Electric Patio Heater vs Propane Patio Heater | How to Choose

Patio heaters are a great way to keep you (and party guests) warm when you’re hanging out outdoors. But what’s better, electric patio heater vs propane patio heater? We’ve put this guide together to help you choose.

When the temperature drops it can completely ruin the vibe out on the patio or deck. You might not be able to enjoy the outdoors as much as you’d like, and if it cools off in the evening it could mean an early end to a party.

Having a patio heater ready to go will help you enjoy your time outside more often, and longer into the evening. It’s also great for getting outside during the spring and fall when weather can be unpredictable, but still nice enough to be out.

If you’re hosting a larger outdoor event, especially a wedding, then it’s essential to offer some kind of heat source. Even if you expect it to stay warm into the evening, everyone feels the cold differently and you want to make sure all your guests are comfortable.

How to Choose Between an Electric or Propane Patio Heater

Both electric and propane patio heaters solve these problems, but they each have their own pros and cons too. Here’s some things to consider when making your choice.

Heat Output

Heat output matters anytime you’re buying a heater. The tricky part when comparing electric vs propane patio heaters is how they measure heat output.

For propane heaters, heat is often measured in BTUs. Portable electric heaters, on the other hand, are measured in watts. You can use this calculator to easily convert the two

A 50,000 BTU propane heater and a 1,500 watt electric heater will be very similar in heat output. 

Heat Direction

Both types of heaters are available in a single direction, but if you want something that can be accessed from all sides you’ll have better luck with a propane patio heater.

That’s because an electric heater uses infrared heat by heating up an element inside, and then radiates that heat. 

Space Size

Both electric and propane patio heaters do a great job of warming up smaller spaces, like an enclosed porch. They’re also perfect as warm-up spots for events where guests can stand over the heater for a few minutes to take the chill off.

Tabletop heaters are also comparable, especially when everyone is seated close together.

For larger spaces, propane heaters tend to give off more heat and come in higher BTU options. 

Editorial image for Electric Patio Heater vs Propane Patio showing a propane patio heater

Installation Location

Electric heaters need to be plugged in in order to operate. That means that you have to position them somewhere where the cord can reach, and you’ll need outdoor power available.

You should never use an extension cord with a portable heater, so this can be limiting when it comes to set up locations.

Propane heaters, on the other hand, only need a propane tank as their fuel source. That means you can set them up almost anywhere.

We say almost because propane should always be used in open, well ventilated spaces. Electric heaters, on the other hand, can be used indoors.

Both propane and electric heaters are portable, although electric ones are typically lighter and easier to move around.

Warm Up Time

Propane heaters warm up faster, so they’re a bit better in cold temperatures. Both types of heater will work on cooler days, though.

Warm up time is probably the smallest concern when debating between an electric patio heater vs propane patio heater.

Number of Heaters Required

A lot of people don’t realise the strain that an electric heater can put on your home’s electrical system. In many cases, it’s not a good idea to run multiple heaters at the same time. Especially if they’re on the same circuit, which is likely with your outdoor plugs.

Overloading might cause the breaker to trip, or worse, damage your heater or electrical system. Unless you know for sure, it’s best to stay cautious here.

Of course, with propane you can run as many heaters as you have propane tanks, so they’re a good choice for larger spaces.

Ease of Set Up/Use

Electric heaters are just plug in and go, while propane heaters will need a propane tank to be purchased and installed. For some people that could be inconvenient and affect their enjoyment.

Propane also has an extra hassle of filling the tank, which if you don’t have a backup can really put a damper on the night if your fuel runs out.

Finally, there are also overhang or wall mounted electric heaters that can be fixed in place. Once they’re set up you won’t need to do anything else besides turn it on, which is convenient. 

Editorial image for Electric Patio Heater vs Propane Patio showing an electric patio heater

Fuel Costs

This will vary depending on your area and how energy efficient your patio heater is. In some places, it’s cheaper to use electricity than it is to fill a propane tank. In other areas, electricity is more expensive. 

If the cost to run it matters you’ll have to do the math based on usage and costs in your area.

Heater Cost

Generally speaking, electric patio heaters are less expensive than propane ones. Especially if you factor in the cost of a propane tank.

On the other hand, propane heaters tend to be more stylish and look better on the patio. They also have more features and options out there (eg: built into tables, tall heaters, flame, etc), too.

You can get those features with electric patio heaters as well, but overall they look nicer on the propane ones because of how the electric element looks.


Most of the time electric patio heaters are the safer option. You can find models that are cool to the touch, meaning no risk of burns – perfect for little kids and pets.

Propane is generally hazardous on its own, including being flammable if the tank is left open. 

Electric Patio Heater vs Propane Patio Heater – Conclusion

There are quite a few things to consider when choosing between an electric patio heater vs propane patio heater, but in the end both are good options.

If you’re looking for something that can be set up anywhere in the yard or that heats large areas, go with propane. For smaller spaces or a permanent heat source (eg. over your outdoor kitchen), electric is probably best. 

Just make sure you keep in mind how much it will cost to run each, and what your upfront costs and set up look like before making that final decision. 


Everett hates writing bios but loves writing other things. He's really into geek culture, travelling, and books. When not raising 5 kids, you'll probably find him blogging over at thebestnest.co or wasting way too much time on Twitter (@EvvyWrites).