The Patio Heating Revolution

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  • Author Scott Workman
  • Published May 6, 2007
  • Word count 864

In case you haven't noticed, patio heaters have been popping up in just about every box store and wholesale club across North America. Not too long ago, patio heaters were sold only through specialty stores such as LP gas equipment dealers, hearth products dealers and patio furniture retailers. And they were very expensive. Today, patio heaters are much more affordable than ever and you can find them nearly everywhere you go.

The most popular among the patio heaters are the post mounted propane models, often called "mushroom" heaters because they consist of a heater head mounted atop an 84" post with a round mushroom-shaped reflector over the head. Since the heater head is high atop the post, it is safely out of the reach of children and pets (although ladies with tall beehive hairdoos could pose a problem). The heater head consists of the gas control valve, ignitor and pilot assembly. At the base of the heater is a 20 lb. propane tank, regulator and hose. The sheer weight of the gas tank sitting on a heavy base makes the heater bottom-heavy, making it difficult to tip over if bumped into.

To ignite the heater, just turn on the gas supply at the tank. Most utilize some sort of piezo-type ignition. That ignites the pilot flame. Just push it in and hold until the pilot stays lit. Once the pilot is lit, just turn the control knob to "on" and the burner fires. It only takes a few minutes for the heater head to reach maximum temperature. The infra-red heat energy bounces off the mushroom-shaped reflector, creating a 12' foot circular footprint of comfy heat to the surrounding area. People tend to gravitate where they are most comfortable. The effectiveness of the heater depends on outside temperatures, wind, and how well protected the area to be heated is.

Having sold patio heaters for over 21 years, I'm often asked "what are the differences in patio heaters and how can I ensure I find the best value?" Or, "is the quality of the heaters I see at the big box stores as good as what I see on the internet and at specialty retailers?" Generally speaking, those found in the box stores are made to compete on price only and are not the higher quality, commercial grade heaters. Still, they may be suitable for a moderate amount of homeowner use. This is where a little homework comes in.

Hint: assuming that you can visit several stores where patio heaters are sold, do this: simply move the heater around a bit to check out how heavy it is. Tap on the post and steel cover that hides the LP tank. Does it sound cheap or feel flimsy? Or does it seem solid and heavy? Does it have wheels for easy transport? Does it have a Hi-Lo option? Stainless steel or painted? What grade of stainless steel? Stainless is fast outpacing powder coated models and 304 stainless is what you want. But just because it is stainless, does not mean it is 304 stainless steel. It could be a lower grade that will eventually corrode. For more extended use or more abusive aplications and weather environments, I suggest searching around. Do the homework and you'll be happier in the long run.

The patio heater I've discussed above is just the very basic post style mushroom heater. Not a lot of style or decorative flair. Today, there are many different ones to choose from. At a recent trade show I saw a patio heater in the shape of a palm tree. Mine is stainless steel, and has hideaway wheels and an integrated bar table mounted to the post to set drinks or food on. To each his own. The good news is that there are many choices in quality, features, style and price.

What other types of patio heaters are out there? In addition to LP gas post mounted models, natural gas versions are also available. Ceiling suspended units are also very popular, especially in covered outdoor restaurant seating areas. These rectangular shaped heaters can be strategically spaced to provide just the right pattern of heat to keep patrons happy during cooler temperatures.

Restaurant owners find that patio heating can add substantially to restaurant seating capacity and help generate a loyal following of patrons, simply because they have a heated outdoor option.

Since most indoor restaurants are non-smoking environments, outdoor patio heaters also provide a courtesy to smokers. Where multiple heaters may be required, we suggest that you find a patio heater sales expert to help determine the number and location of heaters to provide the best heat pattern for the application.

In my opinion, patio heaters are a great investment if you spend any amount of time outdoors. I've attended several family gatherings where we employed the use of a post-style patio heater. Despite the chilly temps, I've observed how everyone simply wants to hang around and socialize longer and no one seems to be in any hurry to leave (that could be a bad thing for some). The point is, extending the use of your outdoor environment is a practical, affordable and can help make outdoor living a lot more enjoyable.

Scott Workman is president of Infra-Red Products Supply, Inc., located in Draper, Utah. Infra-Red Products Specializes in heaters and systems for outdoor patios, garages, shops, room additions, construction sites and more.

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