Not too long ago, I renovated the back terrace of my Brooklyn brownstone—a new hardwood deck, a killer grill and fridge, areas for dining and lounging, lighting, additional storage, the whole nine yards. It’s become the place for casual dinners with the fam, blowout weekend barbecues, and a cup of coffee on quiet mornings. The only problem? Once the temperature dips in late fall, the terrace gets shut down for the season.
Fortunately this problem has a clear solution: a patio heater. It’s a simple way to turn any outdoor living space into a year-round amenity (unless you live in snow country, where you might have to settle for three seasons).
I’m not the only one on the hunt for the best patio heater: The New York Times found that searches increased more than 70 percent in August 2020 compared to 2019. Manufacturers have responded to the demand with a slew of slick new designs that serve a wide range of needs, but retailers are having trouble keeping up. “With the increased enthusiasm for outdoor living and supply-chain issues, shoppers who are seriously considering a purchase should plan to buy sooner rather than later,” says Emily McGee, a spokesperson for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA).
To help with the buying decision, we asked designers, landscape architects, restaurateurs, and other industry pros to share the best patio heaters for keeping your outdoor space warm and cozy when the mercury drops.
- Best overall: Bromic Eclipse Smart-Heat Electric Portable
- Best for colder climates: Amazon Basics Outdoor Patio Heater
- Best for small spaces: Permasteel Electric Infrared Patio Heater
- Best tabletop: Rejuvenation Tabletop Patio Heater
- Best splurge: Lava Heat Italia 2G
- Best wood pellet: Big Timber Patio Heater
- Best combination: West Elm Standing Heater Lamp
- Best built-in: Heatstrip USA Regular Electric Patio Heater
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Power source: There are two main options: gas and electric. Within gas, there’s propane or natural gas. Propane heaters use a tank, similar to gas grills, so no other installation is required, making them the easiest choice. Plus you can move them around your space freely. Natural gas heaters need a hookup to the home’s main gas line (assuming you have one), which means a professional (and permanent) installation is required. However, you don’t have to worry about the gas running out or manage the hassle of refilling heavy tanks.
Electric heaters need an exterior outlet to plug into and electricity is more expensive than gas, so the operating cost is higher. And there are a handful of patio heaters that run on wood pellets. Although more obscure, they’re eco-friendly and generate a lot of heat.
Range: Usually expressed in square feet or radius, this is a measure of how large of an area will feel the heat. For example, a high-powered heater might be able to distribute heat over a 200-square-foot area or roughly 8-foot radius.
Heat output: This refers to how much heat is generated by the device. With gas and pellet models, it’s measured by British thermal units (BTUs), while electric heaters use watts (W). While there’s a correlation between heat output and range, other factors influence heat distribution, including the size and shape of the heater.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Bromic Eclipse Smart-Heat Electric PortableTxikito, El Quinto Pino, and La Vara), recommends this electric version from Bromic, and we see why. In addition to the uniquely sculptural design, the 3,300-watt heater is super-versatile, providing adjustable, evenly diffused heat over a generous 144-square-foot area. It also features an integrated LED light that’s dimmable, making the Bromic an ideal pick for creating ambience while dining alfresco (even if slow-roasted suckling pig and other Raij specialties aren’t on your menu).
Best for Colder Climates: Amazon Basics Outdoor Patio Heater
Best for Small Spaces: Permasteel Electric Infrared Patio Heater
Best Tabletop: Rejuvenation Tabletop Patio Heater
Best Splurge: Lava Heat Italia 2G
Best Wood Pellet: Big Timber Patio Heater
Best Combination: West Elm Standing Heater Lamp
Best Built-In: Heatstrip USA Regular Electric Patio HeaterRKLA Studio Landscape Architecture, often builds a heat source discreetly into the decor. His go-to? The Heatstrip Regular. “It has a very slim profile, so it can be easily integrated into pergolas or other built structures,” he says. Another nice feature of the 2,400-watt electric heater is its whisper-quiet operation, plus the fact that it doesn’t emit light or glow red when in use, leaving guests to wonder how it’s so warm, even after the sun goes down.
Pro Tips for Buying a Patio Heater
- Many electric heaters require a 220-volt plug, which could add a few hundred dollars to the total cost if an electrician needs to install the outlet.
- Think about how many people are gathered outdoors most of the time and choose the appropriate size for that purpose. In other words, if you have one massive gathering a year but the rest of the time it’s just the family, go with a family-size model.
- Some heaters need to be assembled, and the process can be tricky. Ask the retailer if it offers assembly services and what the associated costs are.
How We Vetted These Products
Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria:
- They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
- They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel.
- They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL.
Domino’s editors independently curate every product on our site, because we’re just as obsessed with a great deal and an under-the-radar discovery as you are. Items you purchase may earn us an affiliate commission.