Propane table heaters are the most portable type of patio heater, and the least expensive. Most use 1- or 2-pound disposable propane cylinders. Some tabletop patio heaters also let you use a hose (an optional extra) to connect to a larger refillable propane or LP gas tank for better economy. Maximum heat for most is 9,000 to 11,000 BTUs an hour, and they have about as much warming effect as one of the 1,500-watt electric patio heaters discussed earlier. Most table patio heaters use a dome to radiate heat in all directions. They're rated for warming an area about 8 feet to 10 feet in diameter.
The table patio heater most often recommended in reviews is the stainless-steel Endless Summer 92000 (*Est. $125), easy to recognize by its hexagonal base. Endless Summer is one of the brands made in China by Blue Rhino, and the same patio heater is sometimes sold as the Uniflame or Uniflame Endless Summer. The heat output is adjustable from 7,000 to 11,000 BTUs an hour, and it uses a 1-pound propane cylinder. You can also use a hose to fuel it from a 20-pound refillable cylinder -- more cost-effective in the long run if you use the heater a lot. It has a push-button Piezo ignition and a stainless-steel burner, which experts recommend. The Endless Summer tabletop heater shuts off automatically if the flame blows out or if the heater tilts too much. It has a low-oxygen sensor as well, another good safety feature.
Similar Endless Summer and Uniflame table patio heaters have round bases instead of hexagonal, and come in various finishes. For example, the Endless Summer GWT501A (*Est. $150) has an antique copper finish and can also use either a disposable cylinder or refillable tank. The Charmglow 82300 (*Est. $120) sold at Home Depot is a similar Blue Rhino model that can use either fuel source. Not every model that looks similar can be connected to a 20-pound tank; be sure to check before buying.
As a budget pick, the Coral Coast Deluxe Cast Iron (*est. $70) gets high ratings from owners reviewing it at Buzzillions.com, a review site that doesn't sell patio heaters directly. The base is rustproof aluminum painted green-black to look a bit like antique cast iron. You can't hook it to a refillable cylinder. Another tradeoff for the low price is the lower maximum heat output of only 10,000 BTUs. At the other extreme, paying more for a table patio heater doesn't necessarily bring you a better product. In fact, the editors' review of the Patio Comfort PC-TT (*Est. $140) at Patio-Heater-Direct.com notes that its design makes it inconvenient to change cylinders.
Standing gas patio heaters produce more heat than electric or gas-fueled table models. The average standing patio heater is rated at 40,000 BTUs an hour at maximum setting, but some can produce 45,000 BTUs or more. The heaters are 6 or 7 feet tall, topped by mushroom-like domes that direct heat downward in a 360-degree radius. The 20-pound tank at the base is hidden, either by a skirt or more typically, by a metal cylindrical base. A 40,000 BTU an hour patio heater can radiate heat over a circle about 18 to 20 feet in diameter. They come in three basic types -- portable, free-standing and fixed. They're also available at two construction levels: residential and commercial.
If you don't think you'll use a patio heater more than the average homeowner -- about 26 hours a year (three hours a week for about two months of the year) -- then a residential patio heater should be fine. It will last longer if you buy a cover for it (*est. $40) and disassemble the heater between seasons to store indoors.
Four standing patio heaters get the most recommendations in reviews The 40,000-BTU Schaefer Zubri Z1-12 Portable Patio Heater (*Est. $500) is designed for taking to tailgate parties or other venues beyond your patio. It weighs 41 pounds, assembles and disassembles in about five minutes without any tools, and comes with a hard carrying case. (You also have to cart around the 20-pound tank it uses.)
Even though the Schaefer Zubri is a lightweight ultraportable patio heater, its reflector is extra large (34 inches in diameter) so the heater spreads the warmth very well, important not only for warming a crowd but for minimizing hot spots.
The commercial-level Schaefer Classic Propane Patio Heater (*Est. $465) produces more heat than most -- 45,000 BTUs an hour at maximum setting. It weighs 48 pounds and isn't ultraportable like the Zubri, but it does come with a wheel kit. It's an Editor's Choice (and top seller) at Patio-Heater-Direct.com. Another retailer, BackyardCity.com, says Schaefer is their top-quality brand. The body and burner are stainless steel, and the pole telescopes for adjustable height. Its reflector measures 32 inches in diameter.
The less expensive Endless Summer 233000 Commercial Outdoor Patio Heater (*Est. $330) is also made of stainless steel at a commercial level, but has a lower maximum heat output of 40,000 BTUs. Just as important, the Endless Summer 233000's reflector is much smaller -- only 26.5 inches in diameter. Editors at one online retailer, PatioExperts.com, say this size reflector is apt to decrease the radius of effective warmth by a foot or two in each direction -- important if you plan to use a patio heater for large gatherings.
The two owners reviewing it at Patio-Heater-Direct.com give it perfect ratings, but note that the screws aren't stainless so they can rust. A full 20-pound tank lasts only about 10 hours when the heater runs at maximum. The similar Endless Summer 233010 runs on natural gas.
The budget-priced Garden Sun Outdoor Propane Patio Heater (*Est. $175) is a residential model but comes with a larger 31.9-inch reflector to spread the warmth further, and it has a higher maximum heat output of 41,000 BTUs. This model isn't an Editor's Choice at Patio-Heater-Direct.com, but it gets high ratings from the owners reviewing it there. It weighs just 46 pounds so it's easy to move with or without wheels, and it can accommodate either a 20- or 30-gallon propane tank. The build isn't as sturdy as that of a commercial-grade patio heater, and the base is plain steel. However, the burner is stainless steel. Owners say the heater is easy to assemble and works fine, but one complains about a faulty push-button igniter.
Editors at PatioExperts.com note that residential patio heaters use poles that are 2.5 inches in diameter rather than the sturdier 3-inch poles used on commercial models. Bases are plain steel rather than stainless, so finishes can eventually wear down and allow rust.
Sunglo makes commercial patio heaters in the U.S. Retailers note that repair parts are readily available and that construction quality is excellent. The direct-spark ignition system is an upgrade from the more common Piezo lighter. (We read quite a few complaints from owners of other brands regarding faulty Piezo igniters.)
The Sunglo Stainless Steel Portable LP Patio Heater A70 (*est. $1,220) has a 34.5-inch reflector and gets a perfect rating from the sole owner reviewing it at Patio-Heater-Direct.com. The A70 model costs a bit less in powder-coated steel (*est. $1,040). Price is the main drawback for both versions, but another is that the heat output isn't adjustable, set only at the maximum of 40,000 BTUs. This may not be as big a drawback as it looks, however, since we never ran across complaints from patio-heater owners about too much warmth -- only about too little.