For those of us lucky enough to have them, our gardens were a lifesaver in lockdown. Mine served a welcome escape from my home office, an exercise space and, once restrictions eased, the venue for all our socialising. Now, I usually love autumn, but this year I’m less than thrilled at the implications of its cooler temperatures. I’m still a little wary at the prospect of meeting friends and family in a pub or restaurant. In fact, the husband and I are only eating in cafe and restaurant marquees or outside.
I’m ever mindful that a second wave/lockdown #2 is possible. All of which means I’m super keen to continue my at-home al fresco entertaining for as long as possible. Of course, I’m still adhering to the #ruleofsix… However, I do realise that hypothermia and hors d’oeuvres are not an ideal combination! So, this week I’ve been on a mission to find an outdoor heater.
I’ve found there are four main types of outdoor heaters, all of which have their own pros and cons. Let’s face it…what’s best for one person won’t suit another. So, it’s important to take everything into account before taking the plunge with a pricy new purchase.
The gas outdoor heater
Now I’ve done my research, I’ve come to realise that no patio heater – except perhaps a blanket or a woolly jumper – is fully green. Gas heaters are very popular, but their eco credentials aren’t great. However, the good news is that they are better than they used to be! And they do have other advantages. Because they don’t require an electrical socket, you can place them exactly where they’re needed. So, you can move them around easily which is rather handy.
Gas outdoor heaters are also fairly robust, so you shouldn’t need to replace them too often. They can be expensive to run, but they’re reasonably affordable to buy. And while they take their time to heat up, the heat they do provide is wide-ranging. So I think this makes them a good option for larger areas. If this sounds like the best solution for you, just remember to stay stocked up on gas. Driving around trying to buy a new canister ten minutes before your guests arrive does not bode well for a stress-free gathering!
The electric outdoor heater
Arguably, it seems the easiest way to keep your garden warm and welcoming is with an electric heater. You simply plug in, flick the switch, and voilà: fast, efficient heat that you can aim exactly where it’s required. That’s because electric heaters are usually radiant or infrared heaters. This means they heat objects (or people!) directly. On the other hand, convection heaters circulate warm air that can be easily dispersed by a stiff breeze.
However, just remember you’ll need to sit near an electric model to get the full warmth of it. In fact, you and your guests will usually need to sit within 2-3 metres of this outdoor heater. So, where you site your heaters – and even how many you have – is key. If your outside entertaining space is large, do consider buying more than one, so that everyone stays snug. Nowadays, I’ve found there’s a huge range of different heater types available, including freestanding, hanging and even under table. In fact, a combination could well be the best solution for bigger gardens.
For maximum versatility, choose an electric model for an outdoor heater, that offers adjustable heat settings. The higher the kW of a heater, the more warmth it will generate. This will of course affect the amount of electricity you consume, too. If you’re keen to keep your utility bills under control, it’s worth knowing that a 1kW heater will consume 1kW of electricity per hour. Electricity prices vary, of course, but with the average UK price currently around 15p for 1kW, a 2kW heater should cost just 30p per hour to run.
The fire pit and chimnea
Fire pits have proved to be another popular outdoor heating option this year. They run on solid fuel options such as pellets or wood. Some can even double up as a traditional charcoal BBQ, allowing you to heat and eat at the same time.
While a fire pit is basically a freestanding open fireplace, there are hundreds of different sizes and shapes to choose from. They provide instant heat, and are great for creating a cosy alfresco ambiance. However, they can produce a lot of malodorous smoke, and they consume wood pretty quickly. Fire pits are also fairly needy in terms of maintenance, and can be dangerous if your guest list includes young children.
A chiminea is an outdoor heater, which might be considered to be a bit safer than traditional fire pits. This is because the flames move directly up and out of the stack. This means that the burn is more controlled, so errant sparks and out-of-control flames are less of a concern. Your guests won’t have to change seating to avoid the smoke if the wind direction changes, either.
Now I’ve always associated chimineas (which originated in Mexico) with clay. But I’ve discovered other materials are available, including cast iron, copper and stainless steel. Whichever you choose, you still need to sit fairly close to feel the full benefit of the heat. But they look pretty and can work well in small spaces. Remember, if you do choose a solid fuel option heater, make sure any wood you burn is untreated and unpainted. If not, you could be releasing (and inhaling) toxic chemicals.
The outdoor stove
Now an outdoor stove really appeals to me. In fact, I think I’ll return to this when we have our patio extended next year. One key thing to look for is a glass front to ensure you don’t get any smoke, ash or sparks on your terrace. I think these can really make a style statement in the right setting. They look good and I hear they perform well too, if you want to keep toasty in cooler months.
The finishing touches
Whichever outdoor heater you decide to buy, do try to incorporate it into the rest of your exterior décor. I always think of my garden as simply another room to dress. So, this means the right garden lighting is crucial, especially as the nights draw in. Combine soft, atmospheric lighting with spots that highlight pretty plants or other features. Statement candles and even cheap and cheerful tea light clusters can work wonders too.
Reducing wind will help to make your outdoor heaters more effective whichever type you choose. So consider adding a gazebo or awning – but make sure the material used is fire-resistant. Lastly, some soft blankets/throws, colourful cushions and pretty tableware should ensure your outdoor entertaining space stays cosy and comfortable throughout autumn and beyond.
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