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Understanding Fuel Sources for Patio Heaters and Outdoor Fireplaces

Wood burning fire pit adds warmth and light to this outside patioIf you're just beginning your research into purchasing a patio heater or outdoor fireplace, think about the best fuel source for your needs.

Efficiency, cost to operate, and safety are a few of the factors to consider.

Natural gas, propane, solid fuel, and electricity are the most common fuel sources for outdoor heating.

Natural gas:

Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all the fossil fuels and considered to be quite safe. It will only burn if it is in concentration of 4 to 15% per volume of air and can only ignite at a very high temperature (1100 degrees Fahrenheit), which makes accidental ignition or combustion unlikely.

It is ideal for permanent installations of outdoor heating and grilling appliances because natural gas lines must be run by a certified gas fitter.


Propane is an odorless gas that is intentionally given the smell of rotten eggs to alert you when propane is present. Unlike natural gas, propane is heavier than air so it collects at the bottom of storage containers if leaked.

It can also ignite easily if near a heat source. It is convenient because it is readily available as a bottled fuel that can be attached to a patio heater or fireplace and moved around easily.

Solid Fuel:

Wood, charcoal, briquettes, pressed logs are all examples of solid fuel. These are the traditional fuels for campfires, fire pits and fireplaces. While the heat from these sources is quite often the best, safety can be a concern especially if the household has small children.

Obviously, solid fuel fires can not be turned on and off with the flick of a switch.

Infrared (electromagnetic wave energy):

Infrared is relatively new way to warm you up as you sit outside. It is also a very safe way of heating outdoor spaces. Electricity running through coils generates radiant energy that transfers to heat.


For information on this topic, please read this article on types of outdoor fireplaces.

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