7 Things to Know Before Buying a Post-Style Patio Heater
As winter winds down, the outdoor patio heating market is just winding up. Freestanding patio heaters will soon be showing up at retailers across the nation.
Homeowners want to squeeze in more quality time outdoors on those cooler days and nights during Spring, Summer and Fall. For restaurant owners, patio heaters can attract more business by giving patrons the option of dining outdoors.
And with so much attention to indoor air quality (IAQ) legislation and concerns associated with smoking indoors, patio heaters will continue to be a valued commodity into the future.
Growth in the outdoor patio heating market has exploded in the last 10 years and industry experts foresee nothing but an increase in the popularity of patio heaters well into the future.
That fact is not lost on the manufacturer's of patio heaters. In case you haven't noticed, post-style patio heaters are now readily available in most home centers and big box retailers across the nation at prices as low as $199.00. Once sold exclusively from specialty propane gas appliance and hearth products dealers for $600.00 and higher, manufacturers of patio heaters have come up with ways to decrease manufacturing costs to make them more affordable to the average homeowner.
The problem with this strategy, however, is that we've witnessed an enormous sacrifice in quality, technology and reliability. The big problem for consumers is knowing what to look for when shopping for a patio heater. To help you in your search, we offer the following suggestions:
7 things to know before you buy a "post style" patio heater:
- Reflector size. What is the diameter of the reflector? We call this the dispenser - the large circular "mushroom" disc above the heater head. Its purpose is to distribute heat to the surrounding area in up to a 12 foot diameter circle. Generally speaking, small diameter reflectors emit infrared heat to a smaller area circumference and waste a lot of otherwise useable infrared heat. Larger diameter reflectors emit the heat to larger areas and can heat more people surrounding the heater. Some brands offer square top reflectors. They might look stylish, but are less effective.
- Heater Weight. Weight is a good determiner of quality. A heavier heater is usually stronger than a lightweight unit. Some are as light is 40 lbs. The heaviest duty unit is about 120 lbs. (without the tank) That's a huge difference. Other than the fact that a heavier heater generally means higher quality, a heavier heater will not be as prone to fall over during high winds. It's not unusual to see cheap patio heaters with distorted and dented lightweight reflectors. All it takes is that first wind gust. Also, if you live in a cold climate with heavy snows, a more heavy-duty rigid reflector will not distort under the weight of snow.
- Heater Construction. What is the heater made of? We recommend 304 stainless steel for the base, post, heater head and dispenser (reflector). If you see a stainless steel model at a retailer for $199.00 or less, rest assured it is not 304 stainless steel. Instead, it is likely made of cheaper 430 stainless or something lower in grade. Such heaters are usually very flimsy and, along with painted models, will rust and corrode over time under adverse weather. Let's face it, patio heaters are meant to be outside, so the material of the heater is very important. Don't skimp here. If you buy a painted unit, make sure it is made of heavier gauge steel. You can always repaint it if rust spots appear over time.
- Heater Head (burner). How is the heater head made? Almost all post-style patio heaters use a "drum" style head, which, by design, is inefficient at reflecting the majority of heat to the people zone. All but one manufacturer chooses this type of burner head. The exception is a brand called EvenGlo by IR Energy, Inc.. This heater uses patented burner head technology, which dispenses up to 58% more heat to the people area.
- Ignition Control. How is the heater ignited? Most brands use a red push button piezo ignitor. After opening the POL valve on the LP gas cylinder, the user turns the knob to "pilot" and pushes the igniter button to ignite the pilot flame. After one minute, the flame should stay lit and, by turning the control knob, the heater turns on. Owners of cheaper patio heaters are sometimes frustrated by not being able to light up the heater without going through the proper sequence (with a 5 minute waiting period between attempts) to finally get heat. By contrast, the best unit has a potted circuit board and ignition control that is as easy as lighting your home stove top.
- Warranty. This is a great way to measure quality and says a lot about a manufacturer's confidence in its own products. Most manufacturers offer a 1 year warranty and some are as little as 90 days. The best we've seen is a 5 year warranty, which says a lot about quality and dependability.
- Customer support. The problem we find with some retailers is that they have very little expertise in patio heating and no salesperson with the know-how to help you diagnose and fix problems should they occur. Recognizing this, we strongly recommend buying from a company who specializes in outdoor patio heating appliances.
In summary, if you see a patio heater for $199 or less, expect a lower quality product, with lower reliability, heating effectiveness and longevity. On the other hand, a patio heater listed for $999.00 will be constructed of higher grade materials, will be more reliable and will stand the test of time.