How Do Patio Heaters Work? Everything You Need to Know

Have you ever used a patio heater? If not, then you might want to consider getting one now. Patio heaters are gaining popularity because they make your patio a more enjoyable place for you and your family. But most people don’t know how these heaters work.

Nothing much is as enjoyable as sitting outside on a cool night to relax and unwind. Many people enjoy sitting outside, especially in the evenings during the fall or winter months. This is when patio heaters become useful.

Patio heaters are available in various shapes and sizes, such as wall mountingspace heaters, portable heaters, and freestanding heaters, but they all operate on the same basic principles.

Incorporating a radiant heating system that produces heat that radiates outwards towards you, patio heaters generate warmth by running pressurized propane or natural gas fuel through an arrangement of pipes.

The heated air then rises from the top of the heater, creating the familiar infrared glow for which these devices are known.

A patio heater provides warmth to your back and shoulders while allowing the front side of your body to stay cool. This helps keep you from feeling too hot. If you’re going to buy a patio heater, it’s important to know how they work to ensure you get the best possible use from them.

There are various types of patio heaters, and the way they work varies, which will be discussed below. With this, you will understand how your chosen patio works and how to care for it properly.

Many people want to know whether patio heaters work because they have had a bad experience with patio heaters that were more like glorified candles than actual heating devices. However, whether it’s a tabletop model or a large hanging unit, these heaters work fine, provided you follow the directions carefully.

They do, but it depends on the type of heater and the size of the area you’re trying to heat. Patio heaters are essentially heaters meant to be used in outdoor areas. The various types of patio heaters are:

  1. Propane gas heater
  2. Natural gas heater
  3. Electric heater
  4. Infrared heater

It’s important to consider a few things when accessing the effectiveness of a patio heater:

  • How large is the area you’re trying to heat: Some patio heaters can only heat areas of up to 10 square feet. If you want to heat a larger area, you’ll need to add more heaters or a heater with more power.
  • What is your budget: Electric or natural gas-powered patio heaters can cost more to purchase but pay for themselves over time in electricity costs. Propane-fueled patio heaters work well for rapid heating but require frequent fuel replacement.

How a natural gas heater work

Natural gas heaters are a popular alternative to electric heaters because they can be less expensive to operate, depending on your area’s electricity and natural gas cost.

A natural gas heater uses the natural force of gravity and convection currents to distribute warm air through your home.

The convection currents work by pulling cool air from the bottom of the heater, warming it up, and pushing it out through vents at the top. There are also models with a fan that will further distribute air throughout your space.

Natural gas heaters can be located in an existing fireplace or as a freestanding unit. Portable versions can also be found that run off of propane tanks and can be used indoors or outdoors.

How a propane gas heater work

Propane gas heaters are fairly inexpensive and easy to install and are a great alternative to electric heaters.

Here’s how it works:

Propane tanks are filled with liquid propane that is vaporized when it’s released through the tank valve. Once the propane is vaporized, it’s drawn through a hose into the heater.

The propane is then drawn into a burner inlet, where a safety thermocouple is connected. A thermocouple is a device that shuts off the flow of propane if the flame goes out.

The combustible vapors are ignited in the burner chamber, creating heat that radiates outward through a screen-protected front panel.

How do electric patio heaters work

A typical residential electric patio heater uses electricity to heat an element made of a nichrome wire coil, Known as the nickel-chromium alloy.

This wire is wrapped around a ceramic core and encased within a glass tube. When the heater is turned on, the electricity flows through the wire, heating it up until it glows red-hot.

Then, it radiates infrared energy outward toward the surrounding area as the element heats up.

Once the unit turns on, air will blow over the element, cooling it down and ensuring it doesn’t overheat.

This air is typically forced through the device by a fan attached to an electric motor inside the unit’s base. The fan also helps to distribute some of this warm air throughout the area that is being heated.

In summary, the way that electric patio heaters work is that they use electricity to heat up a metal coil. The electricity runs through the metal coil and makes it hot enough to heat up the surrounding area.

How do Infrared patio heaters work

Infrared heaters are a new alternative to traditional heaters that use electricity to generate heat. They are an efficient, effective way to heat your home.

Infrared heaters work by using infrared technology, which is the same technology used in your TV remote control. Infrared technology can convert electrical energy into thermal energy, which can then be used to provide warmth.

These heaters emit a light invisible to the naked eye but can be felt as a gentle warming sensation on your skin.

Unlike other heating systems, infrared heaters do not require any circulation or ventilation. As a result, it can also be used in areas where it would otherwise not be possible, such as attics and basements.

