Here we share our electric vs propane patio heater guide including differences, pros and cons, usage cost and whether they are worth it for your backyard patio or deck. If you’ve invested in an outdoor space as part of your home, you want to get the most out of it. That means using it as often as possible.
When the days turn colder, many homeowners abandon their patio until warm weather returns. An electric or propane patio heater helps you enjoy the outdoors even on chilly nights or overcast days.
Patio heaters can be divided into two categories; electric, and gas-powered. Gas powered patios include natural gas, butane, and propane, with propane being the most common fuel.
This article compares electric patio heaters to those powered by propane.
Differences Between an Electric vs Propane Patio Heater
Electric and propane patio heaters can be found for about $150. Both connect to a power source, and use that power to generate heat.
Outdoor propane-powered heaters are cordless, and usually sit on a wheeled base for maximum portability. They have a distinctive shape often compared to a mushroom, and are available in free-standing or tabletop configurations.
Electric patio heaters are less portable. They require a cord to operate. While tabletop or floor lamp-shaped electric heaters are available, boxy styles are more common.
These rectangles can sit on the floor or be permanently installed on a wall or ceiling. There are even models that can mount to the staves of an umbrella!
Gas Patio Heaters (Pros & Cons)
Patio heaters powered by gas do not rely on proximity to an electrical outlet to function, so they are perfect if your outdoor area is some distance from your home. Your fuel supply will be limited to the amount of propane on site.
Warmth – A gas patio heater produces significantly more heat than an electric patio heater. Not only do they heat a larger area, the overall temperature increase is greater.
Gas patio heaters will start warming the air as soon as they are turned on. You can command heat in an instant, rather than waiting for an electric heater to warm up.
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Safety – Many consumers are concerned about explosion and ignition risk. You may be comforted to know that properly stored propane in a functioning tank is not flammable and will not spontaneously ignite or explode.
Propane needs to be introduced to a significant amount of air before it will burn, and there simply isn’t enough room in the tank for that to be a concern.
Heating Cost – The cost of propane varies depending what region you live in, so to precisely calculate your expected expenditure, you’ll need to do some research.
Gas stations and grocery stores are likely to sell propane, visit a few in your area to get an idea of price per gallon. Most patio heaters use the same 20 pound canisters as a gas grill. The average cost of propane nationwide is $16 per 20 pound bottle.
A 20 pound bottle of propane will power a 40,000 BTU propane patio heater for ten hours and cost approximately $1.60 per hour to run.
Electric Patio Heaters (Pros & Cons)
Electricity is a reliable secondary source of energy. As long as your home is connected to power lines, and power is flowing, you will be able to use your electric heater. Naturally, the converse is also true — if the power is out, don’t count on your patio heater to keep you warm.
The eco-friendliness of electric patio heaters depends on the source of your electricity. If your home is powered by wind, solar, hydroelectric, or geothermal energy, your patio heater will be, too.
If your electric supplier consumes fossil fuel to generate electricity, running a patio heater on that electricity cannot be considered eco friendly.
Warmth – While the convenience of plug-and-play heat can’t be denied, electric patio heaters produce less warmth over a smaller area than gas-powered models. With gas, the heat can be felt instantaneously, while electric heaters take some time to warm up and start producing heat.
Electric heaters usually throw heat in just one direction, while propane patio heaters generally supply heat that radiates.
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Safety – If you are using an electric patio at a distance from your home, make sure you use an outdoor-rated and grounded extension cord. The cord should ideally be situated well away from foot traffic, to reduce the risk of trips and falls.
Some electric heaters can be plugged into standard 120-volt outlets while others require special 220-volt outlets. Higher-voltage electric patio heaters generate more heat than lower-voltage models.
Heating Cost – The average cost of electricity is $0.13 per kiloWatt hour. A 2,000 watt heater operated for one hour will consume 2 kiloWatts of power.
Multiply this by the electricity cost in your area and you have the running costs per hour. Assuming average electricity prices, a 2,000 watt heater should cost just $0.26 an hour to run.
What Is the Safest Outdoor Heater?
Both propane and electric heaters are safe if operated according to manufacturer specifications. Both types of heaters should be kept away from flammable materials. Never dry clothing or towels on or near a patio heater. They are not suitable for cooking food.
Propane heaters require active safety measures, such as monitoring the condition of your tank, ensuring appropriate ventilation, and keeping the unit upright.
Electric heaters do not require this extra effort. They just need to be plugged into a compatible outlet.
Electric heaters also do not feature an open flame, making them safer for homes with pets and children. Halogen heaters in particular are good for small spaces, because they are cool to the touch.
Can You Use a Patio Heater On a Covered Porch?
Propane heaters should not be used in enclosed spaces, including covered porches, due to the risk of carbon dioxide build up.
An electric patio heater can be safely used anywhere you can use a space heater, including on a covered porch.
Are Outdoor Heaters Worth It?
If you’re imagining short sleeves in a snowstorm, adjust your expectations. Patio heaters raise the temperature from ‘uncomfortably cool’ to ‘pleasant, with appropriate clothing’. A single gust of wind can disperse the heat, so you may not get the most out of your patio heater on windy days.
However, if you’re looking to enjoy your outdoor patio longer throughout the year or even at night, an outdoor heater may be a great choice.
What do you think of an electric vs propane patio heater? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
For more related content visit our article about aluminum vs steel patio furniture.