Fire Pits vs. Patio Heaters: Which is Best For Your Outdoor Space?
Ideas and Advice

Fire Pits vs. Patio Heaters: Which is Best For Your Outdoor Space?

When it comes to having outdoor heating all year long, fire pits and patio heaters are two options you can choose from. Both of these outdoor heater options are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and fuel options, so it's important to decide which one is right for your needs. Whether you choose an outdoor electric heater, a propane fire pit, a smokeless fire pit, or something else entirely, the experts at Appliances Connection have compiled this guide to help you make a choice between the styles of outdoor heater. No matter which one you choose, we hope that you will be able to keep the party in your backyard going all year long.

Fuel Type Differences

Fuel Type Differences

Both styles of heater have options that are fueled by natural gas or liquid propane, but when it comes to fuel sources, that's where the similarities between fire pits and patio heaters end. Fire pits can also be fueled by charcoal or wood, allowing you to operate them completely off the grid, if you like. Patio heaters can be powered by grid electricity instead, which may be handy if you have an outdoor power outlet available.

It's important to note that there is no single "perfect" fuel source for outdoor heating. You will have to consider the fuel types you have access to in your home, as well as what is available where you want to place your heat source.

Heating Styles

Heating Styles

Both patio heaters and fire pits work by dissipating heat across a wide area, but there are some key differences in how they do that. All fire pits work by generating a flame. The exact fuel source can vary based on your preference (as we've discussed already), but they all feature an open flame that is used to directly heat the air around the fire pit.

On the other hand, many patio heaters use an infrared heating option instead. These can be much more efficient and targeted than open flames, since they transmit heat purely through infrared radiation. Infrared patio heaters work by using a fuel source (either grid electricity, natural gas, or liquid propane) to directly generate infrared heat. This cuts out the middle stage of heat generation, allowing you to warm up your patio in seconds rather than minutes. One of our favorite patio heaters is this one by Bromic Heating. It has an easy installation process, an ultra durable design, and provides up to 6,000W of infrared heat.

Size, Shape, and Material Differences

Size, Shape, and Material Differences

When it comes to the size, shape, and material of your patio heating, there are a lot of differences between your various options. Fire pits are meant to be the focal point of a patio or yard, and they're usually either round or rectangular in order to allow more people to sit around them. If you choose to get one that is fueled by liquid propane, it will generally be large enough to hold the propane tank, as well. This can mean increased seating space in your yard (and in some cases, greater table surface), but it also limits the height of the appliance. Meanwhile, fire pits can be found in a huge variety of materials to suit any decor, from aluminum to stainless steel to stucco to granite.

On the other hand, patio heaters tend to be either long or tall, since they depend on having a large surface area with which they can generate heat. Most patio heaters are fairly slender, so they can be discreetly placed without taking up a lot of space. When it comes to materials, you have fewer options with patio heaters. Because of their small profiles, they have to be built to withstand the intense heat they generate. This generally means you have a mixture of metal and plastic.

Installation Options

Installation Options

When it comes to installation options, you don't need to perform an extensive remodel of your backyard to get the benefits of either a fire pit or an infrared patio heater.

Fire pits are generally freestanding, allowing you to install them nearly anywhere. (Of course, you should avoid placing a fire pit too close to structures, trees, shrubs, or other flammable materials.) Much of the time, fire pit placement depends on the type of fuel you plan on using: while wood, propane, and charcoal burning fire pits can be placed nearly anywhere, you will need a gas hookup in order to connect a gas fueled fire pit. The other effect of fire pits' flexible installation is that many of them are portable and allow you to move them from place to place in your backyard.

Patio heaters, on the other hand, have an entirely different set of installation options. Because many of them use infrared heating, you can find a nearly limitless number of configurations. This includes patio heaters that can be installed on walls or ceilings, as well as smaller, more portable freestanding and tabletop units.

Cooking Application

Cooking Application

If you want an appliance that combines outdoor heating with the ability to cook food, fire pits reign supreme. The large-scale heating capabilities and infrared radiation of patio heaters make them ill-suited to making s'mores or grilling hot dogs. Many fire pits, however, can be converted for use as grills. This pit from Fire Sense is one of our favorites: not only does it come with a non-stick cooking grill, but with a wooden tabletop so that you can convert it into a table if you want. It even has an internal fire cage which protects the black powder finish for years to come.

Residential vs. Commercial Application

Residential vs. Commercial Application

While fire pits and patio heaters serve similar purposes, their actual use cases can vary. Fire pits may be an ideal option in many cases, but impractical for others. One of the primary considerations when deciding between a patio heater and a fire pit is the scale of their operation.

A fire pit is great if you want to heat a small area, or if you're looking for a cozier, more intimate feel for your backyard gatherings. They may not be a practical choice in larger, more commercial settings, however: the more fire pits you have, the less floor space is available, and the greater the risk of an out-of-control fire becomes. In these larger applications, patio heaters provide safer, more even heating while maximizing the amount of floor space you have available.

Related Questions

Can you use a fire pit in the winter?

Yes, you can use a fire pit during the winter months. In fact, a fire pit is a good way to add warmth to your backyard year-round. Many fire pits also come with added safety features, meaning that they will automatically turn off if they are tipped or get to too high a temperature.

Which is better, propane or electric patio heaters?

The best kind of patio heater depends on your specific needs. Electric patio heaters tend to be better for the environment, and they require less ventilation. Propane patio heaters, on the other hand, tend to come with a lower cost to run. Focus on the kind of power you have access to.

What are the dos and don'ts of a fire pit?

Always install your fire pit a safe distance away from your home, and never place it directly under trees or shrubs. Do keep your fire pit clean and well maintained, and always check the weather report before you run it. For information and tips check out this post.