Patio Heaters: Electric vs Propane vs Natural Gas
Are yuo confused about the differences between Electrical, Propane and Natural Gas Patio Heaters? Read on for an explanation of the differences, advantages and disadvantages of each type!
Patio Heater Types - Comparison
Easy to light?
$ to buy
$ to run
Electrical patio heaters
Electrical Patio Heaters are usually cheaper to buy than their Natural Gas or Propane equivalents. Because there are no hazardous or polluting emissions from the heater, you can use them in enclosed or covered spaces - unlike propane or natural gas heaters.
Because an electrical heater doesn’t generate heat by burning fossil fuels, there are no local carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), or other emissions you get from burning gas.
Electrical heaters don’t have a pilot light – you just turn them on at the switch, and bask in the warm glow. Gas heaters, on the other hand, are often troublesome to light – first you must light the pilot flame, which can be tricky enough if it’s windy, or if you haven’t used the heater for a while. Only after the pilot has been lit for a suitable length of time, can you start the main burner and generate some heat. None of this hassle exists with an electric heater.
Although you can use an electrical heater in more places than a natural gas heater, you do still need to plug in electrical heater into the mains – this does restrict the portability, at least compared to propane heaters.
Electrical heaters don’t have the beautiful natural flame effect that you get with gas heaters, so they aren’t usually as attractive to look at.
Although electrical patio heaters are cheaper to buy, they’re usually more expensive to run (depending on exactly how much you pay for power in your state.)
While there are no emissions at the heater, electrical power is often generated by burning fossil fuels, so there may be some emissions caused by your heater.
Propane patio heaters
Both Propane and Natural Gas patio heaters are available with a natural flame effect – depending on the model you buy, this can make your heater an attractive focal point for an outdoor gathering.
One of the main advantages of a propane heater is portability – as it doesn’t depend on an electrical socket or a gas line, you really can take it anywhere you go (though depending on how big and heavy your heater and gas cylinder are, they might not be easy to carry)
Ongoing running costs should be much cheaper than an equivalent electrical heater.
For the same heat output, a propane heater will usually be more expensive to buy than an electrical heater. Electrical heaters are very simple devices, and are very cheap and easy to make, whereas gas devices, due to the (very small) risk of gas leaks, fire and explosion, must be made and tested to a higher standard.
All this costs money, which is ultimately passed on to the customer. Of course, if you intend to use your heater regularly, the lower running cost will soon outweigh the higher purchase price.
The flip side of the portability advantage of a propane heater is the inconvenience of refilling or replacing the gas cylinder. The cylinder will need to be replaced or recharged on a regular basis - for example every 10 hours if you have a 20lb gas cylinder for a 50,000 Btu heater.
The pilot light can be hard to light – a gas heater certainly doesn’t have the ‘instant on / instant heat’ capability of an electrical heater.
You can’t use a propane heater in an enclosed or confined space, because of the fumes caused by burning gas (mainly Carbon Monoxide, which is an invisible, odorless poison)
Natural gas patio heaters
Like propane heaters, natural gas patio heater running costs are cheaper than electrical, even if the purchase price is higher. In fact, the ongoing cost of running a natural gas heater is the lowest of all 3 types, as the natural gas supplied to your house via a gas pipe is cheaper than buying it in 11lb or 20lb cylinders.
There’s no messing about replacing cylinders, or worse, running out of gas during a party, so all the guests have to go back inside – as long as you keep paying your gas bill, the gas will keep flowing!
Natural gas patio heaters need a gas line and gas outlet installed in the area you plan to use a heater. If there isn’t already a gas outlet, you’ll need to get a plumber to help with the installation, which can add a lot to the total cost.
Also due to the gas line, you can’t simply throw a natural gas heater in your truck and take it with you to the beach or park – it’s restricted to a short distance from the gas outlet.
Similar to propane heaters, you can’t use a natural gas heater in an enclosed or covered area, due to the risk of poisoning from the gases emitted by the heater. This can kill you, so treat it seriously!
The main hazards involving natural gas and propane heaters are the same:
- If the heater tips over, it could easily cause a fire (look for heaters with an anti-tip device, which will instantly cut the gas supply off if the heater should tip beyond a certain angle)
- Gas leaks, although unlikely if you buy a good quality, certified heater, and maintain it properly, also have the potential to cause disastrous fires and explosions.
An electrical heater could also cause a fire (for example if it’s placed too close to flammable materials), but the risk is not as high as it is with gas heaters.
One extra risk inherent with electrical heaters is the risk of electrocution. Again, if you buy a good quality heater, this is very unlikely, but it’s worth pointing out.
All heaters have the risk of causing burns, particularly if young children are near them, so you have to take care when young people around, to make sure they stay away from the source of the heat.
We hope the information here has helped you to decide which type of heater to get. Tell us in the comments what your choice was!