Patio Heaters: Do They Really Keep You Warm?

close up are patio heaters worth it

There’s nothing like sitting on your patio enjoying a good book and an even better view. However, as the winter months start approaching and the temperatures drop, you may find yourself in multiple layers of clothing but still freezing to the bone. This may make you wonder whether a patio heater could change things and provide well-needed heat. Do patio heaters really keep you warm?

Yes, patio heaters are designed to get the heat off of 2 of the 3 primary energies from a flame. Thermal and Radiant energy is the heat felt from the heater. Kinetic is the 3rd energy that escapes out with the gases typically.

Instead of using a live fire or a clumsy and dangerous space heater to keep you warm enough, Patio heaters are a popular heating solution for outdoor spaces, as they utilize the thermal and radiant energy produced by the combustion of a fuel source to provide warmth. While the flame of a patio heater also contains kinetic energy, it is typically not harnessed to give warmth to the surrounding area. Instead, It typically goes away with the combustion gases.

Understanding the different forms of energy associated with a flame can help us appreciate the science behind this common outdoor appliance.

What Is Thermal & Radiant Energy That Patio Heaters Use?

Thermal energy is the energy associated with the temperature of an object or substance. For example, when a fuel source is burned, it produces heat that can be transferred to the surrounding air, creating a warm environment. In the case of a patio heater, the heat generated by the flame is transferred to the air through convection, which causes the hot air to rise and disperse, warming the surrounding space.

Radiant energy is another form of energy produced by the flame, which travels through space as electromagnetic waves. The flame emits infrared radiation, which can be felt as heat by objects and people near the heater. This means that the heat is not dependent on the air being heated, which can be particularly useful in outdoor environments where air currents can cause hot air to disperse quickly.

Also, radiant energy can come from anything hot, like the metal heated by the flame or the glass tube on a pyramid-style heater. Plus, radiant energy can be deflected. Thus, the reason for the shiny top hat reflectors.

How Do Patio Heaters Radiate Their Heat?

Patio heaters use electricity or fuel designed to provide warmth using radiant heat. Unlike space heaters that force hot air out, patio heaters work by emitting infrared radiation that travels directly through the air and warms up any object or person that it hits. This makes them much more efficient in outdoor settings, as they can provide warmth instantly without waiting for the air to warm up first.

Radiant heat works by traveling through the cold air and directly warming the target, which makes it more efficient than other heating methods. However, it’s worth noting that a patio heater only heats whatever is in the direct path of the heat, so anything that is not in the beam or stays in a shadow will remain cold. This is why it’s crucial to determine the BTUs you need, as this will determine how well your patio heater will keep you warm.

When shopping for a patio heater, it’s essential to consider the specifications in coverage of BTUs and square feet. In addition, the ideal size of the heater will depend on the area you need to heat and how much you want to raise the temperature. Most good-quality patio heaters range between 40,000 to 50,000 BTUs, but there are exceptions on the lower and higher ends. You can stay warm and comfortable in your outdoor space, even on chilly nights, by selecting the right size and number of patio heaters.

How To Determine How Many BTUs Your Patio Heater Needs

You will need to do some math to effectively determine how many BTUs you will need to heat a particular space, which in this case, is your patio.

For instance, if you need to heat 10 feet by 15 feet patio area, or 150 square feet, you may also need to determine the cubic feet by figuring out how ample the space is above the patio you want to heat.

On average, to effectively heat a 10 x 15 ft area with an electric infrared heater, you would need a heater with a minimum wattage of 1500 watts. Therefore, Planning 10-15 watts per square foot of heating area is a good rule of thumb.

To effectively heat a 10 x 15 ft area with a propane heater, you would need a heater with a minimum BTU rating of around 30,000 BTUs. Again, the exact BTU rating required may vary based on the outdoor temperature and other factors. But a Good Practice rule of thumb is 200 BTU per square foot of space to be heated.

Whoa! Why The Big Difference?

The main reason propane heaters typically require a higher BTU rating than electric infrared heaters to heat the same area is because of the difference in how these heaters produce and distribute heat.

Propane heaters work by burning fuel to generate heat, and this heat is then distributed through the air. As mentioned above, some of the BTU’s propane heat developed actually goes without use. It is the kinetic energy that goes out along with the combustion gases.

On the other hand, electric infrared heaters use only radiant heat to warm objects and people in their immediate vicinity. Only limited to the wiring limits (amp draw). The typical infrared heater turns over 95% of the energy into its output energy.

In summary, propane and electric infrared heaters can effectively heat outdoors. Still, they use different methods to achieve this goal. They have different energy requirements as a result.

What Environmental Outdoor Elements Effect A Heaters Efficiency?

  1. Temperature: The temperature of the outdoor environment can significantly impact the efficiency of heaters. The colder the temperature, the more energy will be required to maintain a comfortable temperature. Extremely low temperatures can also reduce the efficiency of heaters, especially those that rely on combustion, as they may struggle to ignite and maintain a flame.
  2. Wind: Wind can also significantly impact the efficiency of outdoor heaters. Strong winds can blow away the heat generated by the heater, making it difficult for the heat to reach its intended target. For this reason, it’s crucial to position heaters in a sheltered area or to use outdoor screens or barriers to block the wind.
  3. Humidity: High humidity levels can reduce the efficiency of heaters by preventing heat from dissipating effectively. This can cause the air to feel heavy and damp, making it more challenging to maintain a comfortable temperature.
  4. Altitude: The outdoor environment’s altitude can also impact the efficiency of heaters, especially those that rely on combustion. At higher altitudes, the air is thinner, making it more difficult for heaters to maintain a flame or generate heat.
  5. Exposure to the elements: Outdoor heaters are exposed to the elements, which can cause wear and tear over time. Exposure to rain, snow, and extreme temperatures can damage the heater’s components and reduce its efficiency. It’s important to choose a heater designed to withstand outdoor conditions and perform regular maintenance to keep the heater in good working order.

