How Long Do Patio Heaters Last?

When you're using a propane tank on your patio heater, it's natural for you to be concerned about how long it'll last before you would need to refill your tank, or else you won't have a power supply for your heater. That's what we will talk about today. We've done the research and calculation to help you make the necessary preparations regarding your propane patio heater.

A 20-lb propane tank will be able to power a patio heater for 7.57 hours to 37.8 hours, depending on the BTU capacity of the heater and the propane's burning efficiency. The higher the heater's BTU heating output, the shorter power hours can be provided by the propane tank. But you can get a bigger propane tank to power your heater for a longer period of time. 

Keep on reading so we can explain further how we came up with this figure and how you can apply it to your own heater's power consumption. We'll also answer why patio heaters stop working, how close they can be to your patio's ceiling, and if they can be left outside when the weather is really bad. Let's get started!

Design stainless steel metal gas burning indoor patio heater with blurred enteriour background, How Long Do Patio Heaters Last?

How long will a patio heater last?

Patio area with table, chairs and heater on walkout deck overlooking scenic view

The patio is a great way to extend your living space. You can use it for relaxing, entertaining friends, and enjoying a taste of the outdoors while having a shade over your head. But what about during cold weather? Should you stop having fun on your patio when it's too chilly outside? Well, that's what patio heaters are for!

Although there are different kinds of patio heaters, propane-powered patio heaters are the most commonly used type of all. They are very efficient in heating the patio area and can do so quietly.

Best of all, they are economical to use because propane is very affordable. However, unlike electric patio heaters, you need to be mindful of the amount of propane that you have in your tank, otherwise you won't be able to power your heater.

Since 20-lb propane tanks are the ones ordinarily used for patio heaters, let's start our calculations from here. Our figures will be influenced by two factors: the heater's BTU capacity and propane's burning efficiency.

  • Small patio heaters usually consume 10,000 BTU per hour, while large ones have an hourly heating output of 50,000 BTU. The higher the BTU capacity, the faster the heater will consume the content of the propane tank.
  • Propane patio heaters have different burning efficiencies. It usually ranges from 80% to 95%. This is the amount of propane that's burned. As we can see, it doesn't burn all of the propane inside the tank, so it would be wrong to base our computation on a full tank.

For our calculation, we will start with a patio heater that generates 10,000 BTU heating output and uses a 20-lb propane tank with a 90% burning efficiency.

One gallon of propane can power 91,452 BTU. This is according to the US Energy Information Administration. A 20-lb tanks hold 4.6 gallons of propane. This means a full tank will give us 420,679 BTU. But since the burning efficiency is only 90%, this will go down to 378,611 BTU.

So, if you have a small patio heater that consumes 10,000 BTU per hour, your 20-lb propane tank will be able to power it for 37.8 hours. But for a large heater with a consumption of 50,000 BTU, the propane tank will only last 7.57 hours.

But since propane tanks are available in different sizes, you can get a bigger one depending on your heating needs. The bigger the tank's capacity to hold propane, the longer it'll be able to power your patio heater.

Why do patio heaters stop working?

Design stainless steel metal gas burning indoor patio heater

There are many possible reasons why your patio heater would stop working. You would need to check the different components of your heater to determine the problem.

First of all, check the propane tank's gas valve if it is on. Someone might have just turned it off, in which case you just need to turn it on again.

Next, see if your tank still has propane in it. If it is considerably lighter, it's time to have your tank refilled.

Then, check if any of the connections are loose. Inspect the regulator, gas hose, and other fittings. Make sure everything is connected properly, straighten the hose, and check for leaks.

If you've already checked these and your patio heater still won't work, here are the most common issues that you can look into:

Distance of the pilot light flame from the thermocouple

Design stainless steel metal gas burning indoor patio heater with blurred enteriour background

When the pilot light flame is separated from the thermocouple, the thermocouple won't receive the signal from the pilot light to turn on the heater.

You just need to gently squeeze these two components together by using a pair of pliers. Take off the heater's top and front control panels to be able to access the pilot light and thermocouple.

Carbon buildup in the thermocouple

As propane burns, it leaves some carbon residue. This can buildup and coat the heater's thermocouple preventing it from functioning properly. You can use sandpaper and rub it lightly on the surface to get rid of the carbon buildup.

Blocked gas valve orifice

Your heater won't turn on if there is a blockage on the gas valve orifice. This can be due to corrosion. See if you can have it cleaned, or it might be time to have it replaced already.

Clogged up burner and reflector

Check if the burner assembly is clogged due to carbon buildup. Clean the burner, emitter screen, and reflector to remove the carbon and get rid of the clogs.

Worn-out ignitors

The ignitors will deteriorate over time and start to fail. To check if your ignitor is the problem, try using a match or lighter to start your patio heater. If the heater starts, it means you need to replace your ignitor.

Air in the gas lines

When there's air in the gas lines, propane would not pass through and get to the heater head unit. You would need to purge the air out of the gas line. To do this, open the gas line on the propane tank, then press the control knob for about two to three minutes. Give time for the gas to clear before attempting to start the heater.

If you're not comfortable checking the heater's components by yourself, it's best to have a technician take a look at it to resolve the issue.

How close can a patio heater be to the ceiling?

Outdoor Heater at Upscale Tampa, FL Bar and Grill

Some homeowners have second thoughts about getting propane patio heaters because they think they cannot be used for covered patios.

Experts say that these are safe to use for covered areas as long as adequate clearance is provided on all sides. This means you have to allocate two feet on each side of the unit and three feet from the ceiling. Make sure you keep it away from flammable materials and maintain a safe distance from people and pets.

This is just a precautionary safety measure. Don't worry because the top of the heater won't get too hot and won't burn your patio's ceiling. It'll only get warm because it is protected by a metal casing that retains the heat.

The three-foot distance from the ceiling is needed to allow sufficient airflow. When there's proper air circulation, heat is distributed efficiently throughout the area, and it reduces the risk of overheating.

It's best to check the manufacturer's instructions regarding the placement of the patio heaters to be on the safe side. Have your patio heaters checked every year to be sure that they are still safe to use.

Can patio heaters be left outside?

A closeup selective focus shot of an outdoor heater

Patio heaters are generally outdoor appliances. This means that they have been designed to withstand the impact of various environmental conditions.

But of course, they will still benefit when you take the necessary precautions to protect them from extreme weather. Too much exposure to harsh weather can hasten their deterioration and can even damage them.

More so when you have an electric heater. We all know that water and electricity do not go together. You can put a cover over your outdoor heater to protect it from the rain, snow, and heat. Since it is portable, you can also move it to a safe place, especially when bad weather is expected.

Check out this patio heater cover on Amazon.

When you do these things, you help extend the lifespan of your patio heater.

Final Thoughts

Gas burners for outdoor cafes

To summarize, the bigger the propane tank's capacity, the longer it can provide power to your patio heater. But the higher the BTU output of your heater, the faster it can consume the content of your propane tank.

You may also visit the following posts for some related reading:

Patio Heater Propane Tank Freezing—What To Do?

10 Best Heaters For A Screened Porch


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