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Different Types of Patio Heaters

If you have an outdoor seating area, you know just how profitable those spaces are! Customers love eating outdoors where they can enjoy good food, fresh air, and vibrant city views or sweeping rural vistas. By using commercial patio heaters to increase the number of days your patio is open every year, you’ll increase the profitability of your outdoor spaces which in turn will boost your bottom line.

Best Types of Patio Heaters

Freestanding Patio Heaters

If you don’t need to install your patio heater permanently or want the versatility to move a heater from one spot to another, a freestanding unit is an ideal choice. These models don’t typically require mounting brackets and most of them use portable propane tanks for power, although natural gas models are also available. Keep in mind that each freestanding heater has its own control so your staff can turn on only the ones that are needed at any given time.

Since they are easy to move around, freestanding heaters are great for community festivals, hotel events, and parties at country clubs. There are four types of freestanding patio heaters.
Pyramid-shaped quartz tube patio heater
Pyramid-shaped quartz tube patio heater
Quartz Tube
  • Pleasing appearance
  • Provide ambiance
  • Ideal for small spaces
  • Mid-range prices
  • Least efficient
  • Heats the least amount of space
  • Little to no wind-resistance
  • Non-directional
Mushroom style patio heater with cylinder stainless steel base
Mushroom style patio heater with cylinder stainless steel base
Mushroom Style
  • Pleasing appearance
  • Different sizes available
  • Ideal for small spaces
  • Great for areas where guests are standing or walking
  • Least expensive to purchase
  • Not very efficient
  • Heats a small amount of space
  • Little wind resistance
  • Easy to tip or knock over
  • Non-directional
Bromic tungsten SmartHeat patio heater with curved base and rectangular heater at top
Bromic tungsten SmartHeat patio heater with curved base and rectangular heater at top
Bromic Tungsten Smart-Heat
  • Chic, modern appearance
  • Black color blends in with surroundings
  • Greatest wind-resistance
  • Most efficient
  • Heats the largest area – 180 sq. ft.
  • Anti-tilt structure resists tipping
  • Directional heating
  • Doesn’t need to impede walkways
  • Most expensive up front
  • Larger footprint than other types
Table style heater with circular base, narrow column, and circular, flat table top
Table style heater with circular base, narrow column, and circular, flat table top
Table Style
  • Adds table space
  • Keeps customers warm without taking up extra space
  • Chic and modern design
  • Safety shutoff in case of tipping
  • Still functions as a table even when turned off
  • Does not heat the upper air
  • Not very efficient or wind resistant
  • Non-directional
  • Small coverage area
Fire pit style base with black square base and small fire in center
Fire pit style base with black square base and small fire in center
Fire Pits
  • Pleasing appearance
  • Provide warm ambiance - not intended for cooking
  • Add rustic appeal
  • Provide a small amount of warmth
  • Only warm small areas
  • May require greater clearances and special installation

Wall or Ceiling Mounted Patio Heaters

For permanent installation on patios and decks, wall or ceiling mounted heaters may be your best choice. By strategically placing permanent heaters, you can provide consistent heat directed precisely where it is needed. Heaters mounted above customer areas don’t take up any floor space so you’ll have more room for tables and chairs, as well as room for customers and staff to walk.

Some permanently mounted heaters have more control options so that you can operate them remotely. Also, many wall mounted heaters can be linked together to create zones that can be easily controlled with the touch of a single button.
Wall / ceiling mount black heater with long rectangular shape and orange heater center
Wall / ceiling mount black heater with long rectangular shape and orange heater center
Wall / Ceiling Mount
  • Mount out of the way of traffic
  • Allow more space for tables
  • Typically more efficient than freestanding units
  • More control options
  • Less obtrusive
  • May be more expensive
  • More complex to install
  • May require professional layout / design / installation
  • Not movable or portable

Patio Heater Power Type - Electric, Natural Gas, or Propane?

Make sure you choose a power type that best fits your location and the utilities you have available. Also, keep in mind that electric and gas units each have different mounting and ventilation requirements.

There are many considerations when choosing between electric, natural gas, and propane. For example, in a rural location, you may not have access to natural gas so electric heaters might be the best option for you. If your business already uses natural gas for cooking and indoor heating, this fuel type may be the best choice for you because it is readily available and often less expensive than electricity. The choice between an electric patio heater, a natural gas patio heater, and a liquid propane patio heater is usually easy to make, but read on for additional pros and cons of the different fuel types!

Electric Patio Heaters

Outdoor electric patio heaters provide heat from a renewable energy source, while providing heat instantly and with no wait time. Analyze the list of pros and cons for electric patio heaters.

Pros of Electric Heaters

  • Requires smaller clearances
  • Flush mount models are available for recessed installation
  • Greatest wind resistance
  • Available with multiple heat level settings

Cons of Electric Heaters

  • Most expensive to operate

Natural Gas Patio Heaters

Another alternative to fuel your outdoor patio heater is with natural gas. Learn all about the pros and cons of a natural gas patio heater.