80% of problems come from #1 & #2 when heating outdoors.

Are Patio Heaters Worth It?

You will be unsuccessful if you want to raise your patio’s temperature from 0 degrees Celsius to 90 by using only one patio heater. Even with several patio heaters, it may not be possible unless your patio is incredibly small and the heater is highly powerful.

Whether patio heaters are worth it depends on your preferences and needs. A patio heater can be a valuable investment if you enjoy spending time outdoors, even in cooler temperatures. With a patio heater, you can extend the use of your outdoor living space, even during the fall and winter months.

Patio heaters are available in various styles and fuel types, including propane, natural gas, electric, and wood-burning options. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so choosing the option that best meets your needs and budget is essential. While patio heaters require an initial investment, they can provide a significant return in enhanced comfort and enjoyment of your outdoor living space.

Let’s look at the three types of patio heaters and whether they may be worth it:

Electrical Patio Heaters

As electrical patio heaters have no emissions and no need for refills, they are the most eco-friendly.

Electric patio heaters are outdoor heaters that operate on electricity rather than propane, natural gas, or wood. They are typically powered by a standard 120-volt household electrical outlet and use infrared heating elements to generate heat. Electric patio heaters can be convenient for those who want a low-maintenance heating solution, as they don’t require fuel tanks or gas lines.

They are also less expensive to operate than propane heaters, as electricity is often cheaper than propane. However, electric patio heaters require an electrical outlet nearby, so they may not be as flexible in placement as other types of outdoor heaters.

They also tend to have lower heating capacities than propane or natural gas heaters because of wire size restrictions, so they may be less effective for more extensive outdoor living spaces. But, overall, electric patio heaters can be a good choice for those who want a convenient, cost-effective, and low-maintenance outdoor heating solution.

Here is the one we installed over our outdoor table area: Mr Infrared Electric Patio Heater

Natural Gas Patio Heaters

Natural gas patio heaters are generally the least expensive on the market. Although they need professional installation usually, they are regarded as permanent fixtures. Once installed, they will have a constant fuel supply.

Natural gas patio heaters are a type of outdoor heater that run on natural gas rather than propane, electricity, or wood. They are typically connected to a natural gas line and require professional installation. Natural gas patio heaters can be a convenient option for those who have an existing natural gas line and want a heating solution that is low-maintenance and cost-effective.

They are typically more fuel-efficient than propane heaters and can provide a steady, long-lasting heat source. However, because they often require professional installation, natural gas patio heaters can be more expensive than other outdoor heaters. They may also be less flexible in terms of placement, as they need to be installed near a natural gas line.

Natural gas patio heaters are available in a range of styles and sizes to fit various outdoor living spaces. Overall, natural gas patio heaters can be a good choice for those with an existing natural gas line and who want a low-maintenance, cost-effective heating solution for their outdoor living space.

Propane Patio Heaters

Propane patio heaters are a type of outdoor heater that runs on propane gas. They are typically fueled by 20-pound propane tanks and are designed to provide a portable and easy-to-use heating solution for outdoor living spaces. Did you know the average refill propane tank is only filled to 15lb? Check out our propane calculator here in How Long Do Propane tanks Actually Last.

Propane patio heaters can be a convenient option for those who want a flexible and portable heating solution that can be easily moved to different areas of their outdoor living space. They also tend to have higher heating capacities than electric or natural gas heaters, making them more effective for larger outdoor living spaces.

However, propane patio heaters require regular refilling of propane tanks, which can be an ongoing expense. They also emit some emissions into the atmosphere, which can concern some environmentally-conscious consumers. It is negligible, though. Propane patio heaters come in various styles and sizes to fit multiple outdoor living spaces, from tabletop models to full-size freestanding models.

Propane patio heaters can be a good choice for those who want a flexible, portable, and high-capacity heating solution for their outdoor living space. Still, they do require ongoing fuel costs and have some environmental impact.

Here is the one we prefer from the ones we bought so far. Throws the same heat and less apt to tip, plus cost less: Amazon Basics Patio Heater


In conclusion, patio heaters can effectively and efficiently keep you warm and comfortable in outdoor living spaces. However, the effectiveness of a patio heater in keeping you warm will depend on a range of factors, including the heater’s size and design, the heating capacity of the device, and the ambient temperature conditions of the surrounding environment.

By selecting a patio heater appropriate for your outdoor living space and using it correctly, you can extend your outdoor living season and make the most of your outdoor space year-round. Whether you opt for a propane patio heater, an electric model, a natural gas heater, or a wood-burning fire pit, many options are available to fit your needs and preferences.

Will Montgomery

Will, a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, aspires to be your trusted source for all backyard essentials. Passionate about frugal yet stylish outdoor living, he leverages his engineering background and hands-on experience to guide you in creating your family's dream outdoor space, all while staying budget-friendly.

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