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 a more sustainable option is important to you. While no patio heaters are environmentally friendly, some types are worse than others so if you're still going to buy one, see our advice below on how to reduce its impact.
There are also 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.
These are some of the most important questions you'll need to think about when purchasing a 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
No. 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 are one of the worst in terms of energy efficiency and they 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.
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.
Heaters come in a variety of designs:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 size||Average BTU output per hour||Approximate square footage it should heat|
|Small||1,000 -10,000||50-500 sq ft|
|Medium||10,000 -20,000||500 -1,000 sq ft|
|Large||20,000-30,000||1,000 -1,500 sq ft|
|Extra large||30,000+||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.
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.
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.