Pros of Natural Gas Patio Heaters

  • Least expensive to operate
  • Available with greatest BTU outputs
  • Available with greatest coverage areas

Cons of Natural Gas Patio Heaters

  • Requires larger clearances
  • Less wind resistance than electric
  • Only 1-2 heat level settings
  • Cannot be recessed

Propane Gas Patio Heaters

Lastly, learn about patio heaters that run on propane. Just like electric and natural gas patio heaters, propane patio heaters also have pros and cons.

Pros of Propane Patio Heaters

  • Generally used for portable heaters
  • Convenient and versatile

Cons of Propane Patio Heaters

  • Requires larger clearances
  • Less wind resistance than electric
  • Only 1-2 heat level settings
  • More expensive to operate than natural gas
  • Cannot be recessed

Benefits of Outside Patio Heaters

three people sitting outside at table with two stainless steel patio heaters around them

Make the Most of the Seasons

Extend your patio seating season! Since spring and fall can be cool in many climates, a lot of restaurants can only use their outdoor spaces during a few of the warmest months. By properly heating your patio or deck area with a system of outdoor heaters, you can make those spaces comfortable for customers to use earlier in the spring, later into the autumn, and even potentially during the wintertime if you choose to make your patio a destination for winter dining.

Open Earlier, Stay Open Later

Even in warm climates, customers may become chilly sitting outside after sunset. By adding patio heaters to your space, you can ensure more available seats for the dinner rush – boosting your profits over the long term! Or, if you open early in the morning for breakfast, you can allow customers to comfortably enjoy the sunrise from your deck.

Increase Revenue and Profits

When you make your outdoor seating areas usable for several more hours each day and for several more months in each year, that adds up to a substantial increase in profits for your business. While the upfront costs of installing patio heaters may seem daunting, you can make up those expenditures and get a return on your investment very quickly with the increase in revenue.

This table lists an example calculation that demonstrates how much additional yearly revenue your outdoor spaces could generate. To see what the additional revenue could be for your business, simply follow this formula and use the revenue information from your own restaurant.

How Much Could My Revenue Increase?

How much revenue does each seat generate per shift (in dollars)? x How many additional shifts will your patio operate per day? x How many additional days per year will your patio operate? = Estimated Total Additional Revenue per Year

Example: 40 x 50 x 1 x 60 = $120,000

What to Look for in a Restaurant Patio Heater

Patio Heater Wind Resistance

People sitting outside at tables with large curved patio heater in background at restaurant

One of the factors that affects patio heater performance is called wind resistance. What does wind resistance mean? It doesn’t mean that patio heaters won’t tip over in a strong wind – it is actually a factor of how well a patio heater warms the surrounding area when there is a slight breeze.

Typically, infrared heaters have better wind resistance because they work by warming objects rather than the air. Units with greater wind resistance will also operate more efficiently. They will use less energy to provide the same amount of heat to the surrounding area.

Traditional gas and electric patio heaters may require more energy to heat the area. Also, non-infrared heaters may lose their effectiveness more quickly when the breeze starts because they work by warming the air. If your patio is usually affected by a breeze, you might need to use additional patio heaters to make up for the heat loss caused by the movement of the air.

Patio Heater Coverage Area

The BTU rating or wattage of a patio heater can sometimes be an indication of how much area it can cover, but this is not always the case. Some patio heaters operate more efficiently than others, so one of the most important things to be aware of is a unit’s coverage area as listed in its specification sheet and user manual. You can also find the coverage area for most units listed on their product pages, too. Keep in mind that weather conditions will affect the actual coverage area of a patio heater.

WebstaurantStore offers units that cover anywhere from 25 sq. ft. all the way up to 275 sq. ft. so that you can match the right heater to your patio or deck.

Stages for Patio Heaters

Do you need more heat during some seasons than others? You might need a little bit of heat during summer months and more during the spring and fall. This is where models with different numbers of stages come in handy.

If you need just a little heat during the day and more at night, two stage units are a great option. While they may be more expensive than single stage models and require special controls, a two stage patio heater lets you turn the unit on to either half power or full power. Not only does the half power option save energy, but it also provides the operator with greater control over the climate in an outdoor space.

Single stage units, either in gas or electric, are always either fully on or fully off. When you turn on the patio heater, it will come on with its full power. And when you turn it off, it will shut down completely. The single stage patio heater is a great option for many locations where you need a consistent amount of heat throughout the patio season.

Outdoor Heater Controls

Gray Bromic square heater
Most freestanding patio heaters will have the controls mounted on the unit itself. If you choose to go with a system of wall or ceiling mounted heaters, though, there are some additional options that you can choose from! When you are shopping for a patio heater, pay attention to what control options are offered. Also remember that there are often different controls available for single stage and two stage units. Some of the common control choices are shown on this table with their benefits and drawbacks.
Stainless steel column with on unit control
Stainless steel column with on unit control
On Unit Control

A single control for each patio heater, mounted on the unit itself. Usually a simple on/off toggle.

