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Outdoor Heaters: Cost and Energy Effectiveness

The cost effectiveness of the heater you intend to buy depends mostly on the prices in your area.

For example, a propane heater might be a better option than an electric heater if propane is cheap in your area.

Electrical heaters with large capacity might consume up to 3.5 kWh, which could be costly if you require sustained heating for large periods of time in an area where electricity is expensive.

The total cost of operating an electrical heater tends to be less than the cost of operating a propane heater, but propane heaters usually have heating capacity that far exceeds electric ones.

It all depends on your local prices for propane versus electricity, and also the total area you need to heat, if your heating needs are small and electricity is cheap, you should consider buying an electric heater, otherwise, propane heaters are more diversified and might be a better choice.

You may also consider an outdoor fireplace if wood is easy to acquire in your area. If you own land, and firewood is easy to obtain in your property, an outdoor fireplace may have no costs other than maintenance. In some areas, firewood is considerably cheaper than propane, so it might be cheaper to use an outdoor fireplace.

Generally speaking, electric heaters are more energy efficient than propane or wood fueled heaters, yet their heating capacity is much smaller than a common propane heater.

  • The unit of measure for heating capacity is the British Thermal Unit, or BTU.
  • A conversion between watts and BTU can be done by multiplying each watt by 3.4; for example, an electric heater model with 1.500 watts would have the equivalent of 5.100 BTU; a usual propane heater might heat from around 10.000 and up to 60.000 BTU.
  • So while electricity might be more efficient, in this case propane can offer much more heating.

A good way to compare would be looking at the specifications to see how much time a standard 20 lbs propane tank can last on the heater, and comparing the cost of filling such tank with the cost of running an electric heater for the same period.

For example, let's consider refilling a 20 lb propane tank would cost 15 dollars, and a propane heater could last for ten hours using that, while a kWh would cost 15 cents. In this case, the propane heater would cost 1.5 dollars to run for an hour, and 15 dollars to run for ten hours.

A 1.500 watts electric heater would cost 0.23 dollar to run for an hour, and 2.3 dollars to run for ten hours, which is six times less expensive.

Considering a standard 40.000 BTU propane heater can last for ten hours with a 20 lb propane tank, you'd be getting seven times more heating power than the electric heater.

So in a case such as this, while the electric heater is much cheaper to operate, it cannot heat as much as a propane heater would. In very small areas where you don't need the potency of a propane heater, it might pay off to install an electric heater.

Take in account those numbers are purely speculative, and are only being used to illustrate a possibility, the idea is that you should consider the prices in your area, and the size of the place you need to heat in order to determine which type of heater is better for you.

Outdoor fireplaces are much harder to measure in this way, because energy efficiency depends largely on the model of fireplace you own and the type of wood you are burning, so it's better to consider using wood for heating only when you are accustomed to using outdoor fireplaces and know the price for wood in your area is consistently cheaper than propane.

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