Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. There’s nothing more important when you’re looking for a heater to warm up outside in the coming months and as a general rule, electric infrared heaters are widely regarded as the best option.
Infrared heaters target warmth at people rather than simply heating up the air surrounding them – leading to minimal wastage, and the benefits are felt as soon as the heater is switched on.
The carbon footprint of these heaters is also significantly less (up to 15 per cent) compared to similar heaters that run on gas, according to research from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
How many people will be able to use the heater to stay warm depends on its heat output, measured in kilowatts (kW), so we cracked out the tape measure with every unit we tested to see how far the heat stretched.
Finally, we looked at how much glare there was from the heat source; after all, you don’t want to have to don sunglasses every time you go outside.
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Kettler Kalos copper lantern heater
This free-standing, contemporary-looking heater has a brushed copper finish that will instantly enhance the look of any patio, deck or balcony. The handle means that you can move the heat source easily, or you can hang it from a fixed point. The single rose gold tube gave off a really cosy light that wasn’t too bright and we also really liked the built-in safety mechanism that automatically switches off the heater off if it ever gets knocked over. The lantern comes in three different sizes with differing outputs with the small lantern producing 1.5kW, the medium lantern 1.8kW and the large lantern producing 2kW, so the warming range was an impressive 6m.
Challenge carbon heater
Best: Value heater
If you’re only going to use a heater on rare occasions then you probably don’t want to break the bank, which makes this economy heater ideal. It makes the most of its 1kW of heat output with a big reflector that gave a nice width to the warmth so you could get the benefit whether you were standing directly in front or to the side of the unit.
Blumfeldt dark wave stand heater
Best: Efficient patio heater
A supremely versatile 2kW heater with nine selectable heat levels (which can be controlled via an LED panel) makes for ultimate heat efficiency so that you can really tailor the warmth to the conditions and numbers, making this model hugely energy efficient. The heater can be wall-mounted or free-standing, with a height that’s adjustable up to 1.78m high. It features a gold-plated carbon tube, which made it one of the best heaters on test for minimal glare. We could feel the benefits up to six metres away and we didn’t have to wait for the heater to warm up.
Mensa Heating Imus infrared patio heater
Best: Small patio heater
This freestanding heater sits neatly underneath a table to keep everyone seated around it warm. It only throws out 550w of heat, but you wouldn’t want any more because of where it’s positioned and we found that the heat gets trapped under the table and circulates really efficiently so that one heater can comfortably keep a table of four to six people toasty.
Shadow Fatboy patio heater
Best: For balconies or small courtyards
You can mount this powerful heater on a wall or on a stand and will benefit from 2.4kW of heat that you can feel up to eight metres away thanks to an extra-large reflector mounted behind the infrared lamp. With very little glare coming from the unit and quick heat-up time, this is a compact heater that would be ideal for balconies or smaller courtyard areas.
Herschel Miami 2000 electric patio heater
Best: Wall-mounted patio heater
As the exotic name suggests, this small, lightweight heater pumps out a lot of heat and performed superbly on a very cold evening because it uses a longer wavelength of infrared, which is better absorbed by the skin. If required, wall mounting is straightforward and the bracket is provided, and you can use a separate clamp to attach it to the spokes of a parasol. If you intend to have it in a permanent position outside, there’s good weatherproofing too as the aluminium construction resists rain and rust and the glare from the heat tubes was minimal. The Herschel offered a good heat reach of six metres, so you could make full use of the heaters 2kW of output.
Heat Outdoors empire carbon heater
Best: Portable heater
This is the most expensive heater on test, but its 3kW of heat output meant that we could feel the warmth up to eight metres away. The heater is very tall (1.5m) with a solid heavy base so it was never in danger of being knocked over and there is an automatic cut off if it does ever topple. There was no uncomfortable glare from the carbon lamps and no lag time in feeling the heat once it was turned on. There is a convenient roller so that it can be easily moved around and a magnetised remote control, which attaches it to the unit, so you’ll struggle to lose it outdoors.
Art To Real parasol umbrella heater
Best: For attaching to your parasol
If you’ve still got your outdoor parasol up from the summer then a heater like this could be a good idea as the cover helps to contain the heat in a particular area. The heater attaches easily to the pole and is height adjustable with three arms that operate independently, so you can tailor where the heat goes around the table depending on your seating arrangement. When not in use the arms fold snug to the pole, so you don’t even have to take it off when storing the umbrella. Range doesn’t really apply here because the heat is directed downwards, but the variable heat outputs of 0.5kW, 1kW and 1.5kW, provide a range of comfort options depending on the size of your party and number of people.
Blumfeldt gold bar 2000
Best: Remote-controlled patio heater
This strip heater can be mounted on a wall and has three settings of 0.75kW, 1.5kW or 2kW, depending on how much heat you require, all of which can be controlled via remote so you won’t have to keep standing on patio furniture to adjust the output. There was very little glare thanks to some gold-coated heating tubes and we could still feel the benefits up to five metres away.
Patio heater FAQs
What is the difference between gas or electric patio heaters?
Most patio heaters use either gas or electricity to generate heat and which one you choose will largely depend on budget and the size of the space you’re looking to warm up.
If you want to heat your garden quickly an electric heater could be the one for you as they are easy to turn on and off, and typically reach the desired temperature quickly. Thee majority of electric heaters are “radiant heaters”, means they heat objects directly and are generally better for large gardens because you can choose a specific area to be warmed.
Alternatively, gas-powered patio heaters often provide more wide-ranging heat, making them a good option for larger areas, and they can be cheaper to buy. However, they are far from the greenest option out there.
According to Heat Outdoors, they can be costly to run and “extremely wasteful in terms of both heat generated, the energy consumed and CO2 emissions.” The carbon footprint of an electric patio heater is just 15pc of a gas model.
How effective are patio heaters?
While the idea of warming an outdoor space might seem fruitless, patio heaters are far more effective than you might realise and could be just what you need if you want to stay in the garden a bit longer when it gets chilly at night.
Whether you choose electric or gas, each option comes with its own unique appeal but they all work well as a direct form of heating. Gas heaters cover a wider area but they usually take a while to heat up. Meanwhile, electric heaters are popular because of the instant and convenient heat they can provide: once plugged in or wired into the mains, you simply need to flick a switch or press a button.
Can you put a patio heater in a gazebo?
According to Best Gazebos, it is safe to put a patio heater under your gazebo as long as it is not an enclosed structure. However, not all patio heaters are made equal so it is best to check at the time of purchasing to verify whether or not it is suitable.
It is always best to make sure your heater is placed in the middle of the gazebo and to avoid any model that uses open flames or allows direct contact with the heating element.
The verdict: Patio and garden heaters
With nice styling, portability and excellent efficiency the Kettler Kalos copper lantern heater proved to be the best heating hub for any size of outdoor space. Controllable and economical, it’s excellent value for money too.
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