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Patio heaters (or mushroom heaters) are used for heating outdoor spaces during the colder months. Using heating devices around or on certain materials may be risky, though. Many decking materials are somewhat combustible, so you might wonder if having a patio heater on a deck is a good idea.
Patio heaters require that you keep a careful eye on them, but they are an efficient way to keep patios and other open-air outdoor spaces warm. Many Patio heaters use gas as fuel, so they are typically better suited for open-air areas that allow the fumes to dissipate better.
The following article will dispel any concerns about whether patio heaters are unsafe, explain how patio heaters work, provide details on the different kinds of patio heaters, and what you can do to ensure that your patio heater experience is as safe as possible.
How Safe Are Patio Heaters?
Sure, patio heaters are a great way to keep your patio warm when it’s cold out, but are they safe?
The first thing I’d like to clarify is that most patio heaters are propane-fueled and that they do have safety features built-in that force a shut-down if something goes wrong. If the gas tank is tilted or there are problems with the heater itself, the heater will automatically shut itself off.
A good patio heater will also have an easily accessible button that you can push to cut the heater off in an emergency. All that said, there are a few things that you should know about safely using a patio heater.
Follow the Provided Instructions
While every patio heater brand may not work the same, they will all come with a set of instructions. Follow them to the letter. They make sure that you’re able to enjoy your patio heater safely, and straying from them even slightly can be dangerous or damaging cause damage to the heater.
Do Not Use Patio Heaters Indoors
The majority of patio heaters use gas to fuel themselves, so using them indoors is a major safety hazard. The gas carries highly toxic fumes and can lead to various health complications such as headaches, confusion, and respiratory issues, just to name a few.
Patio heaters should only be used in open outdoor spaces so that the gas can dissipate.
Use Well Maintained Gas Tanks
If your gas tanks have holes or rusty spots, don’t use them. Leaking gas can be both a health and fire hazard. Inspect the tank for any damage before use and if you smell any gas, immediately call the fire department.
To make sure that your tanks are safely stored when not in use, you should choose a spot a ways off from your house and make sure that it’s level and sturdy. You can keep them uncovered year-round if you like, but they should be placed in a shady area during the summer out of the sun.
Keep the Heater Away From Flammables
Nothing liable to easily catch fire should be near your patio heater. Materials like pillows, rugs, or chairs (more specifically, chair fabric) shouldn’t be kept too close to the heater as the radiant heat could potentially cause combustion from anywhere closer than three feet (1 yard) away.
Keep the Patio Heater Dry
Put the heater away if there’s bad weather coming in. While some patio heaters are somewhat water-resistant, they’ll eventually be damaged by water if constantly kept out in poor weather conditions.
To prevent any long-term damage from happening, store the patio heater in a dry, enclosed area in the event of bad weather.
How Do Patio Heaters Work?
Patio Heaters are a kind of radiant heater, which means that they provide heat by omitting it from a specific source. To better understand how a patio heater works, it might help to know its basic construction.
Here’s what a bottom-up breakdown of a patio heater includes:
- The base
- A pole or stand
- A burner
- A conical or mushroom-shaped reflector top
The heat comes from a gas burner at the top of the pole that ignites either butane or propane that burns upwards against a perforated metal mesh. Once the flames have sufficiently warmed the metal mesh, the heat is directed outward.
Additional warmth is kept from escaping by the mushroom-shaped reflector piece atop the patio heater. The reflector tops often contain silver because it’s bad at retaining heat while simultaneously being great at reflecting infrared radiation.
Different Types of Patio Heaters
The kind of patio heater that I’ve described thus far is the most common – gas-powered, ones powered by propane, specifically. But as already stated, Patio heaters can be powered by butane as well, both of which are liquified petroleum gases (LPG). There are also electric patio heaters as well as models that use natural gas.
LPG vs. Natural Gas: Which Is the Better Fuel?
LPG is the better fuel by far. To specify, while natural gas may appear cheaper, you do have to pay daily for it even when it’s not in use. Meanwhile, once you have LPG tanks on hand, you don’t have to spend any money unless you run out.
LPG makes it easier to move your patio heater around too. The gas tank connects directly to the heater, whereas natural gas requires you to connect the heater to a gas line meaning that you have limited options as to where to put it.
Heater Installation Options
Your installation options depending on the kind of patio heater you’re using. LPG patio heaters don’t need ‘installing’ per se; you can just put them anywhere.
Natural gas patio heaters need a natural gas line and so can only be installed by a professional. Under no circumstance should you try to install a natural gas heater yourself?
An electric heater, on the other hand, has to be near an outlet. That makes electric patio heaters’ mobility somewhat limited. Electric patio heaters are also very susceptible to water damage.
How To Keep Your Deck Safe
If you’re still concerned that your deck may be at risk from ignition via the patio heater, there are a few things that you can do before you bring it home.
A few things you can do to reduce the chances of a fire are:
- Keep fire extinguishers and water hoses in easily accessible places.
- Any plants should be kept (at least three feet – 1 yard) away from the patio heater.
- Treat your deck with fire retardant spray to limit the spread of potential fires.
If there’s a chance that you’re thinking of having a deck built and wish to have a patio heater, then it’s best to simply have your deck built of fire-resistant material such as ipe wood.
So to sum things up, not only can you use a patio heater on a deck, but it’s one of the best places to do so. The reason being that most patio heaters use butane or propane, which can be dangerous in enclosed spaces.
You should always follow the directions when using patio heaters and keep flammable items and plants away from them to prevent fires. While you can purchase electric and natural gas heaters, LPG patio heaters are cheaper and more portable.
Last but not least, you should always have a fire extinguisher on hand. Better yet, build your deck out of a fireproof material from the start to reduce the chance of fires breaking out.