If you're not ready to give up on the enjoyment of the outdoors when the weather turns cooler, consider bringing a patio heater into your life. A patio heater can make the good times last longer and add some warmth to those crisp, cool evenings in your backyard or porch.
But first, a word of caution. Patio heaters, as the name indicates, are meant for patios and outdoor settings. They are generally not for indoor use. They are designed to generate a lot of heat in a wide-open space, and can pose both a fire hazard.
Some patio heaters are gas-fueled, and some are electric, and the propane-fueled ones can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when used in an enclosed space. There are exceptions, but unless your heater specifically states it is appropriate for indoor usage, stay safe and turn it on outdoors only.
Availability may also be an issue as you're shopping for a patio heater. Like so many other quarantine-friendly products for the home, patio heaters have periodically been sold out or available only in small quantities during the coronavirus era. So you may have trouble finding the exact model you want, and if you are able to find it in stock it is unlikely to be on sale — and perhaps is even being listed at an inflated price by the seller.
Got it? Great. Now it's a matter of figuring out what patio heater makes the most sense for your space.
Patio Heaters: Gas or Electric? What Size and Style?
Here is some general advice to consider before picking out your patio heater, courtesy of Bailey Carson, Head of Cleaning at Handy, the New-York based online marketplace for home services.
- When buying an outdoor heater, you should first consider the size of the area you’d like to heat and make sure the heater covers that space. Depending on the area, you may consider buying more than one and strategically place them to warm up the whole area.
- Most electric heaters connect to a standard outlet, so if you’re considering an electric heater, you’ll need to make sure you have power accessible. Gas heaters usually run using a propane tank, similar to your average barbecue grill, so they tend to be more portable.
- Above all, keep in mind that these heaters get hot. Be safe! Make sure you place the heater on sturdy ground and that you read the safety instructions and follow their guidelines.
When it comes to the style of your patio heater, Rob Shaw, a Boston-based construction expert with the home improvement app ProTip, breaks it down like this:
- Standing space heaters are very common, you see them all the time at restaurants.
- Tabletop space heaters are good if you're trying to save space, or if you're heating a smaller area.
- Mounted space heaters are the best option for small spaces because you can hang them overhead so they're out of the walking path and won't restrict any seating space.
If you're looking to keep things warm, here are the best patio heaters for your money, according to recommendations from experts in home improvement and design.
Best Patio Heaters: Propane Gas Power
1. Best overall: Hiland 91 Quartz Glass Tube Heater
If design aesthetics are important to you, and you don't mind spending more for something fancy, then Michael Dean, co-founder of the Asheville-based home resource Pool Research, has an idea. "In an average year, I show over 40 homes to prospective buyers. Since I work out of NC, patios and backyards are a major selling point for homeowners," he says.
"This is my own personal go-to patio heater. It's pricey, but worth it. First, you get a beautiful design that adds to your patio's presentation. Second, you get uniform heating that distributes warmth along the whole glass tube, not just in one specific place. There's an auto shutoff tilt valve, which is comforting, as I have three kids," he says. "Last but not least, you get a beautiful fire show every time you look at the heater."
Packing 40,000 BTUs, it's not the most powerful patio heater out there. But it provides decent warmth and looks just plain gorgeous, and it comes with nice features like wheels for easy movement and safety tilt auto-shutoff.
2. Editor's pick: Hampton Bay 48000 BTU Stainless Steel Patio Heater
"This unit uses the same propane tank we use for our grills to pump out an impressive 48,000 BTUs, so heat will reach eight feet in every direction. The stainless steel construction makes this heater suitable for year-round conditions," says Shaw. "It weighs around 30 pounds, so it's a manageable weight that is still sturdy enough to hold its ground during a winter storm. One ProTip pro even joked about using the heater's propane tank for his grill during a cookout when his grill ran out, the heater saved the day!”
In order to continue to get the most out of your product, David Cusick, chief strategy officer for the Durham-based home resource House Method, recommends that "for a large, free-standing outdoor patio heater, like the Hampton Bay 48000, be sure to invest in a cover as well. It's a small cost that can significantly extend the longevity of your purchase."
Hampton Bays products are regularly sold at Home Depot, but you can also find them on Amazon.
