• Martina Losi

Let's talk about outdoor heaters!


Thinking about buying a patio heater? Wondering if and how you can make a sustainable choice? We’ve collected some information on different types of patio heaters so you can get to know your planet-friendly options.


As lockdown measures endure in many countries, meeting outside has generally been considered safer. Gardens, patios, and terraces have become our new outdoor living rooms. But if you live in a country blessed with cold and stubborn winters, a big jacket might no longer cut it...


Two solutions for this problem already exist. The first one is obvious and the second one is perhaps a bit odd. The obvious one can be summarised in the words of Philip Sellwood, former Chief Executive of the independent organisation Energy Saving Trust, back in 2007: “Wear a jumper”. Wise advice and a simple solution. The second one was provided by the market a few decades ago: ‘Patio heaters’.


In the midst of the pandemic, sales of patio heaters soared, and are expected to grow further in 2021. Let’s face it: after months of isolation, patio heaters can be a life-saver when it comes to safely receive hosts in a chilly garden or enjoying a meal outside in a restaurant. Add in the fact that basic models are inexpensive, the temptation can be strong. But for many of us, the use of patio heaters comes with a pinch of guilt…


How bad are patio heaters for the environment?


Let’s start with the basics. Outdoor heaters are fuelled by either electricity or gas. Generally, an electric heater will emit less CO2 than a gas-powered one, and here is why.


Gas-powered heaters produce heat by burning fossil fuels (gases like LPG, propane, butane, or natural gas). When the gas burns, it produces CO2 and other air pollutants. Instead, electric heaters are plugged into a power supply and don’t emit CO2 directly.


Aside from how these two types of heaters are powered, there is an additional consideration of efficiency. *Prepare for a little science class* … Gas-powered heaters mainly use convection heating to warm the air around them, whereas electric heaters often use only infrared radiation to warm objects without heating the air around them too. (That’s why gas-powered heaters don’t work so well in the wind!) As you can imagine, a great deal of energy is wasted trying to warm up the air, as opposed to the people trying to keep warm!


Does that mean that electric heaters don’t emit any CO2 at all? Only if they are powered with 100% renewable energy. You could look into adding your own solar panels at home, signing up for a renewable energy tariff, or living in Paraguay or Iceland, countries where electricity is mostly produced by renewable sources.


What’s the carbon footprint of a patio heater?


Let’s get to the numbers now… what is the carbon footprint of a gas-powered outdoor heater? We did some maths and found that a basic propane patio heater set at 3,000W will generate around 42kg of CO2 to warm a 9 square metre patio for 8 hours each evening for a week. This is the equivalent of 104 miles driven in an average US car. (Depending on the type of gas being used (propane, emitting 5.76 kg of CO2 per gallon), and also on the power and the amount of gas used).


Instead, to warm up the same area in the UK, an average electric patio heater working at 2,000W will emit about 23kg of CO2 for 8 hours each evening to warm a 9 square metre patio for a week. Almost half the emission of a gas patio heater at similar settings. Bear in mind that this figure will vary depending on the amounts of renewable energy within the main grid of a county.


So, when a jumper is not enough, if you do need some extra warming help, hopefully, this article has provided some simple insights into which type of patio heater to look into. What do you think? Have you come across any planet-friendly outdoor heating options? Join the conversations via our Instagram channel, or say hi to the team at hello@thecapture.club


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