Gas heaters for patios were not really seen in the United Kingdom until about ten to fifteen years ago, when they began to appear in commercial situations, outside cafés, pubs and restaurants. Similar models, again using liquid petroleum gas (LPG), very quickly began to appear on the domestic market as people warmed to the idea of being able to get more enjoyment from their gardens in our climate.
These gas heaters are not the only way of heating a patio though. There are infrared and halogen radiant heaters which run on mains electricity and then the various forms of outdoor wood burning fires such as chimineas, fire pits, heaters and even bonfires. But any form of heater needs attention paid to its condition, location and the way it’s used to make sure that it can provide comfort in complete safety.
General Patio Heater Safety
All patio heaters, regardless of the type of heater or the fuel they use, need to be sited in a safe place away from anything that can catch fire. Keep awnings, parasols, trees and bushes well away from the heater, particularly if there is a breeze. Make sure that combustible items cannot get anywhere near the source of heat.
Take care to keep patio heaters away from buildings as well. Although heating up a stone or brick wall doesn’t cause too many problems, fittings such as drainpipes, guttering, soffits or window frames could get damaged. Most patio heaters give off direct heat, heating objects rather than the air around them, so items near the heater will get hotter the longer the heater is on.
Gas Patio Heaters
With LPG fuelled gas heaters great care must be taken with the fitting of the gas cylinder, supply tubes and valves. These heaters use standard LPG fittings that have been used safely for years with domestic and leisure cooking equipment so there should not be any safety problems with the use of LPG. But just make sure you double check everything each time a patio heater is used, particularly when swapping cylinders.
Gas fuelled patios heaters are inherently stable because of the weight of the cylinder at the bottom of the pole, but make sure that there is a tilt cut-off switch. This means that if the heater is tipped over past a certain point the gas supply is switched off, extinguishing the flame. Beware that although this means the heater should be extinguished immediately the heating element and the top of the heater will still be hot and can cause severe burns.
Safety of Electric Heaters
Electric patio heaters use either halogen or infrared units to provide heat so they are inherently safer than gas heaters. They are normally wall mounted so there’s no tilting issue. There are now, however, electric heaters that imitate the look of gas patio heaters and they should be checked to make sure they cannot be tipped over too easily.
Wood Burning Options
Wood burning fires are harder to light and maintain than gas or electric patio heaters, and there’s more mess, but they are charming and romantic. A fire pit or an open patio heater (these normally have a roof to force heat out and to the sides) should be made of metal or heat resistant brick or stone.
A popular addition to wood burning patio heaters is the chiminea, a Mexican-style pot-bellied stove with a tall chimney that takes ash and smoke away from people on the patio. As the fire is almost completely enclosed there is less danger from the open flame but the outsides of a chiminea will get very hot. This is great for heating the area and exactly what it is supposed to do.
But children may not realise that the whole structure heats up and can burn themselves on the exterior. Perhaps an open fire is better so that there is at least a visual and audible warning of the danger of the flame. It goes without saying that open fires should never be used when very young children are about.
Final Patio Heater Safety Tips
Here are a few more quick safety tips on patio heater safety to finish on. Never use a heater designed for the patio in the house, do not use them to dry clothes or anything else combustible and never try and move a heater without turning it off and waiting for it to cool down.