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Updated: 17 May 2022

How to buy the best patio heater

Our expert guide to buying a patio heater reveals the best types of outdoor heaters, the features you should look out for, how much you should pay and who you should buy a heater from
Natalie Turner

Whether you’re hosting a garden party, relaxing outdoors in the evening, or just wanting to spruce up your outside space, investing in a quality patio heater can provide a cosy warmth and ambience so you can enjoy the outdoors for longer.

If you're interested in warming up your garden or patio, knowing which heater to pick will depend on the available space you have, the price you are willing to pay, your preferred style of heater and whether choosing an eco-friendly option is important to you.

There are loads of models to choose from and figuring out which is the right one for you isn't always straightforward. Keep scrolling for the pros and cons of the different types of patio heaters available. We also highlight the features you should look out for when buying a heater, and the popular retailers to purchase a heater from.


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How to choose the best patio heater: at a glance

These are some of the most important questions you'll need to think about when purchasing a patio heater:

  • How well does it distributes heat? There's not much point having a patio heater which doesn't really heat your patio. Check the British Thermal Units (BTUs) before buying to make sure you're getting the right size to heat your outdoor space. 
  • How cost efficient it is? Gas heaters and fire pits may be aesthetically pleasing, but they aren't so friendly to your wallet. By choosing an infrared electric heater you will waste less heat and save on money in the long run.
  • How environmentally friendly it is? Gas heaters and fire pits have a much worse environmental impact than their infrared electric counterparts. This may be something you want to consider if you're planning on using your patio heater frequently.

Types of patio heater

Depending on your garden, budget and preferred style, choosing a patio heater which suits your needs is an absolute must. Below are the main types of patio heater you're likely to see:

Gas patio heaters

Pyramid style gas heater

Gas heaters are the type of outdoor heater you normally find in a pub garden or restaurant terrace. They rely on propane gas cylinders or a fixed gas pipe. They're sometimes cheaper to buy upfront, but they can be much pricier to run than electric heaters, so don't get drawn into a false economy if you intend to use your heater regularly.

Pros

  • Sometimes cheaper to buy upfront
  • Attractive open flame design
  • Produces more heat than most types of heater
  • It will start warming up an area as soon as it's turned on 

Cons

  • Can be significantly more expensive to run than electric heaters
  • They heat via convection (meaning they heat the air around them), so more energy is wasted to the atmosphere
  • They release more CO2 into the atmosphere than electric heaters, making them less eco-friendly and more attractive to bugs

Electric patio heaters

Electric patio heater

Although electric patio heaters can be freestanding, attached to walls or hung from awnings or ceilings, they all need to be plugged into the mains. How your electric heater emits heat will depend on the make and model - some will heat by convection (by heating the area around them, similarly to a gas heater), and others will emit heat by radiating it (such as with infrared heaters). For a good number of homeowners, electric is the preferred option.

Pros

  • Consumes far less energy than gas heaters, so will be much cheaper to run
  • Heat is radiated in a certain direction, so less is wasted to the atmosphere
  • More eco-friendly as they do not directly emit CO2 

Cons

  • ​​​​Can sometimes take a while to heat up
  • Electric convection heaters are less suitable for outdoor use as more heat is wasted to the atmosphere 
  • Runs on electricity so a mains socket needs to be nearby and it will stop working in the event of a power outage 

Infrared patio heaters

Infrared patio heater

Infrared patio heaters are a type of electric heater which radiate heat through a series of coils and a reflector. They only emit warmth through radiant heating, meaning that they warm objects directly rather than the air around them. As radiant heating warms up people, furniture, ornaments and any dense object they transmit energy to, these objects then retain the heat and radiate it further. 

Pros

  • Most minimal heat wastage of all types of patio heater
  • Heat is radiated in a certain direction, so less is wasted to the atmosphere
  • More eco-friendly as they do not directly emit CO2 

Cons

  • The electrical cord can be a trip hazard
  • It may not get as hot as other types of heater, such as gas or solid fuel
  • The heater can sometimes take a while to heat up

Solid-fuel patio heaters

Outdoor fire pit

Fire pits and chimeneas are both types of solid-fuel heaters - they rely on the burning of wood, charcoal, pellets or other materials to emit warmth. They're a traditional way to keep you warm outdoors and can create a relaxed ambience, but they produce smoke which is harmful to inhale and some can leave your clothes smelling smoky. 

Read our Which? guide on choosing the best fire pit to see if this is a good heating option for your garden.

