How to Pick a Patio Heater

patio heater burning natural gas flame
  • 1 hours
  • Beginner
  • 60-2,000

Outdoor living spaces continue to grow in popularity, and the trend leans into making the space as comfortable as possible. With this in mind, outdoor heaters provide an opportunity to enjoy your patio throughout the seasons. This is especially relevant during the COVID pandemic, where gatherings are increasingly being pushed outside, even through the winter months in milder climates. So what type of patio heater is best for you? There are several things to consider when making your decision.

Why Get a Patio Heater?

The obvious answer is to warm the space. Perhaps a more targeted question is whether it’s worth it to get a patio heater. Ask yourself how often you will realistically use it. If the answer is once or twice a year, borrow or rent one instead. But if you see yourself cozying up to it most weekends, it will offer a solid return on investment.


British Thermal Units are the standard measure of how much heat a device provides. You can calculate how many BTUs are needed for your space, and you should as a starting point in your shopping. Measure your patio length, width, and height. If it’s uncovered, use a height measurement of seven feet.

Then average out the increase in heat you hope to produce. For example, if it averages 45 degrees where you live and you want the space to run at 70 degrees, that’s a 25-degree increase. Multiply your cubic feet total by 25 to get your desired BTUs. Say you have a 10 x 20-foot patio with an eight-foot ceiling. That’s 1,600 cubic feet. Multiplied by 25 equals 40,000 BTUs.

patio with natural gas heater near gray couch and chairs

Energy Source

The vast majority of patio heaters run off of propane, natural gas, or electricity. There are pros and cons to each, starting with the resources you have already.

For example, natural gas heaters hook into the system of your home. That means they need to be professionally installed. It also limits you to fixed or mounted heaters. However, natural gas heaters will never run out of fuel as long as you have service to your home. They are also a very inexpensive option once the installation is covered.

Propane heaters, in contrast, are easy to set up and operate. They also offer the convenience of portability, so you can move them around as needed. However, your propane heater requires constant monitoring of propane levels. Without a backup, you can easily find yourself out in the cold, and it’s somewhat of a hassle to continuously haul propane tanks to the filling station.

Electric heaters are convenient and easy to use. They simply plug in or are hard-wired to your system. Some plug into a basic 120-volt outlet, but most require an upgrade to a 240-volt. Electric heaters are safer for enclosed spaces since they don’t have gas emissions to worry about. Depending on electricity costs in your area, electric patio heaters can be expensive to run, and you may have the upfront cost of hiring an electrician for that 240-volt outlet.

electric patio heater with red coils

Types of Patio Heaters

Another factor in your decision may be the design of the heater itself. You’ll need to consider your space for the answers. Do you need it to be portable? Is there a place to mount a heater? Are you really just looking for something small to take the chill off of hands or feet?

Tall, portable, freestanding patio heaters are likely what you envision when picturing options. These models rely on large propane tanks but can take many shapes. Many restaurants use this style in outdoor eating areas.

However, you may simply need a small portable version you can use on a tabletop or near your feet. These models are great for camping or social-distanced outdoor gatherings with friends. They can run off electricity or propane, making them convenient but more of a one to two-person heating option.

Then there are fixed, wall-mounted models that rely on natural gas or electricity. These typically require professional installation and will last longer if they are protected from the weather.

Maintenance and Storage

Most patio heaters are easy to maintain with an annual cleaning. However, you will need to store them when not in use. This can mean simply covering them or moving them indoors during harsh winter months. Either way, you’ll want to consider what works for you.


Cost is almost always a factor in decision-making, and picking a patio heater is no different. Consider your budget when choosing the best option. Small, portable heating buddies run less than $100. In contrast, portable propane heaters start at around $400. Having a system professionally installed can set you back about $1,500.