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Outdoor Heater Buying Guide

Open-air entertainment spaces become a focal point during the warm summer months. Enjoyment of these spaces doesn’t have to end when the seasons change. Patio heaters not only keep you and your guests warm, but provide a cozy atmosphere for your gatherings. They come in a wide variety of fuel types, styles and features They are easy to operate, provide instant heat, and are built to withstand the elements.

Types of Fuel

Outdoor heaters are run by electricity, propane, or natural gas. There are pros and cons to each type. The right type for you is really determined by your lifestyle and preference.

Electric heaters use a heating bulb to generate heat. Most run off standard 120-volt outlets and can be plugged in most anywhere. They are low maintenance and can be used in enclosed spaces where other types cannot. The largest disadvantage to these heaters is that you do need an outlet nearby. Some properties do not have exterior outlets available. Another disadvantage is that most electric heaters don’t come with a flame effect taking away from the ambiance.

Propane gas heaters are easy to use and provide heat instantaneously. They run off propane gas tanks that are easy to change and offer mobility. Some use domes that expand the heat zone up to 20 feet. Most models come fully-assembled and provide a delightful centerpiece to your outdoor space. Special features may include flames that dance on top of rocks and areas to place drinks. The disadvantage is the fuel source. Propane tanks must be changed out when empty adding an additional cost and more maintenance.

Natural gas heaters are becoming increasingly popular. These heaters attach to a natural gas line providing users with constant heat with little maintenance. Many models come fully-assembled. Operating costs for these run less than electric or propane as they generally run more efficient, heating up to a 20-foot circumference. The biggest disadvantage to natural gas heaters is they are not mobile. You may need to enlist a plumber to assist in installation.

Power Source and Size

Generally, outdoor heaters measure their heating power in BTUs (British Thermal Units). BTUs measure the energy used per a certain unit of time, usually per hour. The higher the number, the more heat emitted. Often, the heating area listed refers to the number of feet surrounding the unit heat can reach. For instance, an electric heater listing 1200 watts can heat an area up to a 12-foot circumference.

For propane heaters, tank size is very important. Though you will get hours of use out of any size, smaller tanks will need to be replaced more often.

Differing Styles

Though there are many options out there, most outdoor heaters come as a standalone/ground model, a tabletop model or are mountable.

Standalone/Ground models are the most common, especially for commercial use. They are tall and thin, producing generous amounts of heat. This feature makes them perfect for large outdoor spaces such as pool decks, restaurants, and arenas.

Tabletop models come in many different styles. Some are designed to mimic floor heaters, while others look like lamps. With a typical height of three-feet or less, these heaters work great on tables in outdoor spaces.

Mountable heaters can be affixed to a wall or ceiling. Some come with a stand. These are great where space is small and can typically be found in work spaces.

Installation and Safety

There are many things to consider before installing an outdoor heater:

Only use natural gas and propane heaters outdoors. Read the manual to determine if an electric model can be used in semi-covered spaces.
Heaters should sit on a level surface. That is capable of holding the weight of the heater on its own. Avoid placement in high-wind areas.
Keep areas clear of debris, foliage and other flammable materials
Make sure the heater is off before moving or maintaining.
Safety Features on Portable Models

Portable outdoor heater models generally include safety features to help ward off emergencies. Some of these include:

*Protection from tipping. These models have a switch that will automatically shut off the heating element if tipped over.
*Temperature Shut Off. If the heater gets too hot, a switch will shut it off.
*Glass that stays cool. A common feature on commercial heaters, these models have special glass that will not burn skin when touched.
*Stamp of approval. Heaters listed as UL or CSA-tested have been determined to meet all safety requirements.

Maintaining Your Heater

Regularly maintaining your outdoor heater not only keeps it safe, but also adds years to usage. Wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners. The heater’s manual can give specific cleaning instructions. It can also give instructions on maintenance, though there is usually little involved.

Available Features

There are many other features to consider when choosing an outdoor patio heater.

*Assembly options: Many heaters come partially or fully-assembled. For example, the Lava Heat patio heater model comes in one box fully-assembled. Unassembled heaters can be a burden to put together. Save time and bother by choosing models that are fully-assembled.
*Warranty: For piece of mind, look for models with long warranties. Typically the longer the warranty period, the better quality materials the product has been built with.
*Electronic Controls: This type of control method makes adjustment of heat levels easy. *One-touch ignition and setting controls that are easy to use can make heating hassle-free.
*Flame Control: Many models utilize some sort of flame. Adjustable controls allows users to determine the heat and atmosphere they wish to convey.

Advantages of Outdoor Heaters

When compared to open-air fireplaces or fire pits, outdoor heaters offer many benefits. With outdoor heaters, adjustable flames and a variety of sophisticated designs allow users to really make their entertainment space their own. Unlike fireplaces and fire pits, they are low maintenance and are safer to use. They also don’t produce smoke and ash that can disturb guests. Outdoor heaters offer functionality, individuality and affordability.

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