The best patio heaters for cozy evenings in the garden, chosen by experts

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As soon as the clocks go forward and the evenings lengthen, we Brits can’t wait to get the garden furniture out of hibernation and be out on our patios enjoying a drink and a bite to eat — even if it’s still “a bit parky” ( ie you can’t feel your toes).

That’s why we’re always looking for the best patio heaters to keep us warm in the garden. But how do you choose the right one? There are more misconceptions around patio heaters than almost any other household purchase, so perhaps we should start by answering some of the most common questions.

What is the difference between infrared and halogen heaters?

This is not quite the right question to ask, says Stephen Levy of specialists Heat Outdoors. Halogen is the gas used in high-temperature bulbs, but there heaters emit infrared. “The difference is in the wavelength.”

The ceramic elements used in indoor portable electric heaters emit longwave infrared, which heats the air in a rising column: fine as long as there are no drafts. Carbon fiber filaments used in low-glow patio heaters (such as table-top heaters) emit mediumwave infrared, which can also be blown away in a draft. Tungsten filaments, housed in quartz bulbs containing halogen gas, glow very brightly and emit shortwave infrared which doesn’t actually heat the air. It heats you.

“Shortwave is the type emitted by the sun,” Levy says. “It travels through the vacuum of space and heats the earth when it hits it. That’s why shortwave infrared from a halogen patio heater (or ‘tungsten’ or ‘quartz’ heaters — they’re all names for the same thing) heats your skin when it hits it, whether it’s windy or not— although you’ll notice that if someone stands in front of you, casting a shadow, the warmth instantly disappears.”

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It’s no wonder there’s confusion. Basically, the intense bulbs (sometimes called halogen, but not always) emit shortwave radiation and will work in a breeze. Other types of heater feel cosier and less intense but don’t work in windy or open areas.

What is the highest BTU for a patio heater?

Another misguided question. British thermal units are a standard measurement of heat energy and outdoor heaters can produce anything from 10,000 to a scorching 80,000 BTUs. Most are somewhere around 40,000. But, according to Levy, all that is completely irrelevant if the heat is blown away by the wind – see above.

How many square feet does a patio heater cover?

“About eight square meters, assuming a high quality 2kW shortwave heater,” Levy says. That’s roughly equivalent to a garden table and the chairs around it.

2kW refers to the electricity a heater uses, by the way, rather than the heat it emits: more kiloWatts do not necessarily mean more warmth, especially if the heater has a poorly-made reflector or cheap bulbs.

To heat a bigger space, it’s usually better to get more than one heater. For low-glow and gas heaters, shelter from the wind is by far the most important factor. Talking of which…

How effective are gas patio heaters?

“Whereas electric is focused, like shining a torch,” Levy says, “gas heaters, log burners and firepits radiate heat 360 degrees all around, so you’re only ever in a little portion of the heat it’s giving out, and about 40 percent of that is going straight up anyway. But it will keep you warm if you’re right next to it, or in a well sheltered space.

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“The advantages are that it looks nice, of course, and it’s portable. You don’t have to worry about wires, you just stick it where you want it and light it.”

Bear in mind the cost. A standard 13kg can of calor gas costs about £90 new or £50 to refill and will last for about 13 hours of heating. Currently that’s around 10 times the running costs of an electric patio heater.

How can you tell a good patio heater from a bad one?

“Quality of build is the most important thing — you want it to last,” Levy says. “The lamp and reflector should be well made. Unfortunately in most stores they won’t be allowed to turn it on for you to test, but if you see a parasol heater that’s really bright, like white light, it’s likely to be cheaply made and won’t last long.

“Patio heaters can be blown over too, so look for something solid. And pay attention to the IP rating, which stands for Ingress Protection. It comes as two digits, for example IP34 or IP65. The first digit refers to dustproofing, the second relates to waterproofing. If the second digit is 3 or below, it’s not suitable for use outside. If it’s 4, that means it’s splashproof. 5 means you could drench it with a hosepipe and it would be perfectly safe.”

Bearing all Levy’s advice in mind, we’ve looked at all the best-selling, best-reviewed and best value patio heaters on the market to bring you this guide to enjoying your patio through spring, summer and into the colder nights of autumn.

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At a glance – the best patio heaters for 2022

Read on for the reviews in full


The best patio heaters

1. Opranic Thor 2kW electric patio heater

£259, Amazon

best buy

We like: light and portable, with a good reflector to spread the heat evenly

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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