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A patio heater allows you to comfortably bask in its heat on cold winter nights. In a way, it’s like reliving a night out in Miami while on vacation, but this time around, you’re in a snow-covered backyard in Quebec.
And that’s probably the reason why patio heaters have become such a bone of contention between climate change advocates and skeptics because such devices literally heat the outdoors.
It’s come to a point where, in 2008, UK-based hardware stores B&Q pulled all patio heaters from their shelves, while in France, they’ve been banned, plain and simple, since 2022.
Are they a genuine threat to the environment, so much so that they should be banned in Canada too, or should they still be available for purchase here?
Here’s everything you should know about patio heaters, so you can make the most eco-friendly decision possible.
A patio heater with a 12.5 kW power emits 34.9 kg of CO2, which amounts to the same energy required to make 400 cups of tea per hour, meaning 5,200 cups of coffee over a 13-hour period.
You only have two choices when it comes to patio heaters:
Gas-fueled patio heaters benefit from being portable and powerful, whereas the electric version, is efficient when wall- or ceiling-mounted. However, for a heating system that’s specific to your patio, here are a few factors to consider.
Abide by these five factors:
Straightforward to operate
Wondering why we didn’t mention the cost in our list. Avoid looking at prices. Low-end patio heaters won’t necessarily have durable light bulbs. And, replacing a bulb costs no less than $200 apiece.
A reputable patio heater brand will provide a heating bulb that can hold up for a period of 5,000 hours. Therefore, invest in quality light bulbs, especially considering the additional energy use, as a reputable brand will quickly pay for itself.
At least when it comes to an electric patio heater considering that propane gas patio heaters are fueled by an open flame. Meaning they’re more decorative compared to their electric counterparts.
Lastly, by adapted system, we mean a system that’s suited to your patio space. When your outdoor living area is open, a gas-fueled heater is perfectly fine since the carbon monoxide will be naturally aired out.
On the flip side, for covered or closed patios, always opt for an electric heater.
1,500 W (5,115 BTU)
35 sq. ft
3,000 (10,230 BTU)
64 sq. ft
6,000 W (20,460 BTU)
121 sq. ft
Attention! The above-mentioned square footage and wattage don’t guarantee optimal comfort. Why, you ask? Because weather conditions are largely responsible for the warmth provided. It’s very much what happens when the wind blows through your patio; the heat from the flame will vanish along with it.
Therefore, some experts in the field prefer to say that a device with 40,000 to 45,000 BTU is only truly capable of heating within a radius of 5 to 6 feet (2 m).
So, should you select one of the very small models—those that can be plugged into a power supply—note that on top of consuming more electricity, their 1,500 W of power can’t warm up a space over 25 square feet.
An electric patio heater releases 500 kg of carbon dioxide. This may seem like a lot, but it’s still seven times less than a propane-fueled patio heater. Hence, it’s much more environmentally friendly than a patio heater that runs on propane.
However, there’s one major downside: it has to be connected to 240 V. This implies that not only will you need enough space in your electrical service panel, but you’ll also require the assistance of an electrician.
Only 1,500-W devices can be plugged into an electrical outlet, but their power output won’t have a very wide range.
On the other hand, they consume very little, they effectively heat enclosed spaces, and once installed, they can be stored outside year-round.
This time around, the electric patio heater is wall-mounted. Given its radiant heating system, it has to be mounted at least 6.6 feet (2.40 m) high. Even so, it typically requires you to install it in a covered area.
A wall-mounted patio heater isn’t designed for an open-concept outdoor space that’s vulnerable to the slightest gust of wind.
A propane-fueled patio heater emits just as much carbon dioxide as a truck cruising at full speed (7,500 lb/3,400 kg per year). If your propane patio heater is turned on most evenings out of the year, you’re producing up to 4 tons of carbon dioxide.
So what does this really mean? An outdoor space heated with a single propane gas patio heater releases ⅔ of the amount of CO2 that a fireplace would emit over the course of a year. And, to keep warm, it very likely may be that you’ll need more than one patio heater.
