However, if you live in a salt water environment then grade 201 or grade 304 stainless steel should be your choice. Grade 201 is a good all around choice.  Grade 201 has anti-rusting properties very similar to grade 304 stainless steel but costs considerably less.

Grade 304 stainless steel is the material of choice for salt water environments and/or for those consumers who simply want the best protection against rust.  The downside is that grade 304 stainless steel patio heaters commands a premium price.

Along the same lines as the rust protection that 304 grade stainless steel provides is cast aluminum.  The casting process involves pouring molten aluminum in to molds to produce the patio heater parts. This process makes it possible to produce ornate designs which give the patio heater a design aesthetic that other materials cannot match.  Additionally, cast aluminum patio heaters are heavier and thus more sturdy than other types of patio heaters. The downside is that cast aluminum patio heaters are expensive.

All weather wicker patio heaters are another excellent rust free choice. This type of patio heater consists of all weather wicker of the same type that outdoor furniture is made.  The interior frame of the heater will be made of aluminum or steel tubing.  All weather wicker allows for a design aspect that often coordinates with the user’s patio furniture, thus adding compliment to the outdoor living space.

Finally, powder coated steel patio heaters are by far the most popular type and the most economical.  Just as it sounds, steel is powder coated to inhibit rusting while providing a choice of attractive finishes.  The most popular powder coat finishes at present are mocha and hammer tone bronze.  Whatever color your patio furniture is, there will be powder coat color to match.

In addition to a variety of materials, propane patio heaters come in various strengths. Patio heaters are differentiated by their heat output. The heat output is measured in the United States in BTU’s or British Thermal Units..  The higher the BTU rating, the more heat the heater produces.

The standard BTU output for a full size patio heater is 40,000 BTU’s.  BTU output goes up from there. Commercial patio heaters have BTU ratings in the range of 46,000 to 48,000.

The size of the reflector can have an impact on the efficiency of the patio heater.  Most reflectors have a knock-down (“KD”) construction which allows the reflector to be shipped in the same box as the patio heater itself.  However, most KD reflectors are smaller in diameter than one piece reflectors.

The larger the diameter of the reflector, the more heat it will catch from the patio heater’s emitter screen.  This in turn means that a larger reflector will force more heat downward toward the intended area that requires heat.  Most reflectors, KD or one piece, share a common three-hole attachment system.  Therefore, it is easy for the user to upgrade to a larger one piece reflector.  A new reflector is an easy and cost effective way to make a patio heater more efficient. 

Another distinguishing feature of gas patio heaters is the ignition system. There are two types of ignition systems, Piezo manual ignitors and electric ignitors.  Both systems accomplish the same result but in different ways.

A manual ignition system requires the user to physically push the ignition button in order to generate a spark to light the heater.  This typically takes multiple attempts before the patio heater is lit.  An electronic igniter requires one AAA battery which is inserted behind the ignition button.  Once the ignition button is pressed and held in, the igniter produces a continuous spark that easily and quickly lights the patio heater burner.

The popularity of patio heaters continues to grow as more and more people spend more time enjoying the outdoors. No matter which finish or features you choose, your patio heater will extend your outdoor living season for years to come.