How to Use a Patio Heater Safely

Gas flame patio heater

As temperatures drop, it’s common to think that the season for outdoor entertaining is coming to a close—but that doesn’t have to be the case! Patio heaters are a great option for homeowners who seek to lengthen the outdoor season. Even in chilly temperatures, the right patio heater will keep you warm and comfortable.  

To make sure you get the most out of your heater, let’s go over the best practices to ensure safety and maximum enjoyment. 

But First, a Quick Intro to Patio Heaters 

The biggest factor to consider before purchasing your new heater is fuel type. The four most common fuel types are: 

  1. Electric: Probably the safest of the available fuel types because there are no fumes, carbon monoxide, or flammable gases involved. Electricity is also a steady supply—save for a power outage—while the other three sources (more on those below) will need to be replaced with gas tanks or a line. 

  1. Natural Gas: A natural-gas patio heater is convenient because you don’t have to deal with canisters—your fuel use will just be on your gas bill. But this also makes these heaters less portable compared to electric or propane (see below). Natural gas also creates some safety concerns due to fumes, compared with electric heaters. 

  1. Propane: Because propane is contained in a tank (and not connected to a gas line or outlet) propane will give you maximum portability. However, to keep your propane heater running you will need to regularly refill your propane tank and replace it over time as wear and tear will increase safety concerns (although many retailers allow you to swap your tanks instead of refilling them). 

  1. Wood: Lastly, you can find plenty of wood-based patio heaters such and metal fire pits, chimineas, or even built-in brick fireplaces. Usually, the wood-based heaters (that aren’t built-in) are mobile, but the will take up additional space. 

  • Your next consideration? Heater style. There are three key styles of patio heater:  
  • Standing: This option will be the most universal across heat sources. As the name implies, these heaters are usually pillar- or pole-styled units that won’t take up much ground space because of the more vertical nature of their design. These units also are great for larger spaces based on their size. 
  • Tabletop: Usually a smaller unit, the advantage here is the portability. Due to their output, though, they often aren’t ideal for larger spaces. 
  • Hanging: If you have a gazebo, pergola, trellis, or other type of coverage for your patio area, hanging heaters are available. Heat rises, though, so these units aren’t great for very low temperatures or larger spaces where more heat is required.  

The Do’s and Don'ts of Patio Heaters  

No matter which heat source or style patio heater you select, the most important thing to know about any model is how to use it safely.  

  • To make sure that you and your family can enjoy your patio area without worrying, here’s a helpful list of patio heater do’s and don’ts: 
  • Do ensure proper ventilation: Propane and natural gas patio heaters release deadly carbon monoxide. Make sure you use them in the open air, and never indoors or in a partially enclosed space. The resulting carbon monoxide poisoning could be fatal. So, safety first. 
  • Do maintain your equipment: Propane tanks are only rated for a certain period, so make sure you don’t exceed that date. With natural gas and electricity, you’ll want to make sure that your gas line and power cords are in good condition to avoid the risk of gas leak or shock. 
  • Do keep them level: Standing heaters can tip and fall, causing damage to your property or injury to your friends and family. Placing them on a level surface reduces this risk. 
  • Don’t leave them exposed: To use safely, patio heaters belong outside. That doesn’t mean that they’re impervious to rain, ice, or other natural elements. So, store them indoors or at least in a partially enclosed space, protected from precipitation. 
  • Don’t ignore your heater: Even though you’ll likely be using porch heaters for relaxation and hosting social events, you need to make sure that you’re paying attention to them. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby, remind children to not roughhouse near them, and notice if you smell any mercaptan, the foul-smelling gas added to natural gas and propane to alert you to a leak.    

Related TopicHow to Keep a Garage Warm in the Winter 

How do you Light a Gas-Powered Patio Heater?  

  • For natural gas or propane models that have a pilot light, most will have a setting on the knob indicating “PILOT.”  
  • When you go to this setting, a small amount of the gas will be released to allow the pilot light to be lit with either a long match or lighter. Be careful, though, as the gas will continue to run unburned until the pilot is lit.  
  • If you can’t light your pilot light immediately, turn off the heater and let it sit for a few minutes to make sure there’s no gas buildup that could lead to a fire. 

Patio Heater FAQ 

Before you purchase and fire up your new patio heater, consider these frequently asked questions:  

How much space can a single patio heater warm? 

This depends on the model and size of the heater you purchase, but on average a typical heater will warm a radius of 6 to 10 feet extending from the heater. Larger patios often require more than one heater. 

Can you use a patio heater on a screened porch? 

When it comes to safety, there’s a real difference between “can” and “should.” You shouldn’t use a gas-fired patio heater on a screened-in porch. A screened-in or covered porch will hold fumes, including deadly carbon monoxide. To heat a screened porch, only ever use an electric heater (no emissions). 

Can you use a patio heater under a covered patio or pergola?  

Only if it’s electric. Electric heaters even come in hanging options, meaning they’re designed for these types of porches or patios. Just make sure you research your needs before purchasing a unit. 

How can you keep a patio heater from tipping over? 

To keep your patio heater from tipping over ensure it is on a level surface when you first place it on your patio. You can use shims to compensate for uneven patio bricks or ground. Another good tip is to add weight to the bottom of your heater, as a heavier base will reduce the likelihood of tipping.  

Are Propane Patio Heaters Safe for Use in Garages? 

No. As with any other gas-powered appliance or implement, a propane or natural gas heater cannot be operated in an enclosed space like a garage without risking death by CO poisoning.  

Looking to keep your garage warmer? Purchase an electric heater, or have weather stripping installed around the doors.  

Keep the Inside of Your Home Comfortable Too 

Although we don’t directly work on patio heaters, we know a thing or two about keeping the inside of your home comfortable. Aire Serv offers annual inspections and routine maintenance that can help keep your HVAC system running safely and efficiently throughout the year. Give us a call or request an estimate online today!