Pros

  • Can be decorative and aesthetic pieces therefore good for creating ambiance
  • Some models have multiple functions, including a grill feature and table top
  • Usually less expensive than other types of heater, plus you can build your own cheaper version

Cons

  • Most models will emit smoke which can be an irritant and leave clothes smelling smoky
  • Will require a constant supply of burning materials, as well as a regular clean-out
  • It can be difficult to extinguish quickly or control the size of the flame

Entertaining guests this summer? See all of our barbecue guides for buying advice, barbecue care tips and more


Can an indoor heater be used outside?

Taking your indoor heater to use outside may seem like a great money-saving idea, but you'll be disappointed, as most of them work via convection, which means they heat the air around them. This is great in an insulated environment, but when you're outdoors, you're basically draining energy for no reason. 

Electric patio heaters specialise in radiant heating, which means that they warm objects directly rather than the air around them. 


If you want to heat up your home as well as your garden or patio, see all our electric heater reviews


Patio heater designs

Electric patio heaters

Heaters come in a variety of designs:

  • Freestanding heaters often resemble lamps, steel pyramids or towers. Gas heaters are freestanding and some electric heaters are also designed this way. Gas heaters with a naked flame will emit heat around the whole circumference of the unit as well as above it, while electric heaters will have heating elements pointed in particular directions.
  • Wall-mounted heaters are electric heaters that can be fixed to a wall. They're unobtrusive and don't take up floor space, but they still need to be placed somewhere they can plug into the mains.
  • Parasol heaters are electric heaters built to fit on the inside of a garden umbrella. Here they're protected from any wind and they can be a close yet safe distance to people sitting at a table below. Make sure that the parasol is stable before putting any heaters in place.

How much do I need to spend on a patio heater?

Upfront costs can vary widely. It's possible to fork out a considerable amount of money to set up a system of heaters in your garden, especially if you have a large outside space, but there are also options that shouldn't break the bank.

Budget options

A firepit or chimenea will typically have the lowest upfront cost - between £20 and £100. 

However, if you're looking for gas or electric heater you should expect to spend a minimum of £50 to £200, with gas models typically costing more. 

Wayfair offers hundreds of patio heaters, many of which are priced in the £50 to £200 range. 

Mid-range options

The majority of mid-range gas and electric heaters cost between £200 and £600. At this price, you have more choice, whether you want a freestanding heater, a wall-mounted heater or something specifically styled like a parasol heater or a hanging lamp. 

This is also the price range that offers the majority of pyramid-shaped gas heaters. 

Every retailer we list in this article (see below) sells mid-range products, so it's possibly the easiest to shop for.

Premium options

For those who really want to make a statement in their garden, a high-end table top fire pit could potentially set you back thousands of pounds. 

Patio heaters can also be expensive, although many retailers don't price these above £600. Premium gas heating options usually feature stylish designs, perfect for decorating your garden. 

If you want multiple heaters to cover a larger space or to create different hot spots around your patio or garden, it's likely to cost you well over £1,000.

Garden with multiple patio heaters

How much will it cost to run a patio heater?

An average electric patio heater runs at 2kW, with some models letting you run it as high as 3kW. A 2kW heater running for an hour will cost approximately 40p on average, depending on your energy tariff. 

With infrared electric heaters, the heat can be spot-directed to a certain area, so there's less potential for wastage.

In comparison, PatioMate, one of the UK's largest price comparison and reviews site for outdoor-related items, claims that gas heaters are 'a diminishing cost saving when you factor in the cost of gas'. 

Gas heaters use a comparatively huge amount of energy compared with electric heaters. And presuming you won't be wiring a gas pipe to a heater in your garden, you'll be racking up large bills in buying gas canisters.

Fire pits and chimeneas will be fairly cheap to run, and even cheaper if you can provide your own materials for burning. Otherwise, you can buy bags of logs and other kindling from most home improvement stores.


If this has you thinking about your gas and electricity costs, then use our Which? Switch tool to compare energy suppliers and make sure you're saving money


What size patio heater do I need?

Knowing the British Thermal Unit (BTU) output of your heater is a good first step to approximately know if it is suitable to heat your space. BTUs are essentially measurement of how much energy it takes to heat up something. You should be able to find this number on the packaging, the product itself or in the instruction manual. 

Once you know your heater's BTU, you'll then need to work out the square footage of the area you want to heat. By multiplying the square footage by 20, you'll get the rough number of BTUs you'll need to adequately heat it. For instance, if your patio is 200sq ft, you'll need a heater with around 4,000 BTUs to effectively heat it.

