Warm Up the Night! Patio Heaters and Fire Pits

by : Debbie Rodgers

In some areas right now, the weather is ideal for sitting outside in the evening -- the bugs have gone and the sky is clear -- but the nights are chilly. Don't let the cool evenings send you inside -- extend your outdoor living season by heating your deck or patio.

Different heaters are available for different needs and circumstances. A heater will be powered by propane, natural gas, alcohol-gel, electricity, wood, or wood substitutes such as charcoal or artificial logs. Depending on the size and the heat source, they may warm only a small space or heat a party-size yard.

For all heating units to perform optimally, they will need the right location. The ideal site is a combination of walls or fences (to radiate the heat back into your space) and overhead structures that will prevent the wind from blowing directly through your selected area.

Here are some tips for effective and safe use:

  • Wood-burning fireplaces and fire pits are generally the least expensive to buy and to operate. Check for zoning ordinances to be sure that you can burn wood on your property. Some municipalities allow wood burning in a small chimenea unit, but will not approve a built-in or dug fire pit. Wood-burning units range from small collapsible units on wheels for easy portability to huge built-in concrete fireplaces. If you are permitted to burn wood, you are sure to find a unit to suit your needs!

  • If you have a pottery fireplace, or chimenea, use it cautiously as these units are lightweight and reasonably fragile. To keep the fire from getting hot enough to break the chimenea, it's best to use kindling-size wood.

  • Many wood-burning units have optional cooking grills so your fire can do double duty warming your toes and your tummy. Try this yummy 'pizza' recipe, cooked up in campfire irons.

  • Any open fire is a potential hazard. Keep any overhead sparks from tree branches or patio overheads, and be sure to teach children proper fire safety.

  • Natural gas heaters are easy to use but are usually built in and, although bottled gas may be purchased, are best limited to those areas that have natural gas service.

  • Propane heaters can be economical to operate. Depending on the heat output level you set, a standard propane tank can provide 10-12 hours of heat.

  • Propane-powered 'mushroom' or 'umbrella' heaters (so called because of their shape) are the best choice for heating large areas. They radiate warming rays from the top cylinder and provide a comfort zone of 12 - 20 feet in diameter. The propane tank is hidden in the bottom of the unit. It's a good idea to put these units away when not in use as they can be sensitive to the elements. Smaller tabletop units are also available.

  • Although electric heat is usually the most expensive, there are a few electric heaters designed specifically for outdoor use. Be sure that any heater that is left outside is rated as such.

With the wide selection of outdoor heating devices available, you're sure to find one that right's for you. So heat up the night - and go right on enjoying your outdoor space.