Electric vs. Propane Patio Heater: Differences and Which One is Best For You

Sitting outside on a patio is a great way to relax during the summer. Since we’re all so busy, we mostly have time to relax in the evening. Patios are also a great place to celebrate birthdays, host dinner parties, and hang out during the summer.

However, nothing ruins the time you spend with your loved ones on the patio during the summer as cold summer nights! It can be so hot during the day and freezing during the night. You have to call it a night before you freeze to death in your summer clothes. There is a way you can prevent this from happening.

If you get a patio heater, you will be able to keep cool summer nights warm and enjoy them with your friends for as long as you want. But which patio heater is better – electric or propane?

The general belief is that an electric patio heater is better than a propane patio heater. You can use an electric heater indoors and outdoors because it doesn’t emit any harmful gasses, and it is more environmentally friendly. Propane heaters are much more expensive because you have to keep refilling them. 

However, this doesn’t mean that the electric patio heater is the best choice for you. If you want to keep a large area warm, it is better to use a propane heater. Also, a propane heater can raise the temperature much more than an electric one can.

Overall, they are both excellent choices, but which one is right for you? Well, let’s find out down below!

How Do Electric Patio Heaters Work?

Electric patio heaters work by converting electricity into infrared heat through a lamp or heating element. Electromagnetic waves then transmit the heat through the air until it reaches a person or an object.

Electric patio heaters only heat objects and people; they do not heat air. Electric patio heaters work similarly to the sun, but there aren’t any harmful side effects like UV rays since the intensity is much lower. 

You May Need Professional Help Depending

You can find electric patio heaters in portable and mountable styles. Most electric patio heaters need a higher voltage to produce more heat at once, but you can plug some heaters into a standard 120-volt wall socket. If you get a heater that needs a higher voltage, you will have to hire a professional to set up the wiring. 

You might have a special place in your mind where you want to place your heater, but you will have to check the manufacturer’s manual first to determine the minimum clearance requirements.

When you know the minimum clearance requirements, you can find the best location for your electric heater. Make sure you always maintain those clearances for safety reasons.

Energy Efficiency

If the most important thing for you regarding heaters is their efficiency, look no further. Electric heaters are the most efficient type of heaters you can find.

They can convert roughly 98% of energy into heat using radiant heat. Radiant heat is a method of heat transfer. The heat is transferred directly to the person, without spending any energy heating the air. The heat that your electrical heater produces won’t get blown away by the wind. 

Most free-standing patio heaters heat in a circular region. Electric heaters mounted to a wall or a ceiling use the heat to warm a specific area directly.

Some mountable electric heaters will come with adjustable brackets that allow you to move the heat around as you please. These mounted heaters distribute the heat outward in the shape of a cone. Adding a few electrical heaters to your patio will provide you with evenly distributed heat. 

Control Options

Electric patio heaters have many available control options. You can use a simple on and off switch, or, if you have a smart home, you can choose a complex system that you can integrate into it.

Most of these controls get produced by specific brands, so you should research those brands and see which one you like best. The most common options are on/off switch, variable control, handheld remote, timer, and smart home integration.

1. On & Off Switch

An on/off switch is the cheapest way to turn your electric patio heater on and off. You will have to install this switch on a wall or mount it on a surface.

2. Stacked Switch

If you have two heaters, you can install a stacked switch that allows you to control each electric heater independently. You can choose a half-power or a full-power operation. 

Variable control is excellent for people who like to adjust and control their electric patio heater’s intensity. These controls include dimmers and timers. They also allow you to choose intervals when you want to maintain a specific temperature.

3. Handheld Remotes

A handheld remote is a remote that allows you to control your electric heater wirelessly. There are simple remotes that only turn your heater on or off, and there are remotes with dimmers and a few transmission channels.

You can program these channels to fit all your needs. This remote lets you control more than just one electric heater.

4. Timers

Timers set how long the heater will be on. You can install them with other control systems. 

Smart home heating controls are controls that you can connect to your smart home system allowing you to program different heating options and save the settings you usually use. You can control the heaters even when you’re not home with your phone. 

5. Control Boxes

You can group your heaters in special heating zones. These zones will let you know how much heat one or all heaters are emitting in that particular area.

You will have to wire these electric heaters to a specified control box. You will control them with a handheld remote or a control panel mounted to a wall.

Zone heating is excellent if you have a big property or if you have more patios. You can control each of these zones separately, which lets you quickly achieve and maintain the desired temperature in every one of them. 

Measured In Watts

While most heaters have their heating power measured in BTUs, an electric heater measures in watts. To calculate how much watts you will need to heat your space, you will have to multiply cubic feet of area with your desired temperature rise. 

