Here’s Our Breakdown of the Best Heaters To Keep Your Outdoor Patio Operating All Winter Long.
Winter is always around the corner. Now more than ever, people feel safer dining outside rather than squeezed into a booth with a bunch of sniffling Petri dishes next to them.
If you have outdoor patio space, you might as well put it to use. So we thought we’d dive a little deeper into the different ways you can keep your restaurant’s outdoor patio heated year-round without leaving your customers shivering or shrinking your profits.
There are several types of outdoor patio heaters for businesses.
A quick google search will show you there are two basic types of heaters: free-standing and the multitude of mounted options (wall, ceiling, and pole mounted). But there are several things you should consider before deciding what type of heater will work best for your space.
Most experts say type, style, and shape don’t determine how well a heater will work in an area. Instead, consider how big your patio is, how enclosed it is, and in some cases, more importantly, how secure it is.
The size of your patio is going to determine how many units you need. Most heaters will only heat around 100 square feet effectively. So for every 10ft by 10ft you have to heat, you’ll need another unit.
You could get away with fewer heaters if your patio is enclosed, as it can retain some of the heat and also protect your patrons from any cold wind blowing through.
If you have a gusty season or just live in a windy area, keep in mind that free-standing heaters can easily push over. Always secure any free-standing heater to the ground, but in very gusty areas, some free-standing heaters will simply fail. In this case, wall or ceiling mounted will be a better long-term solution.
Then there’s just how stealable it is! If your patio is easily accessible outside of business hours, anything not bolted or screwed to the wall or ceiling can be easily stolen, and trust me, in certain areas: it will be.
Chains and cables can help protect you when using free-standing heaters. Also, GIANT tanks can also help deter fewer muscly thieves… but they will be quite a bit more expensive than smaller ones.
What’s the best fuel type for patio heating? Propane, Natural Gas or Electricity
Natural Gas Heaters VS Propane Heaters
Natural Gas is currently about three times the price of propane. However, sources say the output of natural gas still offsets the cost by using less fuel for the same (or even more) heat.
Currently, the average cost of natural gas is $6.27 per 1,000 cubic feet, which is roughly one million British Thermal Units or BTUs (this is how experts measure how much heat is given from a particular heating source). The U.S. average cost for propane is $2.66 per gallon. One million BTUs of natural gas is roughly 11.20 gallons of propane.
This means for the same amount of fuel, you’ll pay $6.27 for natural gas and $29.79 for propane. Propane uses its fuel twice as efficiently, putting the actual comparative cost at $15 for the same amount of heat.
Propane Patio Heaters, Pros, and Cons
Propane is slightly better for the environment and the most versatile since you can put it almost anywhere you have proper ventilation.
There are few downsides to using propane other than you are responsible for getting and installing the fuel, you have to monitor and replace empty propane tanks (sometimes in the middle of rush hour), and then you have to get comfortable lighting them. In a windy environment, this can prove to be tricky the first few times you do it.
Electric Heaters VS Gas Heaters
When considering an Electric Heater for your patio, it might sound obvious or silly, but electric heaters really need to be by an outlet.
Because they draw a LOT of power, and simply connecting them to an extension cord is actually incredibly unsafe. Even one electric heater (let alone a few on a power strip) is simply a fire waiting to happen, and they take time to heat up, which may annoy impatient and cold customers.
The internet agrees; in most parts of the country, electricity is far more expensive to use as a heating source than any gas.
When you look at the price per BTU of heat: the cost of electricity is roughly double the cost of Natural Gas.
Why? Well, electricity cost is calculated by kilowatt hours (kWh). Right now, the national average is at around .18 cents per kWh. A 6000-watt heater is going to be pulling 6 kW per hour for roughly 15,000 to 20,000 BTUs of heat.
Compare that to $6.27 per 1 million BTUs of heat from Gas, and electricity ends up being at least 50% to 75% more expensive.
On the plus side, electric heaters do not require adequate ventilation. For small or enclosed spaces, electric may work just fine.
Additionally, electric heaters do run more quietly if that is important to you.
Let’s recap: In many parts of the country, natural gas is going to be the cheapest and run the most seamlessly, but installation may be a big hurdle, and your heaters will likely need to be permanently placed. Electricity is only going to be negligibly better in a small set of circumstances. Propane is a tried and true source of patio heating that will be good in the interim; not too costly but potentially easy to steal!