Patio Heaters for Cooler Climates
August 17, 2010 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Residential patio heaters, fall and spring in New England or similar climate: your experiences please.

I live in CT. Chimineas, firepits, etc. do not fit my lifestyle, but I would like to extend the use of my open deck a bit, so I am considering a propane-fueled patio heater like this one. There are about a million websites that would like to sell me one, and not a lot of reviews or discussion from real-life people.

I am looking for something that would allow me to do the following: I wake up, decide to have breakfast on the deck, but it is chilly (I don’t expect this thing to help in real winter. Think spring/fall temps, maybe 40s and 50s). I run out and turn on the patio heater. I come back inside, take 5 or 10 minutes to fix breakfast, another couple minutes to layer on warm clothes. I go outside, and eat my breakfast while reading a book, without feeling uncomfortable or having my hands turn into useless claws. My cold tolerance is good, so I’m not looking for toasty, just not cold.


*Warm up time: how long after turning on such a heater should I expect to be able to feel its effects?

*Reliability: in the $200 price range that seems common for non-commercial units, how long can I expect this thing to last? If yours has broken, have you been able to get parts for it? How quickly will it rust? I will get a cover for it, but would prefer only to cover it during winter, since 1) I am lazy and if I have to take the cover off every time I will probably use it much less and 2) the thing is already huge, and it will be even huger and less attractive wrapped in a bag. Also on that point…

*Size: These things are big. My house is a shoebox and the deck is 10 x 20, with assorted furniture, umbrella, etc. If you have one, do you ever find the size overwhelming (mainly I mean visually. I know I have room for it, but do you ever look at your deck and wish you didn’t have to see the heater looming there)? I have seen table top units, but they seem likely to be underpowered for the task, and cost almost as much as the full size.

I have also seen electric-powered infrared heaters like this one. I’ve only found a few reviews for various units, and they are leaning toward negative, so I don’t think it’s a contender, but if you have experience with one used outdoors please share. I am vaguely intrigued by the ‘draft proof heat” claim. The heating radius is smaller, but I don’t really need it to be all that big. Don’t love the fact that it’s electric, because I’d prefer not to have a cord, but it is more slender and attractive than a propane heater, and I have a deck outlet.
posted by acanthous to Home & Garden (3 answers total)
If you are dedicated to the proposition of heating the outdoors, infrared heaters are more efficient as they don't heat the air, which will merely blow away. Somewhat counter-intuitively, infrared heaters are more effective when you wear lighter weight clothing, as the heat can then reach your skin. (I find that wearing a hat actually makes me colder when attending our infrared-heated farm market patio during shoulder seasons: the heat is blocked by the hat.) I suggest a wall mounted aimable unit rather than the pole unit you linked, as you could angle it to heat yourself from the side to get more of your legs and not just your upper body and arms.

The most energy efficient way of enjoying outdoor dining in shoulder seasons would be an electric kotatsu, which would be delightful in chilly weather when wearing just a fluffy bathrobe. There are some models available in North America with the appropriate underwriting, but they aren't cheap ($400+ that I've seen online), are fairly hard to find, and the low seating position is unfamiliar to most of us.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:41 AM on August 17, 2010

We just added one of these to our deck and have found that it warms up quite quickly (5 minutes or so). We've had dinner on our deck far more often than we normally would (our summer nights quickly cool down to the mid-50's to mid-60's). We haven't had it long enough to test it's longevity. Aesthetically, it doesn't bother us. We have lots of potted plants, table and chairs etc. and our deck is slightly larger than yours.

In the winter months, we will probably break it down (a five-minute job) and store it in the garage. Basically, it's meant the difference between using our deck and not in the evening, so to us, it was worth it.
posted by Gusaroo at 11:48 AM on August 17, 2010

Have owned patio heater for about 3 years. As noted above, warm-up time about 5 to 10 minutes. Pretty quick. Reliability (i.e., ability to get parts) is more a function of where you buy it. If from your local hardware dealer, for example, you have someone to go to. Biggest hassle for us is itsy-bitsy spiders that love to make their homes inside the tubing that the propane flows through on its way to the pilot and/or burner. Can get particularly bad if the unit sits around unused for very long. Usually, a can of compressed air (like you use to clean your keyboard) will do the trick. If not, you might have to find someone good at repairing propane or gas appliances, who can take the darn thing apart and really get it cleaned out.
posted by John Borrowman at 6:51 PM on August 17, 2010

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