You might want to determine how much an electric heater will cost per hour before you buy it. To do this, you will first have to choose the maximum amount of watts your electric heater uses and your local rate for a kilowatt-hour. You can find the watts on the heater or in the manufacturer’s manual.

To find out what your local kilowatt-per-hour is, check the rate on your monthly utility bill. You will then divide the total watts by 1000 and multiply it by the kilowatt-per-hour rate from your utility bill. If you want to get the daily cost, you will have to pay cents per hour based on how many hours your heater will work each day.

You Can Use Them Both Indoors & Outdoors

You can use electric patio heaters indoors as well as outdoors. This is because they don’t need any ventilation. Electric patio heaters don’t emit any greenhouse gasses or produce carbon emissions. That’s why choosing an electric patio heater is an environmentally friendly choice.

Be careful when using your electric patio heater because it can get scalding. Make sure you buy an electric patio heater that has been UL approved and CSA tested.

The tested and approved heaters are guaranteed to have undergone rigorous testing to ensure that they are safe and reliable. 

Inspect It Yearly

Every year, you will have to inspect your electric patio heater to ensure that your patio functions correctly and that nothing damages the wires.

Always turn off your electric patio heater before cleaning it and wait for it to cool down. Make sure you only clean the outside surface of the heater and never take it apart. You can find cleaning guidelines in your owner’s manual.  

Propane Heater

How Do Propane Patio Heaters Work?

Propane patio heaters work by burning gas. They emit radiant heat, which doesn’t heat the air but travels through air until it reaches a person or an object and keeps it warm.

Propane patio heaters will tell you how big a space they cover and how many BTUs they have. You will choose a propane patio heater depending on your patio’s size and how warm you want to keep it. 

Propane provides about 2,500 BTUs per standard cubic foot, making it an incredibly efficient fuel source. Usually, a full-size propane patio heater will output 40,000 BTU’s, and the heat will be distributed to an area about 20′ in diameter. 

If your patio gets exposed to the wind, it would be a good idea to get wind protection to protect the deck patio from cooling off. 

Propane heaters are efficient because you can use them anywhere without needing gas or an electrical hookup. 

Cost Of Propane Patio Heaters

When propane heaters were first invented, they were costly. Only restaurants and commercial venues could afford them.

As the demand for propane heaters increased, the manufacturers started to produce cheaper ones. Today, propane heaters are very affordable, and you can get them in any garden center or home improvement center. 

Propane patio heaters are the most expensive ones to use—their price measures per gallon. Usually, a propane patio heater can store about 4.7 gallons of fuel in its 20lb propane tank.

This tank can last for about 10 hours, and it costs between $10 and $20 to fill it up, making the average cost of using a propane patio heater between $1.50 and $2.00 per hour.

Two Types Of Ignitions

You can choose between two types of ignitions for propane patio heaters – manual and automatic ignitions. If you select a manual ignition, you will have to choose a control now to control gas flow to your propane patio heater.

1. Manual Ignition

Some of these manual ignitions will have a push-button, which will create a spark that causes the gas to light. Some other manual ignitions will have a pilot light, which you will have to light manually. 

2. Automatic Ignition

Propane heaters with automatic ignitions use electricity as a way to ignite and control the gas flow. You can manage these heaters with a switch or a handheld remote. All mounted heaters use an automatic ignition system.

Two Versions Of Propane Patio Heaters

There are two types of propane patio heaters: free-standing and tabletop propane patio heaters. You will have to consider some things when deciding which one is better for you. 

1. Free-standing Heater

Free-standing propane patio heaters are the most common. They provide much more flexibility in finish and design.

If you want to keep a more significant area warm, or if you want your guests to be able to gather around your heater and stay warm, you should pick the free-standing propane patio heater. 

2. Table-top Heater

On the other hand, many people opt out of using table top heaters because it provides less heat. Tabletop propane heaters are also more expensive than free-standing patio heaters.

You should get a tabletop propane heater if you only want to heat a small space, for example, an outdoor dining area or an end table. Tabletop propane heaters are much easier to move and are more portable than free-standing propane patio heaters. 

Built-in Safety

Whatever type you choose will have a built-in safety system. This system shuts off the gas flow to the propane heaters if the flame goes out and can’t reignite again. 

Make sure you read the owner’s manual before you decide where to place your propane heater. You can only use propane heaters outside, where a lot of airflows.

Inspect For Any Damage

Before you start using your propane heater, make sure you inspect it for any damage and check all gas connections, fittings, hoses, and lines.  

Remember that you should always turn off the control knob when finished using the propane heater. You should also disconnect the propane tank and store the heater upright, somewhere where it won’t be exposed to the weather. 

It would be best to keep propane tanks outside in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. If you have spare propane tanks, keep them a minimum of 20 feet away from any other patio heaters that are on to prevent possible fire or explosion. 

