The 10 Best Outdoor Heaters
This wiki has been updated 36 times since it was first published in March of 2015. Enjoy year-round warmth on a deck, patio, or in the backyard with one of these outdoor heaters. Powered by gas or electricity, they come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and styles to suit both commercial and residential settings. Most of our selections offer essential safety features, like an automatic shutoff function in case they tip over, but you should always use these with caution. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 14, 2020:
While it maintained a spot on our list for its ruggedness and portability, the Mr. Heater Corporation MH18B is an update to a previously included model that's identical in every way save for the fact that the company has removed its integrated fan. They claim that it can cover the same amount of space with its radiant heat alone, and that may very well be the case, but most users have found the exclusion of this feature to be a source of some ire, and it fell several spots in our ranking as a result.
A big consideration most people will need to make is whether they want to work with propane or electric heating elements. Infrared heating elements like the ones you see on the Dr. Infrared 1500W, the Hiland Electric, and some of the models in our special honors section are considered safer than their fiery counterparts, simply because there is no flame present or highly flammable gas to contend with. They also don't require any trips to your local hardware store to get a propane tank refilled. The downside is that you have to run an electrical cable to power them, and that they can wreak havoc on your bills compared to relatively inexpensive gas. And gas units like the Thermo Tiki Deluxe and the Hiland Pyramid add an undeniable aesthetic to an outdoor space, as well as extra light by which to enjoy a good meal or some company.
September 24, 2019:
When evaluating the best outdoor heaters, safety was our first criteria, so every model on this list that uses propane for fuel comes with an anti-tilt switch that automatically turns the unit off.
Our electric choice, the Muskoka Comfort 7 Series is grounded for outdoor safety and comes with mounting hardware as the brand recommends you mount it out of reach of children. The unit does cool quickly and also has a safety grid over the heat source.
We chose the Fire Sense XL Series for the top spot because it's been updated for 2019 with an advanced pilot-less burner that will save time and fuel. Also the addition of a sand reservoir is a simple but effective way to add extra safety on windy days.
Lightfire Patio This model doesn't put out any more heat than similarly built models on our list, but this one will enhance any upscale outdoor living space with its elegant sculpture-like shape and dramatic exposed flame. The quality construction and shatter-proof glass tube means it will last for years, but it is prohibitively expensive. frontgate.com
Infratech C Series This is a single-element infrared model that is noiseless, odorless, and free of greenhouse gas emissions. Each one is made of 304 stainless steel and can easily be mounted with its included brackets on ceilings nearly eight feet high without having a negative effect on its ability to keep you warm. infratech-usa.com
Solaira Malibu Series If space is at a premium on your deck and you need to add some warmth in several directions, this might be the best model for you. It has a trio of infrared elements, each with its own adjustable mount, covering a total of 300 square feet, with an IP55 weather-resistance rating to withstand rain, snow, and more. It has to be installed permanently, however, so you won't be able to easily reposition it. solairaheaters.com
Some Like It Hot
An outdoor heater can provide you and your guests or customers with a cozy environment, even in the dead of winter.
Weather can be unpredictable. Wherever you stand on the issue of climate change, you know that every season, sooner or later, will break some record for the hottest or the coldest a given area has ever been on that day, week, or month. Those records seem to break at a more alarming rate recently than in years past, with even cities known for perpetual summer weather experiencing unforeseen bouts of extreme cold.
In Los Angeles in late 2015, for example, a cold mass of air broke records for frigidity during the New Year holiday. Sure, it was only in the mid-30s, which is T-shirt weather in places like Chicago and Detroit, but for LA residents, it was colder than any time in living memory.
When the mercury dips below wherever your comfort level stops, it can be mighty difficult to enjoy the outdoors. As a result, you may have spent a good amount of money on a deck or patio setup that only sees use for five or six months out of the year. You may also have a small café or restaurant with an outdoor seating area you’re forced to close anytime it gets too cold. These are the types of situations in which an outdoor heater can save the day, making that investment in your home worthwhile, or drastically increasing your business’s profits.
An outdoor heater can provide you and your guests or customers with a cozy environment, even in the dead of winter. It will not only heat up the air in its direct vicinity, either; the most powerful of these machines, placed properly, can provide warmth for a fairly large area. This is an important feature, lest your guests find themselves huddled around a fire in their evening wear like so many high-class hobos.
Another great aspect of these devices is how easy they are to use and maintain. Some simply run on electricity and operate like large, high-powered space heaters that are somewhat more resistant to the elements than their indoor cousins. Other models operate with the help of a propane tank, and generate heat as they burn this readily accessible fuel source. You were already going to fill up one propane tank to keep your grill going all summer. Now, you can fill another come winter for a comfortably warm snowbound barbecue.
An Outdoor Heater Just For You
Anyone choosing an outdoor heater is going to fall into one of two camps: you’re either buying this for your home, or you’re buying it for your business. The good news for homeowners is that there isn’t an enormous difference in the heating abilities of some smaller units intended for personal use. You can get a heater that will deliver just as much comfort as a more professional-looking model for a lot less money.
If your school has a little extra money to burn, consider getting one of the more posh units on our list, just to rub it in the other teams’ faces.
Speaking to the aesthetic component, there’s definitely a certain class correlation with the more expensive, more attractive heaters on our list. They’re the ones you see at nicer bars and restaurants. You may be genuinely surprised by how inexpensive even the priciest of these units is, however, and with a small step up in your budget, you could easily own one of our top-rated units.
Restaurants aren’t the only professional establishments that make use of outdoor heaters, either. Athletic departments that want to give their teams the edge in winter sports will often employ some version of an outdoor heater on the sidelines. With full feeling in their limbs, warm athletes are sure to outperform their frozen competition. If your team travels, look for a model with an added degree of portability, so your team can be as warm during away games as they are at home. If your school has a little extra money to burn, consider getting one of the more posh units on our list, just to rub it in the other teams’ faces.
Ultimately, the choice among these heaters boils down to budget and style. If you prefer the rugged look of the electrical options out there, they’ll suit you just fine. If creating an inviting atmosphere is as visual a process for you as it is a temperate one, you’ll want to spend a little more to get an eye-catching device.
Important Outdoor Heater Safety Tips
Some of the safety tips you’re liable to encounter in your user’s manual may seem like no-brainers, but these units can cause significant damage to hearth and home — not to mention human flesh — if you don’t treat them with respect.
Also, if you know your valve is open, and your system won’t ignite, close the valve back off and wait a few minutes before trying again.
For starters, try to keep a safe distance from the unit while it’s working. These heaters are designed to put out heat that can make a small area comfortable for a group of people. The closer you get to the heat source, the more danger you’ll find. This can wind up being a comfort issue, as well. If you’ve ever been stuck seated under a restaurant’s powerful outdoor heater in your favorite sweater, you can attest to the discomfort — and genuine risk of dehydration — this kind of heat can create. If you’re in layers, it’s best to let a colder guest sit closer to the unit.
When using propane as your fuel source, make sure to handle your tank with care. Never carry it by its valve, and make doubly sure that you close it off completely after each use. Also, if you know your valve is open, and your system won’t ignite, close the valve back off and wait a few minutes before trying again. This will allow any buildup of gasses to dissipate before introducing another spark into the environment. If you select an electrical unit, make sure to use it away from bodies of water, including snow, as snow can melt in the presence of these heaters and create an electrical hazard.
Whichever style you choose, make sure to operate it at a safe distance from any flammable materials, like certain patio umbrellas, firewood stores, and beehive hairdos.