If months of staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we need more space to live, work, exercise and relax at home.
Interior designers and remodelers are working with people who can’t wait any longer to spread out into underused areas of their home or add a sheltered extension, whether inside or out.
The trick to making an outdoor living space comfortable year-round: Heat.
A heat source can be as simple as a safe fire pit to warm hands in the corner of the yard or as elaborate as an outdoor living room with a fireplace.
Dan Pope of NW Natural Appliance Center in Portland has been swamped with requests for people wanting to heat outdoor spaces.
“We didn’t slow down for the holidays and people are still ordering,” he says.
High demand has lengthened wait times for heaters and fire tables not already in stock. Some manufacturers have said orders will take up to 20 weeks and installers are booked up, says Pope.
Undaunted, homeowners are still searching for ways to bring warmth to their patio, pergola or porch.
To raise the temperature on a porch, Pope recommends a SunPack-type wall or ceiling mounted heater if the distance from the floor to the porch cover is 10 feet, although requirements vary by manufacturers.
A fire table could also add ambiance along with some heat, if there is enough room.
A covered patio or a standalone structure can be made more comfortable in cold months with a fire table or a “mushroom-top” heater on wheels.
These portable, infrared heaters used by restaurants warm objects, not the air. “It makes a body feel warm, but is not trying to heat the outside ambient air,” says Pope.
For more heat, people are installing ceiling or wall-mounted infrared gas or electric heaters.
Pope underscores that all types of heaters need to have proper clearances and adequate ventilation. For safety, only use outdoor-rated products.
Outdoor heaters impact the environment and some cities banned their use at restaurants. There are fire sources fueled by bioethanol produced from biomass.
Part of a series on outdoor entertainment spaces
To guide people to the right heater type, the NW Natural Appliance Center sales team asks these questions:
- Do you have natural gas available? Pope, who sells natural gas products at the showroom but is familiar with other types, says this is the best option for efficiency, convenience and cost to operate.
- Do you have 220v available outdoors for an electric heater? Otherwise, call in an electrician. Propane may be a more cost effective choice than electric.
- Do you want heat or ambiance? Infrared gas heaters are best at heating outdoor areas. Gas fire tables add to the mood and warm hands and feet but most of the heat radiates upward.
- Is the outdoor area covered? Ceiling-hung gas, infrared heaters require a minimum of 10 feet clearance from the ground to the cover (check with the manufacturer). Mushroom-style heaters also have clearance requirements. Also check for ventilation requirements and if two or more sides need to be open.
- How much of an area do you need heated? A mushroom-top type can warm a 10- to 15-foot radius. A ceiling-mount heater can cover about 144 square feet. “But remember infrared heaters are effective because they heat objects not air, so determining seating or a gathering area and placing heaters strategically will provide the most warmth,” says Pope.
Here’s a rundown of different types of outdoor heaters, price ranges, and benefits and drawbacks:
Mushroom-top (propane or natural gas) heaters: $1,700 and more for quality models (online models under $500 typically are not stainless, not serviceable and not convertible to natural gas).
This portable infrared heater sends warmth down and out, and provides radiant heat, which is important outdoors. Natural gas models are provided with quick disconnect hoses that can be purchase in various lengths.
Propane models require refilling, storing and disconnecting and reconnecting gas fitting on the tank.
The mushroom-top can be safe in a covered area that adheres to the manufacturer’s ventilation requirements and has approved clearance from combustibles.
Brands: SunGlow, SunPak, Patio Comfort, Bromic, Twin Eagles, Lynx
Pyramid-style propane heaters: About $500 or less online. This is a novelty heater with an interesting design and most of the heat goes up. It can work in a covered area it the manufacturer’s ventilation and clearance requirements are followed.
Brands: Hiland, Hampton Bay
Electric heaters: $800 or more, depending on the wattage. Pope only recommends 220V, built-in models. Check the Ingress Protection Code (IP) weatherproof rating to make sure it can withstand rain and water. Confirm the manufacturer’s requirements for clearances in a covered area.
Brands: AZ Patio, EnerG+, Westinghouse, Bromic, Infratech
Flame tables and fire bowls: $1,200 to $5,000 or more for quality products. Tabletop models provide primarily ambiance and warm feet and hands as heat radiates up. Natural gas or propane are best, says Pope. Propane can be a hassle to replace the tank underneath and some people don’t like the look of a tank outside of the unit. Use a wind guard if there is a breeze. Flame tables and fire bowls can be used in a covered area if manufacturer’s ventilation and clearance requirements are met.
Brands: Outdoor GreatRoom, American Fyre, El Dorado, HPC
Wall- or ceiling-mounted heaters: $1,700 and more. The best option for heat in outside areas is natural gas, says Pope. Electric heaters can be a backup for those without a gas hookup but a 220v hookup is required.
“Don’t bother with 110v models and make sure any electric equipment used outdoors is outdoor rated,” says Pope.
A wall- or ceiling-mounted heater can be used in a covered area if it meets the manufacturer’s ventilation and clearance requirements. For convenience, consider a model with a remote or wired models with timers.
Brands: SunGlow, SunPak, Patio Comfort, Bromic, Twin Eagles, Lynx, Schwank
Outdoor fireplaces: $2,500 or more, not including finishing and installation. A fireplace creates ambiance and larger models can generate good radiant heat. It’s safe to have an outdoor fireplace in a covered area if the space adheres to the manufacturer’s ventilation and clearances requirements. Consider adding wind guards for breezes.
Brands: Heat & Glo, Napoleon
Outdoor pellet stove: Home Depot has pellet stoves starting at $500; others are priced up to $1,500 online. Most look rustic and require a chimney, although the manufacturers call them portable.
Indoor pellet stoves require electricity, but outdoor ones don’t. However, other pellet stove issues might apply such as the need to clean the chimney, an odor may be detected at the start up and moisture may affect pellets when not in use.
Confirm chimney clearance and height requirements; an outdoor pellet stove may not be appropriate for covered areas.
Brands: Tyson Traeger, Timber, Q Stoves
Keep the outdoor space warm year-round with a precast fireplace or heater.
>BBQGuys has a winter sale on electric fireplaces, fire pits, grills, outdoor kitchen appliances and lighting.
>Patio heaters are on sale at Amazon, Frontgate, Home Depot and Wayfair
>Solo stove has a smokeless portable fire pit called Bonfire on back order.
>Riverbend Home has Westinghouse and other patios heaters
>Sylvane has Westinghouse and other patio heaters
>Wayfair has a bioethanol outdoor tabletop fireplace
>Build.com has a variety of outdoor fire options
>Houzz has fireplaces fueled by ethanol
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072