Pressure Regulators Are Useful

As the temperatures get colder, the molecules in propane slow down, causing the pressure inside your tank to drop when it’s cold outside. To keep your propane patio heater working correctly, equip it with a pressure regulator. 

Watch Out For Gas Leakage

It would be best if you always were on the lookout for any leaking gas. Naturally, propane gas is odorless. That is why manufacturers add a distinct smell to it so that you can detect any leakage. This scent is powerful and unpleasant, and it smells kind of like rotten eggs. 

Soap Test

If you think there is a leak, but you can’t smell it, don’t turn on the heater. You should, instead, make a soap solution. Mix equal parts liquid of soap and water and apply that soapy water to the gas connections with a spray bottle. Look closely at the gas connection.

If you notice any bubbles, there is a leak. You will then have to turn off the gas supply and tighten the leaking fittings. Follow the owner’s manual to repair the leak. 

Inspect Your Heater Before Each Use

Propane patio heaters are very easy to maintain. However, you will have to inspect your heater before every use to ensure everything is properly working.

It is a good idea to cover your propane heater when you’re not using it to protect it from minor bugs and insects. They tend to nest in propane heaters when you’re not using them. 

Make sure you always turn the gas off before cleaning your propane patio heater. You can only clean in on the outside and don’t take it apart. Always check the owner’s manual before cleaning. There, you will find how and how often you should clean your heater.

Differences Between Electric & Propane Heaters

Even though both electric and propane heaters keep you warm outside, they are pretty different. Electric patio heaters seem to have more advantages than propane patio heaters, except for one, which is portability. 

ELECTRIC HEATERPROPANE HEATERSAFETYIt does not require ventilation or produce carbon monoxide.It can potentially have gas leakages & needs ventilation.
PORTABILITYNot so mobileCan easily be moved from place to place
USER-FRIENDLYIt can be turned on & off more easily. You can also use these heaters much closer to you.It takes longer to turn on & off. They should remain a distance away from you.
COSTMore costly upfront but saves money in energy bills.Less costly upfront, but you’ll have to continue buying propane tanks.
HEAT INPUTIt does not produce as much heat.It produces more heat.

Safety

Electric patio heaters are believed to be safer than propane patio heaters because electric patio heaters don’t require any ventilation and don’t produce carbon monoxide or greenhouse gasses.

It would be best if you also kept in mind that there should be enough weight to keep your propane patio heater from tipping over. If you have children, electric patio heaters are much safer because they are cool to touch and don’t have an open flame. 

Portability

If you want your patio heater to be portable, then a propane patio heater is a better option. You can quickly move propane patio heaters around as you wish.

You don’t think about whether you have an electrical outlet near like you would with an electric heater. However, you will have to use your propane patio heater in a well-ventilated area. If you don’t, your patio heater can be hazardous. 

User-friendly

When you have an electric patio heater, you only have to plug it in and turn it on. While propane patio heaters heat a larger space, they need more setup than electric patio heaters. You will be required to hook up your propane tank, hit the ignition switch, or even manually light the heater. 

Heat Output

If you’re looking for a patio heater with the best heat output, then the propane patio heater is the best option for you. However, propane heaters require a propane tank, which means you will run out of heat when you run out of fuel.

Electrical heaters aren’t powered by fuel, which means that you will have heat as long as it is plugged into the power outlet. 

Cost

Using electric patio heaters will save you money in the long term because they use less energy. They are a great low-cost option that doesn’t require any fuel.

When you buy them, propane heaters are less expensive, but you also have to keep refilling them, making them much more costly than electric patio heaters. 

Should You Choose An Electric Or Propane Patio Heater?

Whether you should choose an electric patio heater or a propane patio heater depends on your situation.

Electric Heaters

An electric patio heater is a better option if you have children running around because they are cool to touch.

They can be used indoors and outdoors, making them an excellent choice for patios enclosed with screening or glass.

It is also a good idea to choose an electric patio heater if you have an umbrella covering your seating area. If you have furniture that is not mobile, it is better to use an electric patio heater because you won’t mind that it isn’t portable. An electric patio heater is a much safer option when you want to install a heater closer to other furniture or any fixtures. 

Propane Heaters

However, if you want a more portable patio heater, a propane patio heater is a better option for you. This heater type is also a better choice if you don’t have a power outlet near where you want to place it.

By choosing a propane heater, you will get more flexibility to place it because it is portable. Propane patio heaters provide more heat than electric patio heaters.

It would be best to remember that propane patio heaters are more expensive because you have to keep refilling them.

They can only be used outside, and there is a possibility that they might leak. Propane patio heaters are less environmentally friendly and less safe for children and pets. Insects and bugs tend to nest inside propane patio heaters if you don’t cover them. 

Sources

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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