Your Patio Heater Guide for Great Outdoor Entertaining
You've got your new outdoor kitchen set up. Your friends and family are gathered around the bar, the burgers are heating up on your brand new grill, and the table is set for the upcoming casual yet abundant feast.
The sun's setting and you have one more thing that needs to be set up: your patio heater. A heater is probably the most crucial appliance you'll need to enjoy your time outdoors, but doesn't it always seem to be the last thing you think about?
If this is your first house, your first backyard, and your first outdoor kitchen, here's a helpful guide on how to operate, fix and love your first patio heater.
Chances are it won't be your last, so learn how to get the most out of one for your home!
The Basics of Patio Heaters
There are two basic varieties available: gas or electric.
Gas heaters use either natural gas, requiring a gas line, or propane. Propane models use refillable tanks to operate. They are ideal if you want something easily portable, either for storage or simple versatility.
Electric designs are inexpensive and nontoxic - they don't emit carbon monoxide like propane does - and are energy efficient. All you need is an electrical outlet.
A direct spark ignition (DSI) uses an electric spark to light a pilot light. Once the pilot is lit, a control knob can be turned on to light the main burner.
More advanced options use a piezo lighter, which is commonly found on gas appliances. A quartz crystal is used to produce a spark that lights the pilot light on the heater. This type of ignition is quicker and more dependable than a DSI ignition.
Electronic ignition is the most advanced type of system. There is no pilot light, and the unit is wired into a home so all you have to do is turn a switch on or off to operate it. This type of ignition works with permanent heaters, not portable ones.
Safety Tips for Patio Heaters
Installation and Mounting
When installing or mounting a permanent natural gas or electric unit, make sure you are following your local building and city codes. Do not put the gas supply line or electrical power cord directly above or on top of ceiling mounted units, and make sure there are no restrictions to airflow or air intake holes. Also ensure that the heater is a safe distance from flammable objects.
Care and Use of Propane Tanks
Propane tanks pressurized, so it's important you always handle them with care. You will need to transport fuel every time you want to use it. Here are some quick tips on how to stay safe:
- Always store the tank upright in a cool, dark place outdoors with proper air circulation
- Keep the tank out of excessive heat and avoid damaging the tank valves
- Never overfill your tank with propane fuel
- Dispose of your propane tank correctly
- Propane leaks a smell like rotten eggs. If there is a leak, evacuate the premise and call your local fire department
Testing Gas Lines
Periodically testing patio heaters for gas leaks is important. Always test the gas line if it's been stored or out of use for a long time.
Unless otherwise noted by the manufacturer, use soapy water to test for a gas leak. Open the valve of the propane tank or turn on the main gas valve of your patio heater (leave the heater valve off). Apply soapy water to all the fittings and connections - a squirt bottle works well for this. Carefully check for bubbles, which will indicate a leak.
Troubleshooting Patio Heaters
One thing that might send you into a panic as a new patio heater owner is not having it turn on at all. There are some common problems that can come up, but the solution is often pretty simple. Remember, you should always consult your owner's manual when you have problems, and when in doubt, consult a reputable local service agent.
Find the Problem:
First, you'll need to identify the problem, and then you should see if it can be cured with a quick fix.
- Look for signs of possible blockages. Signs include gas odor, heat not reaching a high enough temperature, uneven heat glow and popping noises
- Make sure everything is clean and there is no debris.
- Check to see if your propane tank is empty. Compare its weight to a full tank to see if it should be replaced.
- Inspect your supply hose for bends or kinks, and make sure the control knob is fully on.
Pilot Lighting Issues
If no gas is going to your burner, or you have a low gas pressure, refill the fuel tank and purge the line. For a patio heater that won't turn on, attempt to light your heater manually, and if you can, that means you need to service or replace the igniter switch.
For pilot lights that won't stay lit, you should see if your propane cylinder has a leak or is completely malfunctioning. If you have any kind of gas heater, check for a defective connection between your pilot and gas valve, and for a dirty pilot that needs to be cleaned. Sometimes all you need is a quick and easy cleaning of the pilot.
Main Burner Won't Light
For a main burner that won't light, make sure the manual valve is in the "on" position and double check your wiring or transformer, to make sure the correct power is going to your unit. Check regulators for low gas pressure. A low flame burner means the gas pressure is low, so see if the hose is kinked or bent in any way.
Clean burner holes with a heavy duty pipe cleaner when it is completely cool. You can also use compressed air - the kind you use on your computer - to get out the tiniest of debris. Oftentimes problems are caused by insects getting stuck in your heater.
If your patio heater is freezing up, make sure your propane cylinder tank is level. If the problem doesn't go away, you'll need to get a new tank. Low gas pressure or a pilot light not turning on may mean a malfunctioning tank or a leak. Be sure the propane tank's valve isn't completely closed and if it is, turn the small handle on the gas cylinder to open the valve, but make sure it's isn't completely open either since that means you need to refill the tank.
The best way to deal with problems is to prevent them. Keep them working like new for as long as possible by following your manual's instructions on proper maintenance. Take the time to check up on your propane tank. Clean your unit once a season.
How to Get the Most from Your Patio Heater
For the best possible experience, get one that fits your lifestyle. Do you have kids, and is safety an important issue? If so, then you need to find out which option has the safety features you need.
Do you want your unit to be easily portable? Will you be moving it around the patio? How large of an area will it need to heat?
Do your research, and figure out what type of heater works best for you before you buy. It's important to make the perfect purchase the first time so you can have the best outdoor experience.
Patio heaters will help you extend your deck or backyard season into the cooler months, so complete your outdoor space with one today!