An outdoor patio heater can enable you to use your precious outdoor space year round. While the winter months can still be challenging, the early spring and late fall are great times to be outside. Patio heaters definitely make these moments a lot more comfortable!
Outdoor heaters are generally easy to use and operate. However, it’s important not to leave anything to chance when liquid propane and fire are involved. There are some safety precautions that all homeowners should consider when operating an outdoor heater.
One of the most common questions that comes up, is it safe to use an outdoor heater under a covered patio (folks asked the same thing about grills, which I answered here)? In this guide, we will answer that question and perhaps a few others that you may have about outdoor heaters.
Not sure what all the fuss is about? Well, the NFPA reports “Local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 52,050 fires involving heating equipment each year in 2012-2016.”
That’s a lot of preventable fires due to heating equipment! So let’s make sure you’re covered.
You must check the clearance for the particular heater model that you have. If you have a large free-standing outdoor heater that brushes against the top of your patio covering, this will cause a problem.
How much clearance is appropriate for a covered porch? Most heaters recommend 24 to 36 inches of clearance on all sides of the heater, including the top. Depending on the strength of the heater you purchase, you must determine the clearance that is necessary.
If your patio is covered by and awning or roof, then there is likely still plenty of ventilation. However, if your patio is covered in a way that inhibits airflow, this can be dangerous. Whenever you are dealing with outdoor heater, ventilation and clearance are going to be the most critical issues.
Depending on the material of the coverage, you may have to be more cautious. If your outdoor heater gives off a smoke of any kind, you could end up seeing some stains or damage to the patio cover.
Types Of Outdoor Heaters
The type of outdoor heater you choose will likely help you determine how safe it is in certain areas. You should keep in mind that outdoor heaters are intended to be used for entertaining for a few hours. This is not a unit that should be continually operating to heat any part of your home. Outdoor heaters are not built for that level of use.
Propane heaters are some of the most commonly sold outdoor heaters. They heat up fast, are relatively inexpensive, and are reasonably portable.
However, you need to be very careful using propane heaters in a covered patio. Again, you will need to check for both ventilation and clearance to make sure this is a safe heater to operate. Also, one more key aspect to check with propane patio heaters are their BTU output. The higher the BTU output, the less safe it is to use in a covered setting.
If you have any doubts at all, then purchase an electric heater. This is the safest option (as you’ll see below).
Natural gas heaters are not expensive to use, but they are undoubtedly costly to install. You must have access to natural gas to install this type of heater, so you may have to cross this one off your list right away.
The electric outdoor heaters are the easiest to use because you just all you need is an electrical outlet. As long as the electric heaters have proper clearance around them, they are safe to use in a covered patio situation. Electric heaters can cost a bit more to run long term, and you will need to make sure you have an outlet nearby, but this is a good option for a covered patio.
A wood-burning outdoor heater will likely be one of the cheapest options you can purchase. The problem with it under a covered patio is the amount of smoke it gives off. If you have something like a chiminea sitting under your patio cover, it is likely to get quite smoky and cause stains and damage.
Generally speaking, outdoor heaters are safe. Make sure you are using them exactly how the manufacturer recommends and keep a safe distance at all times. When you are done for the night, make sure you turn your outdoor heater off, disconnect, or unplug it. As we mentioned earlier, these are not intended to be left in operation for long periods.