If you’ve ever been a little underdressed for the weather at an outdoors get-together, you know the feeling of being irritated as the cold creeps in, especially after the sun goes down, and how that puts a damper on the fun of being with friends. Getting fresh air is a boon to our mental and physical health, but it’s hard to convince everyone that an outing is in if the sun isn’t warm. Luckily, there’s a good solution if you want to keep you and your guests comfortable so you can socialize longer in your yard: an outdoor patio heater (or two, or three, if your wallet can handle it). And if that’s not enough to keep you toasty in frigid conditions, you can check out our roundups of the best heated insoles, winter hats, and heated socks to stay cozy.
The best patio heater can enable you to not only stay outside later during nice weather but also extend outdoor sessions into the colder seasons without worrying about your guests’ comfort. Even in wintery weather, you can get together outdoors with friends if you have ways to take the chill out. So here are our suggestions for how to do just that: just pick the best outdoor heater below that matches your budget, preference for the type of heat, availability of an electrical outlet, how much output you need, and desired appearance.
Things to consider when choosing the best patio heater for your backyard
When it comes to options for outdoor heaters, there are several types that might be the choice for you: a propane patio heater, an electric patio heater, or a natural gas patio heater. You can also look for tall stand-up models that emit heat downward, tabletop patio heaters, models that heat outward vertically or horizontally, or models that mount on an outside wall or structure. There are lots of creative ways to situate your heater, depending on where you need it.
The most popular type is the one you’ll find outside of many restaurants, hotels, and other businesses: the tall, dome-topped metal heater that you stand under, and the heat beams down on you like the sun. These are also known as “mushroom-type heaters.” You can get that same kind for your yard, and it comes in a variety of finishes and BTU capacities (the British Thermal Unit, a unit of heat—typically 40,000 or more for an effective patio heater). But that’s far from your only option.
When you consider the type of heat you want, you’ll also have to consider the power that’s available to you: propane means filling tanks frequently (and potentially keeping a backup tank around so you don’t run out in the middle of a gathering); electric means you have to have close access to an outdoor outlet (and deal with cord placement so your guests don’t trip); and gas means you’ll need professional installation to tap into your property’s gas line, and you won’t be able to move the unit easily once installed.
What about outdoor heater safety features?
As with any other product that produces high heat, there are risks involved with using outdoor heaters for patios , and the risks differ a bit with each product type. The main risk involved is starting a fire if the heat source touches something flammable. So, above all, make sure whatever outdoor heater you use, you keep it a safe distance away from your house, outdoor furniture and cushions or pillows, as well as trees, and make sure branches and leaves can’t fall into the heater. Never put towels or bathing suits on a heater to dry, and keep the heater off of rugs. Also, make sure that if you’re using an outdoor electric heater, it’s nowhere near a pool or other source of water. Most manufacturers caution against using an extension cord with an electric patio heater as well, so be aware of your distance from an outdoor outlet.
With propane heaters, inspect the tank and connections before each use: make sure the tank isn’t rusty, and that all connections are secure. Replace any tubing or accessories that look worn. Be sure the base is on level ground and not in danger of tipping over. When you’re done using a patio propane heater, make sure it’s not only turned off, but also that the propane tank connection is shut down.
All outdoor heaters should come with built-in safety features to shut down the heat supply if the unit tips over, but don’t depend solely on that. Make sure whatever unit you buy feels very sturdy and appropriate for the ground or surface you’re using. Add weight to the bottom (usually sandbags) if that’s possible; don’t rely on the weight of a propane tank alone to steady your unit. Propane tanks aren’t heavy enough to keep your outdoor patio heater safe if a strong wind picks up.
Best mushroom-style propane heater: Amazon Basics 46,000 BTU Outdoor Propane Patio Heater with Wheels
This is a well-made pick with a familiar look and feel. Golden Flame
With 46,000 BTU output and stainless steel construction, it provides strong heat and it looks classy. Its wheeled base makes it easy for you to transport, and it comes with a little built-in table. The bottom has a sand reservoir (no sand included, though) to help keep it weighed down. Installation is not too difficult; just be aware that you’ll need batteries for the igniter.
