Published on August 5, 2021

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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.

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 Portable

With the pandemic forcing a newfound focus on outdoor dining, restaurateurs have scoured the market for the most innovative and stylish heater options. Alex Raij, owner of a trio of celebrated New York City restaurants (Txikito, 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

If you hail from the North, you’ll need a patio heater that can really bring the heat. Gas models tend to have the highest output, and that’s certainly the case with this 46,000-BTU fire breather from Amazon. It can warm up a 9-foot radius in no time flat, making it well suited for sprawling decks and patios, though the 20-pound propane tank makes it weighty to move around. But its durability can’t be beat: The stainless steel construction stands up to harsh conditions, including salt water should you live near the coast.

Best for Small Spaces: Permasteel Electric Infrared Patio Heater

Got a more intimate space? NYC architect Bo Lee likes this electric option from Permasteel. “The compact design and direct infrared heat makes this a good fit for small spaces like a balcony or terrace,” she says. “Plus it’s a good choice if you want to stay away from petrochemicals.” The 1,500-watt heater has a range of 96 square feet, so it will just about cover a 10-by-10-foot deck. The parabola reflector does a nice job directing heat onto the ground, and the built-in tabletop is a handy spot to set a drink or small plate.

Best Tabletop: Rejuvenation Tabletop Patio Heater

For compact portability, a tabletop patio heater is the way to go. Weighing less than 15 pounds, this shapely model from Rejuvenation, with its textured hammer-tone finish, has a heat output of 10,000 BTUs—just enough to keep dinner guests cozy. It runs on a 1-pound gas cylinder, which should last through a meal, even if the postprandial convo runs late into the night. It also features all the essential safety features, including flame failure warning and an anti-tilt switch.

Best Splurge: Lava Heat Italia 2G

With the fit and finish of an Italian race car and a not-so-subtle “column of flame” encased in a 4-foot glass tube, this patio heater makes a statement. Though the design is eye-catching, there’s some compromise with heat efficiency; the Italia 2G boasts 66,000 BTUs, but its heat radius is a modest 5 feet. That’s still plenty of warmth for most outdoor living areas. But just know that you’re paying for the supermodel looks rather than impressive heating power.

Best Wood Pellet: Big Timber Patio Heater

If you’re lucky enough to have an expansive outdoor space, the American-made Big Timber is worth a look. Its massive 90,000-BTU heat output, with a 12-foot heating radius, runs on wood pellets made from compressed sawdust, making it the most eco-friendly and efficient option in our roundup. Weighing 82 pounds (not counting the weight of the pellets), the heater is best used as a permanent fixture in outdoor living areas.

Best Combination: West Elm Standing Heater Lamp

Though it looks like a lamp, this chic selection from West Elm packs plenty of heat—51,000 BTUs to be precise. That’s good for 86 square feet, making it the perfect accessory for small outdoor seating areas. The base is made from an exterior-grade combination of steel and rubber, while the shade is made of nylon and steel, so it’s durable enough for mild climates but less so for extreme weather.

Best Built-In: Heatstrip USA Regular Electric Patio Heater

Not all patio heaters need to be seen and admired. Gareth Mahon, a partner at RKLA 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:

  1. They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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