Outdoor heaters: Energy efficiency, specs, and price compared

Anula Wiwatowska
May 23, 2024
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Want to keep the indoor/outdoor lifestyle in spite of the cold? An outdoor heater is a neccessity this winter. The two most common options are gas patio heaters, or outdoor electric strip heaters, and there are plenty of affordable options for both.

Which one will work best for you will depend on you space, budget, and outdoor set up. In this guide we take a look at some outdoor heaters from major brands and how much they cost to run.

Outdoor heaters compared

Whether you're looking for a gas or electric heater, there are a bunch of affordable options out there.
Brand
Heater type
Power usage
Price range
Rating
Retailers
Mimosa Lava Matte Black Outdoor Gas Patio HeaterLPG gas38.5MJ/h
$189
3.3 out of 5 stars
3.25
Enders 76cm Sliver Fancy Patio HeaterLPG gas28MJ/h
$189
3.3 out of 5 stars
3.25
Mimosa Stainless Steel Outdoor Area Gas HeaterLPG gas37.7MJ/h
$229
3 out of 5 stars
3
Mimosa Matte Black Outdoor Area Gas HeaterLPG gas37.7MJ/h
$229
3 out of 5 stars
3
Arlec 2400w black instant infrared heaterElectric2400W
$199
2.8 out of 5 stars
2.75
Arlec 400W Black 360° Table HeaterElectric400W
$42
2.5 out of 5 stars
2.5
Jumbuck 2000W Black Wall Mount Radiant Patio HeaterElectric2000W
$49
3 out of 5 stars
3

What to look for in an outdoor heater

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Specs to consider
  • Price
  • Heating efficiency
  • Ongoing running costs
  • Durability

There is plenty to consider when looking for an outdoor heater but the heating efficiency, running costs, and durability should be up there.

You'll need to consider how big of an outdoor space you want to warm up, and what you have to fight against while you do it. The higher the wattage for electric heaters the more heat they will emit, and it is similar for gas heaters although they are more tempramental (pun intended) depending on your climate zone. Open spaces won't retain heat very well, so if you've got a lot of airflow outdoors you may want to consider something at body height, rather than up above.

While we're thinking about the elements, you'll also want to think about how they may effect the heating unit. Stainless steel is the best option for outdoor use as it has excellent corrosive resistance, but this isn't a given in all outdoor products. Mild steel has been popping up (especially in matte black units), which uses carbon rather than chromium as its alloying element. Mild steel requires further coating to prevent rust, and is an all around softer metal, so it may not last as long in an outdoor environment.

For however long your heater does last you'll need to pay the upkeep on it, be that your electrical bill or the gas top ups. Take into consideration the price of gas (which has gone up as of late in Australia) vs the cost of electricity, and the hourly usage of both fuel sources. We'll break this down in more detail later on, but these days gas may not be as affordable as it once was.

Outdoor gas heaters

I'm sure we're all familiar with the mushroom outdoor gas heaters. We've all huddled around them at barbeques and pubs, so it is likely the first thing you think of when you're angling for an outdoor heater of your own.

These gas heaters utilise tanks of LPG or propane gas, although LPG is much more common in Australia. 8.5kg gas cylinders cost around $31.50 at a swap-and-go, or you'll pay $80 for a new cylinder and a fill. How long one of those cylinders will last you depends on the MJ/h usage rate of the heater, but we'll dive into that a bit more later.

Mimosa Lava Matte Black Outdoor Gas Patio Heater
Mimosa Lava Matte Black Outdoor Gas Patio Heater
3.3 out of 5 stars
3.25
RRP
$189
Features
  • Power usage: 38.5 MJ/h
  • Build: Mild steel
  • Safety: Tip-over and flame failure protect
  • The Lava Matte Black from Mimosa is your typical mushroom heater with a brushed, mild steel finish. This could see it wear worse than comparable stainless steel models over time, but while it lasts the coating is lovely.

    Covering up to 17m2, this gas heater uses 38.5 MJ/h of gas.

    Enders 73cm Silver fancy patio heater
    Enders 76cm Sliver Fancy Patio Heater
    3.3 out of 5 stars
    3.25
    RRP
    $189
    Features
  • Power usage: 28MJ/h
  • Build: Stainless steel
  • Safety: Tip-over protect
  • Similar to the Mimosa, the Enders patio heater is that usual mushroom shape but this one is a bit different. Equipped with a retractable neck this one can come down to chest height as well.

    Although Enders doesn't provide coverage data, we know that it uses 28 MJ/h, so likely covers a smaller space than the Mimosa Lava.

    Mimosa Stainless Steel Outdoor Area Heater
    Features
  • Power usage: 37.7MJ/h
  • Build: Stainless steel or mild steel for matte black
  • Safety: Tip-over and flame failure protect
  • The other typical gas heater pedestal shape, this heater is just that little bit more expensive than the previous ones but doesn't offer much more. It does however utilise a little bit less gas than the Mimosa Lava so you should be able to erk a bit more time out of a gas bottle.

    Note that this model comes in stainless steel or a matte black finish which is mild steel. 

    How much does it cost to run an outdoor heater?