  • Super simple to use
  • Allows you to turn on only the heaters you need
  • Less expensive
  • May be difficult to reach for some employees
  • Requires each unit to be turned on manually
White rectangular simple remote control with buttons
White rectangular simple remote control with buttons
Simple Remote Control

Works like a ceiling fan remote. Wired and wireless controllers are available that send a signal to turn the heater on or off.

  • Easy to use
  • Different versions can be permanently mounted or handheld
  • Can be placed where it is easy for employees to reach
  • In some cases remote controls are not designed for single heaters
  • Multiple remotes may be required for multiple zones of heaters
Metal remote control with three zones
Metal remote control with three zones
Remote Control with Zones

Allows heaters to be set up in zones for greater control over which heaters are turned on, and when.

  • Only turns on the heaters that you need at any given time
  • Can be mounted at a location that is easy for employees to reach
  • More expensive and complex to set up and operate
  • Not available on all patio heaters / systems

Patio Heater Materials

Another factor you’ll want to take into consideration when buying a patio heater is the type of material. Patio heaters can be made with different types of metal and each one has benefits and drawbacks. Be sure to weigh each before you make your purchasing decision.

Coastal environments can be particularly harsh on any metal or wood furniture and equipment that is used outdoors. This is something you already know if your business is near the water! To make sure your patio heaters last as long as possible, consider purchasing units made of marine grade type 316 stainless steel if your business is located in an area where salt water corrosion is an issue.
Tan patio heater with coated stainless steel exterior
Tan patio heater with coated stainless steel exterior
Coated Stainless Steel
  • Durable and weather-resistant
  • More colors available
  • Coating can be damaged or scratched
  • May corrode quickly in harsh coastal environments
Stainless steel patio heater with three red heated panels
Stainless steel patio heater with three red heated panels
Stainless Steel
  • Durable and weather-resistant
  • Sleek and professional
  • Some models have a more industrial appearance
  • May corrode quickly in harsh coastal environments
Patio heater with marine grade 316 stainless steel exterior
Patio heater with marine grade 316 stainless steel exterior
Marine Grade 316 Stainless Steel
  • Designed to resist corrosion in harsh coastal conditions
  • Some models have a more industrial appearance
  • Most expensive
Aluminum exterior patio heater with metal grates and heated interior
Aluminum exterior patio heater with metal grates and heated interior
  • Generally corrosion-resistant
  • Less expensive for mounted units
  • Less durable than other models
  • More industrial in appearance

How to Design a Patio Heating System

Laying out your patio heater system can be tricky, so knowing the dimensions of the space, the clearances available, and the amount of coverage you need is important.

Do It Yourself

If you only need to heat a small space, it is easy to choose the patio heaters yourself. When you are deciding what patio heater will best suit your business, there are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. How much area do you need to heat? Small spaces may benefit from freestanding heaters while larger areas can be heated using wall mounted heaters with the correct coverage area. Know how much space you have to heat and double check the math to be sure the heaters you choose will be up to the job.
  2. What is the weather like at your location? If it is usually a bit breezy, you may want to invest in infrared patio heaters which have better wind resistance. Or, you may need to use additional heaters to make up for the challenging ambient conditions on your patio.
  3. How much will the patio heaters be used? If they will only be used infrequently, you may not need to invest in an expensive system of wall mounted heaters as freestanding units may do the job.
  4. What utilities are available? If electrical connections or natural gas plumbing are not available in your outdoor space, your options may be limited to propane-operated heaters.

Ask an Expert

If, however, you need to create a system of patio heaters to warm a large outdoor space the process can be a little more complicated. You might want to consult with the installer or a professional designer to make sure that the system of heaters you choose is properly suited to your space and that the heaters are placed in the right positions. Many patio heater manufacturers also offer consultations and free resources to help create the perfect outdoor heating solution for you.

Safely Using Outdoor Heaters

Indoor vs. Outdoor Use

While some electric patio heaters may be approved for use inside, most electric models and all gas models should only be used in open, outdoor, well-ventilated areas with a minimum of combustible surfaces nearby. Be sure to check your local building and fire codes to make sure that there are no restrictions on the use of outdoor heaters in your municipality.

Clearance from Flammable Materials

While you want to be sure that your patio heater puts out enough heat and is close enough to the area you wish to keep warm, it’s also important to remember that the patio heater itself will get hot. Placing a patio heater too close to flammable materials like wood, cloth, or paper can be dangerous.

Plus, be sure not to allow furniture or other items to come into contact with the heater to protect your furnishings and prevent damage to the heater itself. Most outdoor heaters have specific requirements for installation in locations that are near combustible surfaces.

If you need to hang your heater from a wooden patio overhang, mount it to a sided exterior wall, or place it near non-metal patio furniture, be sure to consult the specification sheet and manual for the unit you choose. Make sure that your location can accommodate the clearances recommended by the manufacturer. In some cases, an additional shield or heat deflector may be required. Additional commercial patio heater parts and accessories are also available for proper installation and maintenance of your new outdoor heating system.

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