This equation will work for both gas and electric heaters, though bear in mind that the shape of your garden and environmental changes (such as the wind) will affect how well heat is dispersed around the space. 

Heater sizeAverage BTU output per hourApproximate square footage it should heat
Small1,000 -10,00050-500 sq ft
Medium10,000 -20,000500 -1,000 sq ft
Large20,000-30,0001,000 -1,500 sq ft
Extra large30,000+1,500+ sq ft

The arrangement of your patio or garden will also help determine the right size: you may want to tuck a small unit into a parasol, put it up against a wall or have a freestanding heater that can be dragged to different areas.

Best patio heater features to look for 

Garden with multiple patio heaters
  • Safety additions such as grates, covers, emitter screens and a sturdy base are great if you've got pets or small children. 
  • An automatic turn-off feature will switch off the heater if it topples over.
  • Adjustable temperature settings will help you choose the perfect heat. You can also get adjustable light settings. 
  • Wireless or Bluetooth control will enable people to control their heater through their phone or smart hub. 
  • Durable materials are best for heaters that will be kept outside all year round. Look for heaters that are made from stainless steel or aluminium. 
  • Rotating heaters will distribute the heat around a larger space. 

Thinking of giving your garden a full makeover? Head to our guide on how to buy the best garden furniture for our top tips on buying and caring for your new patio pieces


Can you buy an environmentally friendly patio heater?

Although some patio heaters are advertised as 'environmentally friendly', sadly a truly eco heater does not yet exist. But you can make a considered choice.

Gas heaters produce significantly more CO2 than electric heaters. Not only does this make them a mosquito-magnet, but it also creates an environmental cost so steep that European Parliament MEPs voted to endorse banning them in 2008 (this vote didn't create a law, but it was a show of support for the concept of banning gas patio heaters).

Infrared patio heaters reduce the environmental impact significantly in comparison and are undoubtedly the more eco option.

Of course, electricity drawn from the grid stems from a mix of carbon-free and carbon sources, and wasted electricity will still have an environmental impact, depending on your tariff.

Where to buy a patio heater

Both generalist retailers and dedicated garden shops offer a wide range of patio heaters. To make sure you're buying a patio heater that's well built and safe to use, only shop with trusted sellers online or in-store.  

Ideally, you'd get to see the patio heater in-store before buying, but if this isn’t possible, find out as much information about it as possible before investing.  

For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty equipment, see our online shopping advice.

  • Amazon has thousands of patio heaters which cover every price range,. But before you part with any money, read our guide on how to spot fake reviews on Amazon.
  • Sunbelt Rentals sells a modest collection of patio heaters among its large heater stock.
  • Heat Outdoors is a more specialised seller, offering a wide range of gas and electric heaters, plus fire pits and a range of accessories such as fly zappers. It also sells components for some of its gas heaters which enables you to repair them.
  • Herschel sells infrared (electric) heaters across a few curated ranges, including the 'sunset range', which offers a warm glow in your garden. You'll also find  a 'designer range' of zero-light heaters which provide heat discreetly.
  • Homebase has a small collection of patio heaters, which are at the affordable end of the market. First-time heater buyers might find it appealing to visit the store and see the heaters for themselves before they buy.
  • Living and Home advertises many different styles of patio heater, from free standing, pyramid and wall-mounted options to rotating and remote controlled. They also currently have discounts available on most models.
  • The Range features lots of different patio heaters on their website, with prices starting from £30. They offer more classic or basic styles as well as more artistic feature pieces.
  • Wayfair lets you filter by design to search for standing, mounted, hanging and table-top styles across a range that primarily consists of electric heaters. Many of its products are budget offerings.

Do patio heaters attract bugs?

Wall mounted patio heater

The simple answer is yes, but for a few different reasons. Many bugs, just like us, are attracted to the warmth that patio heaters produce.

Certain insects, including most flying insects, are biologically programmed to chase light stimulus and they will flock to a bright patio heater. Other insects that are instinctively repelled by light because they have a negative phototaxis, such as earthworms, will flee them.

The carbon dioxide that gas patio heaters produce also attracts some insects. Most unpleasantly, mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide emissions.  Electric heaters, on the other hand, don't burn combustible fuel and don't emit CO2 so they don't attract mosquitoes like gas heaters do.

Insects can prove to be a serious nuisance for patio heater owners, although it all depends on your tolerance for these garden visitors.

You can invest in pest control, such as a fly zapper, to attract and eliminate insects if necessary, so this isn't an insurmountable problem.


If you're investing in your outdoor space this year, see all of our outdoor living expert buying advice