The roster of products Amazon sells under its "Basics" line is constantly growing — and it includes this 46,000-BTU propane patio heaters that comes in seven different colors ranging from Bahama Blue to classic stainless steel.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this model is regularly the top-selling patio heater at Amazon, and at times throughout the colder months it's been difficult to find it in stock. Like other Amazon Basics goods, the main selling point here is solid value for the price. For much of 2020, prices for the Amazon Basics patio heater hovered at $130 to $140, though in early 2021 they've been listed for around $160 and sometimes as high as $180 through third-party sellers.
Even at the higher end of the price spectrum, it's a pretty good deal for a 46,000-BTU patio heater that's nearly eight feet tall and provides a nine-foot heating radius. It weighs 38 pounds, but like other tall patio heaters it can be awkward to move — making the wheels on this unit a welcomed feature. Amazon reviewers give this patio heater very strong ratings, with nearly 75% awarding it a full five stars.
4. Best for happy hour: HomeLabs Gas Patio Heater With Drink Shelf Tabletop
This HomeLabs model features the same outdoor restaurant-style design as the Amazon Basics and Hampton Bay heaters, but it comes with a nice addition: a circular tabletop on the unit's pole that's perfect for holding drinks or perhaps a bowl of chips and guac. The tabletop's height is adjustable and removable too, giving you many options for entertaining.
The power on this model is a little lower than competitors — it has 41,000 BTUs, compared to 46,000 and up for the other units mentioned. So the heat won't spread quite as widely if you have a HomeLabs patio heater (20 square feet of coverage). But it does come with some nice convenient features like quick easy ignition and wheels for easy maneuvering and storage, and it's generally available for a reasonable price of around $180.
5. Best tabletop heater: Hampton Bay Tabletop Propane Gas Heater 11,000 BTU
Tabletop patio heaters are just what they sound like — they're miniature versions of the standard option, designed to be placed on a table to warm up those gathered around for food, drinks and conversation.
If this sounds like what you're interested in, the Hampton Bay tabletop model is a very solid choice. It measures a reasonable height of a little over three feet, and has 11,000 BTUs, which is high for tabletop models and will heat up to 30 square feet of space.
Bear in mind that this unit, like others designed for tabletops, does not use a standard 20-pound propane tank — which would be way too bulky to sit on a table. So you'll need to set it up with a smaller 1-pound propane tank, like the ones sold for small camping grills.
We've seen this model on sale for around $100, but in 2021 some sellers have been listing it online for $150 or above.
Alternately, the Fire Sense tabletop heater is very similar in design, price and features, though the BTUs are a little lower (10,000). Unfortunately, it's sometimes been listed as out of stock at Amazon.
6. Best for low prices: Stansport Portable Outdoor Propane Radiant Heater
It's also possible to stay warm on the cheap. "If you're looking for a personal heater, you can't go wrong with the Stansport Portable Outdoor Propane Radiant Heater," says Dean. It's sold online at Walmart and other sites, and is very affordable. "This one is currently under $33, which is a fantastic price for personal comfort outdoors."
Best Patio Heaters: Electric Power
7. Best electric patio heater: Briza Infrared Patio Heater With Stand
This Briza electric space heater gives you many options: It can be used with or without the tripod stand, it can be mounted to a ceiling or wall, and it can provide heat indoors and outdoors alike.
The Briza heater features infrared technology that provides warmth literally in seconds, along with protective metal sheathing so that pets and kids (and grownups too) won't get burned if they touch the unit. It also has a sensor that automatically turns off the power if the unit is tipped over.
Bear in mind that the heat reaches only seven feet from the unit's coils, and some owners say the warmth can really only be felt within five feet. But the tripod stand is adjustable, so you can place the heat source at just the right height to maximize comfort. Also nice: The Briza patio heater has a remote control and a timer you can set for one to nine hours, ensuring that the power will turn off automatically if you're the forgetful type.
If you have rambunctious children or dogs in your life, wall-mounted units are the best way to keep patio heaters out of reach. Cusick says that "for wall-mounted models, the Dr. Infrared Heater 1500W is a great choice for around $100. Easy to clean, works on electricity, and stays out of the reach of pets and children for safety."
If you like the idea of a mounted unit but you're worried about your mounting skills, then Dean recommends the TRUSTTECH Patio Heater. "My initial reason for buying this heater was the form factor, which looks great on patios. To my surprise, the heater also turned out to be an outstanding product," he says. "It uses infrared technology to literally start warming you in seconds. TRUSTECH made an effort to minimize the unit's energy consumption, so it provides plenty of warmth despite only being a 1,500W unit. Perhaps most importantly, this unit is sturdy. We've had ours fall down several times with 0 change in functionality."