Here’s a quick overview of how they work and what makes them different from each other:

  • Electric heaters use coils or tubes filled with liquid coolant to produce heat. The liquid coolant is activated when electricity passes through it, creating warmth in the room.
  • Propane heaters burn fuel (usually propane) to generate heat. The fuel burns in an enclosed chamber, releasing energy as it does so. This energy heats up the room where the heater is installed.
  • Natural gas heaters work by igniting natural gas inside an internal combustion chamber. When the gas is ignited, it creates warm air that circulates throughout your home via ducts or vents.

Gas-powered patio heaters use natural gas or propane to heat ceramic plates inside the heater. The ceramic plates are extremely hot and emit infrared radiation, which heats the air around them.

Gas patio heaters are more efficient than electric ones because they don’t require as much energy to produce a lot of heat.

However, they tend to be more expensive than electric models and require more maintenance. So if you’re looking for a cheap option, then an electric model might be better suited for your needs.

Which patio heaters work best

Patio heaters are a useful addition to your garden, keeping you warm and eliminating the need for extra layers when you want to spend some time outdoors. However, the effect of patio heaters is affected by numerous factors ranging from their power output to how windy it is outside.

It all depends on where and how you want to use these heaters. And the various instances are given below.

However, to ensure that you get the best possible warmth from a propane or gas patio heater, we recommend picking one with an output of at least 40000btu or higher and positioning it somewhere sheltered, such as on a covered patio. These heaters are also usable in open outdoor areas and have proven effective.

Infrared patio heaters offer much more heat. The downside is that with higher temperatures comes higher prices as well.

Suppose electricity and budget are not important factors. In that case, infrared heaters are best suited for any outdoor use and perfect for a home backyard, restaurant or café terrace, or any other outdoor location.

Non-infrared electric models, on the other hand, are a low-cost and safe option, but they’re not as powerful as gas-powered heaters. If you have the budget, gas heaters can make your patio toasty enough to use in colder temperatures. However, electric heaters are suitable and effective for closed outdoor areas.

Do patio heaters work below freezing

For the most part, no. Patio heaters are electrical appliances that produce radiant heat, which means they work by heating surface objects rather than air. Unfortunately, this type of heating is not very effective in cold weather because outdoor air will burn off the heat before reaching the ground.

Radiant heating has a much greater effect on warm or hot surfaces, so you’ll get better results when your patio heater is used in warmer weather (above 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

They’re also not designed to be used in rain or snow. The heater should always be protected from the elements; this will help ensure it reaches an optimal temperature and doesn’t overheat (which could cause a fire).

In addition, some models are designed specifically for use above freezing temperatures. So if you plan to use your heater during the winter months, you may want to consider purchasing one with features like an automatic shutoff mechanism built into its design or stick to using it indoors where temperatures aren’t as harsh.

Patio Heater FAQ

Are patio heaters safe?

The short answer is yes, patio heaters are safe, provided you take the proper precautions. Here’s what we mean:

Patio heaters, also known as outdoor propane heaters, are made to withstand weather and high winds. They work by creating a small flame that essentially bakes the moisture out of the air around you. This creates a small pocket of warm air that can be quite comforting on chilly evenings.

However, because they create a naked flame, it’s important to use them with care. Be sure to keep children and pets away from the heater while in use. Additionally, if you live in an area where there is a risk of high winds, be sure to use caution when operating your patio heater. Turn it off if you see storm clouds approaching, and never leave it unattended while operating.

Are patio heaters worth it?

In short, yes. For large investments you make in your backyard, patio heaters are a small expense relative to the quality heating they provide.

Think of it this way; a typical homeowner spends 14 years outdoors at home over their lifetime. Much like how air conditioners improve your sleep quality, so do patio heaters allow you to enjoy your patio more.

Patio heaters are suitable for all outside spaces, including decks, patios, gardens, and terraces.

Whether you want to use your outdoor space all year round or the summer season is fast approaching, patio heaters will help build a warm and inviting space that you can enjoy regardless of the temperature.

You can use the space in cooler months and earlier evenings by creating a warm, welcoming area in your garden, deck, or patio.

Are patio heaters bad for the environment?

With all the benefits that an outdoor heater can bring, you might wonder if they harm our environment. The honest answer is NO. On the contrary, outdoor heaters have a very positive impact in keeping people out of their trucks and cars and using carbon-based fuels to heat themselves.


So now that you’ve seen how patio heaters work, all you need to do is find a suitable model for your needs. Of course, there are a few concerns; size, price, and fuel are the big three.

It would be best to decide how much space you want to cover and how much you want to spend. Then, check out our reviews about various types of patio heaters for various outdoor spaces. Once you find one you like, buy it and enjoy your patio again.