Best pyramid-style patio heater: Hampton Bay Pyramid Patio Heater
This attractive heater has a sturdy base and a glass flame tube that provides great ambiance.
Just shy of 90 inches tall, this pyramid-style outdoor patio heater comes with a wheel kit so you can move it easily wherever you need it. It’s well-designed and easy to use, boasting a piezoelectric ignition for quick, easy starts and auto-shutoff if the heater tilts, plus a built-in control valve for regulating temperature. Delivering 42,000 BTUs, it’s got a rust-resistant golden finish, with an included cover.
Best wall patio heater: Briza Infrared Patio Heater
This infrared patio heater can be used in a wide variety of ways: indoor or outdoors, on a stand, or mounted to the wall or ceiling.
If you’re thinking of mounting your heater to a wall outdoors, this infrared patio heater is a good pick: It can be mounted or used on the included stand, which adjusts up and down so you can find the right height. It provides instant infrared heating at an output of 1500 watts—not as strong as most propane heaters, but simple plug-and-play use with remote control and a safety shutoff function. This infrared heater does have an IP 55 rating, however, which means it can withstand harsh outdoor conditions.
Best electric patio heater: Sunday Living Electric Patio Heater
Adjustable Height and Angle
Just plug in this electric patio heater and you’re ready to warm your outdoor space.
5 SUNDAY LIVING
This highly-rated outdoor electric patio heater has three power settings: 500W, 1000W, and 1500W. Its height is adjustable from 4.5 feet to 7.2 feet with telescoping rods; it can be tilted 15 degrees up or 20 degrees down, and it can heat an area of about 15 square feet. You can also wall-mount the heater. The unit is waterproof and comes with remote control and an easy-to-read digital front panel.
Best patio heater on a budget: Mainstays Tall Mocha Patio Heater
This is a mushroom-style propane heater at a lower budget price.
There’s a bit of a gamble when you choose this low-priced pick: several buyers have complained about dents or scratches on the base. But if you’re up for the risk, it’s significantly cheaper than comparable models and has the same functionality: 48,000 BTU with a push-button igniter and adjustment knob. However, there is no base weight (so don’t leave it out in windy weather) and it doesn’t come with a cover.
Q: Can I put a patio heater under a gazebo?
In general, you can put a patio heater under a gazebo, roof, or another type of awning as long as there’s enough clearance. Manufacturer’s instructions should include this information, but as a rough rule of thumb, you’ll need at least two (sometimes three) feet of clearance above a mushroom-style heater if it’s going to be used under a roof. Propane and gas heaters are not meant to be used indoors or in enclosed outdoor spaces, however. Some electric heaters can be used indoors or out.
Q: How long does a patio heater tank last?
When you choose a propane patio heater, you’ll have to regularly trade in the propane tank for a full one (which you can do at many hardware and home improvement stores). Most full-size patio heaters use either 15-pound or 20-pound liquid propane tanks, and how quickly you’ll use them up depends on how high you set the temperature: setting it on high will use up the propane faster than setting it on low, naturally. A 20-pound propane tank holds approximately 430,000 BTUs. You can divide that number by the BTU rating on your patio heater to figure out approximately how long it will last on high. If your propane heater is 43,000 BTUs, you can divide 430,000 by 43,000 to find out that it will last approximately 10 hours before needing a refill.
Q: Are patio heaters safe on decks?
A: If you have a wood or composite deck, you might worry about whether patio heaters are safe for decks. In short: they are safe on decks, as long as you don’t leave them running unattended and as long as they’re not in an enclosed space. There is no active flame or embers as there are with a fire pit, and the bottom of a patio heater should never get hot. Tipping is a concern, though, so be sure that your heater’s base is weighed down and steady. In storms or heavy winds, move the heater indoors to a garage or shed if possible.
Within the three main categories of heat (propane heaters, natural gas heaters, and electric/infrared heaters), you’ll find an array of sizes, designs, and prices. The end result is the same: the best patio heater is a way to allow you and your guests to remain comfortable outdoors longer even when the weather isn’t perfect.