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Patio Propane Heaters 101

What You Should Know About Propane Heat

When the worst of winter passes, but a chill still creeps through your area, the answer to enjoying your outdoor living space is a patio propane heater. Propane heaters are easy to operate, portable, and a great way to warm-up outdoors.

Propane heaters for patios come in a variety of styles and sizes. Ideal for heating a large area, these heaters can warm a 20 ft. radius. Smaller, table-top size patio propane heaters are better suited to keeping one to two people warm.

Unlike electric outdoor heaters, propane heaters feature stylish metal finishes like copper or stainless steel. They have elegant designs that not only warm, but add character to outdoor entertainment areas. Continue reading to learn how these useful patio heaters work.

How Propane Heaters Work

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The Fuel Source

Propane heaters turn the heat created with a simple match and propane fuel into an efficient pattern of convenience and efficiency. The fuel used is normally a non-commercial quality LP, or liquid propane.

Propane is a hydrocarbon made of the chemical formula: three carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms. It is created as a by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining.

Ignition Mechanism

The propane heater is started by an igniter - a very simple mechanism. Most often patio propane heaters use an electric Piezo igniter. These devices are equipped with a quartz crystal which develops an electrical potential when pressure is applied through a mechanical mechanism.

A spring-loaded hammer strikes the quarts, much like a hand striking a match, and generates a spark that ignites passing propane gas.

Thermal Output

Within the heater is an element, often made from porcelain, which spreads the flames out in a pattern to help distribute the thermal output (heat). You control the heat intensity via a controller which will either regulate temperature automatically through a thermostat or manually by you.

Most patio propane heaters have manual flame control for "high" to "low" flame intensity, i.e. heat settings.

Are Propane Heaters Safe at Home?

Since patio propane heaters utilize open flames generated by burning a fuel, most people assume operating a portable propane heater at home is dangerous. The opposite is true. Here are some common myths about propane heaters. Let's go over these propane heater fears one at a time.

Common Propane Heater Safety Myths

  • Propane heaters cause CO2 poisoning
  • Propane heaters have open flames
  • Propane heaters are dangerous around pets and children
  • Propane is toxic and should be avoided at all costs

Actual Carbon Monoxide Risks

This first fear supposes that propane heaters exclusively cause CO2 or carbon monoxide poisoning. In actuality, carbon monoxide is generated through the combustion of any material - it is a natural byproduct.

CO2 poisoning is only a threat in small, enclosed spaces. Since patio propane heaters are meant for application on your patio or deck there is no risk of exposure to dangerous levels in the open space.

Actual Open Flame Risks

When considering operating a device with open flames, many people become hesitant. They worry this is a risky or dangerous way of heating in an age of electronic space heaters.

Propane heaters are actually a much safer choice for outdoor heating. The number one reason is that propane heaters do not require extension cords to reach power outlets. Extension cords can get in the way and potentially cause you to trip or knock over the heater.

The fact that patio propane heaters have open flames is exaggerated. The flames are not outwardly exposed, but rather are shielded by a metal guard. In addition, freestanding full-sized patio propane heaters are tall, measuring at least 5 ft. in height. Young children and pets should not be able to reach the flames at these heights.

Actual Propane Dangers and Toxicity

Propane is a nontoxic substance. The same propane that is used in propane heaters is the same as that which fuels portable propane grills. The fumes emitted by burning LP gas will not harm you, but there are safety precautions to take while using it. Propane comes sealed in an LP tank which is intended to be connected to the propane heater via a propane regulator hose and kit.

Many patio propane heaters will come standard with this LP regulator kit and will specify the proper propane demand. As noted above, propane emits carbon monoxide as a natural by-product as it burns (the same is true when burning any substance). Thus, a major danger is CO2 poisoning, but only when improperly used in an enclosed space.

The other danger presented by propane occurs when in its liquid form. You should never directly expose your skin to propane. This can result in frostbite and literally freezes your skin. Avoid tampering with tanks at all times.

Safety Features on Propane Heaters

To conclude our overview of patio propane heaters, let's take a look at some standard, yet important, safety features.

  • Thermal overload protection
  • Tip-over automatic shut-off
  • A weighted base with wheels
  • Weather-resistant construction
  • Proper regulator kit
  • Safety seals of approval by trusted names

Thermal Overload Protection

Propane heaters will often have a device integrated into the design to prevent the unit from overheating. In case the user has used the wrong regulator or left the heat for a non-recommended amount of time, the regulator thermostat will automatically cut off power and allow the heater to cool.

Tip-Over Protection

Quite straightforward, propane heaters have tip-over protection via a weight base and automatic shut-off. An anti-tilt switch will sense when the propane patio heater is in a compromising position and consequently cut-off fuel to the burner. Propane heaters for patios also tend to have castor wheels to allow users easy movement, reducing the risk of accidents. A weighted base provides support and stability.

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Stainless Steel and Copper

Powder-coated finishes over stainless steel, copper, or special aluminum constructions provide weather-resistance to patio propane heaters. These durable finishes also make them ideal in coastal areas where corrosion is more likely to happen. Consequently, these weather-resistant constructions are also highly fashionable. You enjoy great protection and style from a polished stainless steel finish!

LP Regulator Kit

In order to keep users safe, manufacturers include the proper LP regulator with standard purchase. Propane heaters require a proper regulator kit to safely utilize the liquid propane for fuel. Integrated regulators automatically maintain the flow of propane according to approved safety standards.

Safety Certifications

While shopping for your patio propane heater, make sure to look for units which have been given safety certifications from trusted third parties. These groups test products for safety and manufacturing standards which meet specific quality expectations and country guidelines.

These include CSA (Canadian Standards Association), UL (Underwriter's Laboratories Inc.), and sometimes ETL (Edison Test Laboratories) certifications. With these certifications, you know you're purchasing a product you can trust.

Propane Heaters 101 Summary

Propane heaters are no more dangerous than any other type of outdoor heater. In all cases, proper safety guidelines should be followed for optimal performance. Owner's manuals and manufacturer's guideline sheets are standard with purchase, allowing you to quickly reference proper procedures. 

In fact, many propane heaters are equipped with additional safety features to help prevent human error. They are also effective, fast-working, and stylish heating products for outdoor entertainment spaces. They come in standard and table-top sizes to meet the needs of a growing consumer base.

Many patio propane heaters are suitable for home and commercial use in gastronomical sectors of business, such as restaurants, bars, and cafes with outdoor seating. Choosing a portable propane heater for your patio or deck is an economical choice of heating, more appropriate than electric options. Browse propane heaters today at our propane heaters page!

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