Helping you plan your home improvement project, from start to finish

By on Dec 26, 2014
3 Ways To Warm Up Your Outdoor Events

As the seasons change, the temperature in your backyard can become uncomfortable for many a bundled up guests. In order to enjoy your outdoor living space year-round, there are a few ways to stay warm during the cold season. Due to the fact that you're heating an open area that is not enclosed, there is a special type of heat that you need to use. Time for a science lesson.

Infrared Radiant Heat vs Convection Heat

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What is Convection Heat?

Convection heat describes the transfer of heat by the circulation or movement of the heated parts of a liquid, or in this case, gas. In other words, the air is heated and this hot air is circulated throughout the room. Convection heat is unsuitable for outdoor use.

What is Infrared Radiant Heat?

Infrared radiant heat describes heat energy transmitted by electromagnetic waves in contrast to heat transmitted by conduction or convection. This occurs when a body with a higher temperature transfers heat to a body with a lower temperature through electromagnetic radiation. 

This means that heat is transferred to the object and not through the air. Radiant heaters transfer heat directly to objects and people meaning you must be in the direct line of sight to feel the effects. This is the same type of heat you feel from the sun's rays. Infrared/radiant heat is suitable for outdoor use. 

There are several types of infrared heaters that use different heating elements including metal wires, heat lamps (incandescent light bulbs), quartz and more. 

Why This is So Important

Heating an outdoor space requires radiant heating because traditional convection heat will dissipate into the surrounding air especially when the wind is blowing. Imagine your home's central heating system is routing hot air to your backyard. All the hot air would simply evaporate, proving to be highly ineffective. This is why it's important to use radiant heaters outdoors.

Wood-burning fires use a combination of convection heat and radiant heating. Gas fire pits with artificial logs will create more radiant heat than one without the logs. The flame itself is largely convection heating, but when the logs heat up, they produce radiant heat.

Lava Heat

1. Patio Heaters

Luxury patio heaters are seen in many commercial venues including restaurants, pubs bars, and seaside resorts. If you've ever been around a patio heater, you know that they work really well. Granted it's easy for heat to evaporate into the surrounding area, but that's why they work so well.

Patio heaters offer many benefits to homeowners and restaurateurs who are able to expand their patio season much to the approval of high-end clientele. Patio heaters produce no smoke and do not create any respiratory problems for those who dislike the smell of smoke.    

Heating Capacity

45,000 BTUs is pretty standard for outdoor patio heaters. Above 55,000 BTUs is High and below 35,000 is on the low end.

Cost Estimate

The cost of a patio heater depends on the size of the heater and BTU heating capacity.  You can expect to pay anywhere between $150-$600 for an outdoor patio heater with an average cost of $300.   

Fire Pit

2. Outdoor Fire Pits

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Adding a fire pit is one way to make your patio awesome. Outdoor fire pits radiate heat in a way that is not quite as efficient as a patio heater, but they do offer more visual enticement with the ambiance of natural lighting. An outdoor fire pit can serve as a central gathering point, which is something that a patio heater can’t do. For this reason, they are suitable for large events that encourage engagement and conversation.

While you can purchase large and small fire pits, you also have the option of building your own stone or brick outdoor fire pit. Portable carries a wide selection of outdoor fire pits including:

  • Tabletop Fire Pits
  • Wall Mounted Fire Pits
  • Hanging Fire Pits
  • Freestanding Fire Pits

Heating Capacity

Heating capacity varies depending on how large your fire is. For example, a 6-10" high flame will produce 50,000 BTUs with a glass bed set up. If you're using logs, you may want a taller flame at 18"-20" to make up for the loss of heat created by the divergence of the log. Large commercial fire pits are known to produce around 140,000 BTUs. This gives you a perspective on the range of heating capacity for an outdoor fire pit.  The same holds true for outdoor fireplaces.

Cost Estimate

The cost of an outdoor fire pit ranges between $100-$3,000 depending on size, materials, and key features.  It’s feasible to find a modern fire pit table for $500 while prices on more ornate designs can cost more. 

Outdoor Fireplace

3. Outdoor Fireplace

Outdoor fireplaces have a different dynamic than a patio heater or even an outdoor fire pit.  Outdoor fireplaces anchor your outdoor space whereas fire pits create a concentric seating area that facilitates social engagement. 

Outdoor fireplaces are suitable when you want to create an outdoor living area that is similar to your indoor living room or dining area. Typically designed to accommodate a smaller number of guests, an outdoor fireplace is suitable if you want to create a cozy, intimate and homey sense that is tailored towards close knit groups and even the occasional romantic dinner outdoors on the patio.    

Heating Capacity

Outdoor fireplaces produce 40,000-50,000 BTUs. Building a larger fire can increase this number, assuming that the firebox can accommodate. Outdoor fireplaces have the option of being powered by gas, ethanol biofuel (gel) or wood.

Cost Estimate

Outdoor fireplaces range between $300-$6,000 depending on whether you have it custom built by a mason or if you order a manufactured unit. Having an outdoor fireplace typically costs more due to the cost of labor. View an estimate at concrete and masonry costs.


There are plenty of ways to provide heat outside the home. All that’s left is determining which option is right for your home.

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