Nevertheless, if you choose to go with a propane patio heater, you’ll be following along with 57% of people looking for outdoor patio heaters. Actually, it was the patio heater of choice for Quebeckers during COVID-19.
However, beware should you choose this heating system. Since it’s a combustion heater, it can’t be used in a covered outdoor space, due to carbon monoxide emissions.
You need one pound of propane to fuel a 21,600-BTU outdoor patio heater for an hour. Therefore, a gas-fueled patio heater can keep an outdoor space warm for anywhere between 9 to 13 hours.
A propane patio heater releases carbon monoxide—a toxic, odourless, colourless, and tasteless gas that can cause fatalities when inhaled in large quantities. Therefore, certain cautionary measures should be taken when used. These safety guidelines depend on the manufacturer, but here’s the gist of it:
keep away from doors and windows
maintain a certain distance between the device and air vents
don’t use in closed or non-vented areas
install a carbon monoxide detector
To prevent any accidents, remove the propane tank prior to storing it.
Yes ma’am, natural gas patio heaters are a thing. They’re directly plugged into a source of gas fuel. Therefore, installation-wise, they do require the help of a professional. Their design is often better thought out compared to portable propane patio heaters.
As such, this type of heater is best suited to an outdoor patio space. Furthermore, just like electric patio heaters, they’re fixed, meaning they can be left outside year-round.
However, it isn’t “eco-friendly.” Natural gas is, after all, not a source of clean energy. But, replacing the word “natural” with “fossil” is instantly less glamorous. Yet, that’s what natural gas is: a fossil fuel.
Much like propane, methane releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide during combustion. The figures we listed above in terms of propane apply here as well.
An outdoor infrared patio heater is an electric heating system. “Infrared” basically refers to its functioning, meaning it heats through radiation.
Therefore, to function accordingly, it must be mounted high up, preferably above the outdoor space’s lounge area. An electric infrared heater can be:
hung from the ceiling
Their operation system renders them more efficient than propane-fueled patio heaters. However, if installed too high, you won’t feel any of the radiant heat released as it won’t reach your vicinity.
We should also mention from the get-go that efficient and portable patio heaters are also gas-fueled. Why’s that? Because electric patio heaters, with a 1,500-W power, are always permanently mounted to a ceiling or wall.
Only small patio heaters can be plugged into a 120-V outlet. Therefore, if you decide to invite your friends over, midwinter, for a drink on your patio, you’ll need to invest in a gas-fueled outdoor heater.
Eco-friendly heating and outdoor living spaces don’t really go hand-in-hand. An outdoor patio heating system will never be eco-friendly, if only for the concept of energy waste.
Is there at least a solar-powered patio heater?
Don’t start hunting down solar-powered patio heaters because they simply don’t exist. For now, solar-powered heating simply allows one to heat an outdoor shower or a swimming pool with a solar pool cover.
In fact, to heat a patio during wintertime, you need power and efficiency. The only effective energy sources that can warm up such an immediate setting are gas or electricity. Therefore, narrow down your focus to either one of these heating systems.
Adding a patio heater to your outdoor space is a wise choice if you’re looking to extend your time spent outside, even during the winter, and to keep warm and cozy in the process. Whether you choose an electric, gas-fueled, infrared model, or even an outdoor chimney, this piece of equipment releases a more than welcome source of heat. It revamps your patio, thereby turning it into an even more warm and welcoming outdoor setting. Being able to comfortably enjoy your outdoor space during the colder months is a genuine asset to your quality of life. Investing in a patio heater is also investing in a more versatile outdoor space.
RenoQuotes.com can help you get quotes for your air conditioning and heating project. If you submit your project to us, we’ll put you in contact with top-rated contractors. Fill in the form on the homepage (it only takes a few minutes), and you will get estimates from trusted professionals.
Last modified 2023-11-07
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