How to Use Patio Heaters Safely


A good patio heater can extend the usability of your patio from just the warmer seasons to the entire year. These heaters are a great way to make the most of your patio space during the cooler seasons.

But a lot of people wonder if they’re safe to use at all.

Patio heaters are safe to use as long as a few precautions are taken. For instance, if they’re being used under a covered patio, there must be sufficient clearance between the top and the roof of the patio. Also, free-standing heaters need some sort of tilt detection auto-shutdown system.

In this article, we will explore this question further.

We will figure out all the safety concerns regarding patio heaters and how you can mitigate them so that you can enjoy these wonders of modern technology and make the most of your patio.

Patio heater to the side of chairs and table overlooking trees and lake.
Patio area with table, chairs and heater on walkout deck overlooking scenic view

Types of Patio Heaters and Safety Issues

Let us start by looking at the various types of patio heaters available in the market. Each of them has its own safety concerns.

There are, at the most basic level, three kinds of patio heaters available on the market, categorized based on the fuel type they use:

  1. Propane gas
  2. Natural gas
  3. Electricity

Certain types of heaters have certain advantages and disadvantages. Electric patio heaters, for instance, are a better fit for under a covered patio.

Safety Concerns With Propane Gas-Powered Patio Heaters

Propane gas-powered patio heaters use some sort of propane gas tank as their fuel source. This means they can be popular.

They are most popular in the form of umbrella heaters. But there are other shapes available like pyramid patio heaters.

The safety concerns regarding propane gas-powered patio heaters are as follows:

  • Generally speaking, these heaters are heavy enough to hold their ground. But under extremely windy conditions or due to accidental tipping, they could fall down. This could result in a fire. It is advisable to get a heater that has an automatic tipping detection system that shuts the unit off when it is tipped.
  • These are generally very tall heaters, standing around 8 feet high. If there isn’t enough clearance between the roof of the patio and the top of these heaters, there could be safety concerns.
  • Since patio heaters operate on radiant heat, all combustible materials must be kept at least six to eight feet away from the heater. These include plants, papers, wood, umbrellas, etc.
  • These units can get really hot, so leaving them around children and animals could lead to safety issues. Fortunately, the best patio heaters in the market account for this in their heat delivery system.
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Safety Concerns With Natural Gas-Powered Patio Heaters

Natural gas-powered patio heaters are directly connected to the natural gas lines that are connected to our homes.

As such, they are usually not portable and are instead fixed to a certain section in your patio.

While this does mostly solve the issues regarding tipping, igniting of combustible materials, and clearances (all of these can be accounted for when setting the heater up), there are still some impending issues, which are:

  • If the natural gas lines are not connected properly, it could lead to leakage of the gas, which could, in turn, lead to a grave fire hazard. This can be resolved by using a gas regulator and regularly checking and cleaning the gas hose.
  • Unlike propane gas heaters that usually run out of gas after 10 to 12 hours of burning, natural gas-powered heaters can go on for a long time. So forgetting to shut them off could lead to serious consequences and increased danger when lighting them. Always remember to shut the heater off after you’re done using it.
  • These units, like the portable patio heaters, still tend to get too hot for children and animals to roam freely around them. Installing a barrier around a certain radius of the heater can help prevent this problem.
Benefits of a Natural Gas Patio Heater

Safety Concerns With Electric Patio Heaters

Electric patio heaters are powered by electricity, which in turn heats a filament, which then radiates the heat in this vicinity.

Electric patio heaters should not be exposed to rain and not waterproof so leaving them outdoors indefinitely can cause them to a malfunction or become damaged.

While they may generally seem safer than the gas-powered patio heaters, electric patio heaters come with their own set of safety issues, which are:

  • Electric patio heaters are generally smaller than gas-powered patio heaters and, as such, much more likely to be tipped over, either by powerful winds or by accident. Invest in an electric patio heater that comes with a tip-detection system that automatically shuts down the heater upon tipping.
  • Since electric patio heaters are connected to electrical outlets via power cords, if these cords are not secured, there is a good risk of someone tripping on it, and consequently also tipping the patio heater. Consider investing in wire securing clamps so that the wires are held securely.
  • Another important consideration with electric patio heaters is that unlike propane-powered patio heaters, they are connected to the electric mains, which means they will continually get powered unless they’re shut off. This can lead to serious consequences. Consider investing in an electric patio heater that comes with a timer feature.
  • Due to problems in the electric supply or other issues, the filament could get hotter than usual, resulting in a fire hazard. To prevent this, you need to invest in a heater that comes with a feature that automatically shuts it off once the filament exceeds a certain temperature.  
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So, Are Patio Heaters Safe to Use?

As we saw in the list above, bearing in mind a few precautionary steps, patio heaters are generally safe to use. But there are still many things you can do in order to operate a patio heater safely.

Patio Heater Safety Checklist

  1. With gas-powered patio heaters, always have a gas regulator installed. Make a habit of turning the regulator off each time you are done using the patio heater.
  2. Create a barrier around these heaters so that children and pets cannot run into it. This can prevent them from getting burnt.
  3. Regularly check for rusts and leakage in the gas tanks. Also, check for leakage or blockage of any kind in the gas hoses.
  4. Always place portable heaters at a safe clearance from the walls and the ceilings. Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from any wall or the ceiling.
  5. All combustible materials such as wood, paper, umbrella, rugs, cushions, etc. should be kept at a safe distance from the heater. This distance depends on the type and power of the heater being used. But generally speaking, a minimum distance of 6 feet should be maintained.
  6. Care must be given to regular maintenance of all patio heaters. More often than not, safety issues arise from failing to pay attention to failing parts and mechanisms within the heaters.
  7. If you own a public space where you’re using patio heaters, you should be extra careful about all the aforementioned safety issues. Consider having a safety inspector inspect the heaters and check for any impending hazards before they strike. The safety of the public is a graver issue than your own.
Shot of a typical terrace gas heater against blue sky

Conclusion

In conclusion, if the user is mindful of a few concerns and makes arrangements to prevent them, patio heaters are, generally speaking, totally safe to use.

They are a popular choice these days in outdoor heating, and that has improved both their quality and safety. Each of the three kinds of patio heaters comes with its own unique set of safety issues.

But there are ways you can prevent any of those issues from actualizing. We also looked at several habits you can employ in order to leave no room for a potential safety hazard.

Stuart

Stuart loves blogging about his hobbies and passions. Living the Outdoor Life is a place for him to share what he learns while creating his perfect outdoor space.

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