    And are gas heaters energy efficient?

    The cost of running an outdoor heater will vary depending on the type of heater, energy and gas pricing, and its hourly usage. Typically we have considered gas heaters to be cheaper, but with gas prices on the rise this may not be the case in many temperate zones.

    We measure gas in megajoules per hour (MJ/h), but outdoor gas heaters use LPG which you can pick up in 4kg or 8.5kg cylinders. According to ELGAS, 1 litre of LPG is equivelant to around 25MJ, and an 8.5kg tank holds around 17 litres of gas, so we get around 417MJ per cylinder. Assuming you go with the big lad. From here we can use a simple equation to see how long a gas cylinder would last you, and extrapolate that out based on the swap-and-go pricing of around $31.50 per cylinder.

    Gas heater
    8.5kg cylinder lifespan in hours = 417/MJ/h usage

    Electric heaters are a bit more straight forward as they're attached to your electricity bill. To calculate the approximate cost of running one of these heaters you'll need to know your kWh energy price, and the wattage of the device. Simply multiply your kWh cost by the amount of kilowatts the device uses.

    Across Australia in the previous financial year, the average cost per megawatt hour was $139 or about $0.14 kWh, which means that running a 2000W heater will cost $0.28 per hour.

    Here are how much outdoor heaters will cost to run per hour, based on these averages.

    Heater
    Power range
    Cost per hour
    Mimosa Lava Matte Black Outdoor Gas Patio Heater38.5 MJ/h$2.91
    Enders 73cm Silver fancy paito heater28 MJ/h$2.12
    Mimosa Matte Black Outdoor Area Gas Heater37.7 MJ/h$2.85
    Arlec 2400w black instant infrared heater240W - 2400W$0.03 - $0.34
    Arlec 400W Black 360° Table Heater400W$0.06
    Jumbuck 2000W Black Wall Mount Radiant Patio Heater650W - 2000W$0.09 - $0.28

    Outdoor electric heaters

    Outdoor electric heaters work exactly the same as portable indoor heaters do. Just plug in and play. For the most part outdoor heaters use radiant heater rather than fan or convection, simply because you need that heat to hit as soon as possible, and it needs to cut through the elements.

    While some of these patio heaters may be freestanding, or table heaters, the most common are outdoor strip heaters. As you may have guessed they look like stripes, and generally can be wall or ceiling mounted.

    Bunnings: Arlec 400W Black 360 Table Heater
    Features
  • Power source: 400W
  • Heat settings: 3
  • Safety: Tip-over and overheat protect
  • The Arlec Table Heater is a small device designed to emit warmth around a table. Even though the small wattage means it will be cheap to run, it may not have enough power to properly warm anyone while outside.

    Still if you're looking for a cheap heater, this could possibly tick the box.

    Bunnings: Jumbuck 2000W Black Wall Mount Radiant Patio Heater
    Features
  • Power source: 650W - 2000W
  • Heat settings: 3
  • Safety: Overheat protect
  • You've probably seen this Jumbuck heater, or a similar one around. It is a bargain at $49, with 3 heat settings ranging from 650W - 2000W. Likely you'll want to use the higher heat setting most of the time, but the option to put it down to conserve power is always nice.

    Equipped with splash water protect, this heater can be used outdoors provided the area is somewhat sheltered.

    Bunnings: Arlec 2400W black instant infrared heater
    Features
  • Power source: 240W - 2400W
  • Heat settings: 4
  • Safety: Overheat protect
  • Although the Arlec strip heater is more expensive, it is also more advanced. With a wide range of heat settings, safety features like child lock, a motion sensor, and a remote to control it all the extra money could very well be worth it.

    Certified to IP65 water resistance, it is suitable for outdoor use provided it is under cover.

    How we review heaters (and give them that star rating)

    We use standardised testing across every product we review to ensure we're giving you the best recommendations possible. Our team designs these tests uniquely to the product category, taking into account the most important factors for consumers.

    When we review heaters there are four main considerations;

    • Price: What is the value proposition? Are you being asked to pay too much for too little? 
    • Power: Both the power it has, and the power it uses.
    • User experience: What is it like to set up and actually use this heater as a person, not just as numbers on a screen.
    • Additional features: Are all the safety features there? Is there a remote or a timer that you can use so you don't have to get out from under a warm blanket?

    Of these we weigh power as the most important. According to the Australian government heating and cooling accounts for 20-50% of energy usage in our homes, so it is one of the most power-hungry decisions you're going to make. After that, price and features tie for second, but we do prioritise safety features over any other fun tidbits the heater may have.

    Finally we look at the user experience. If we haven't had a chance to get our hands on a product yet we will ommit the user experience from the score, but don't worry it won't weigh down the rating.

    Anula Wiwatowska
    Written by
    Anula Wiwatowska
    Anula is the Content and Social Media Editor within the Reviews.org extended universe. Working in the tech space since 2020, she covers phone and internet plans, gadgets, smart devices, and the intersection of technology and culture. Anula was a finalist for Best Feature Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards, and an eight time finalist across categories at the IT Journalism Awards. Her work contributed to WhistleOut's Best Consumer Coverage win in 2023.

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