What We Like
Available in a range of colors
Produces a lot of heat
Uses standard propane tank
Easy to turn on and off
What We Don't Like
Too tall to use under structures less than 10 feet tall
Height is non-adjustable
Can rust if not covered
The Fire Sense brand has been making outdoor patio heaters since 1998, as part of the Well Traveled Living company, so they’ve got plenty of brand recognition and happy customers behind them. The fan-favorite Fire Sense Outdoor Patio Heater burns propane as fuel for the radiant heating element, and radiant heat warms objects directly. That means all the heat doesn’t dissipate into the air before it reaches you, and you’ll feel the warmth even when there’s a breeze. We gave the outdoor heater a try on our uncovered patio in Portland, Oregon, during a series of chilly late winter and early spring days, to see if it could effectively keep us warm even while sitting a few feet away.
Performance: Effective and easy to use
The Fire Sense Outdoor Patio Heater is as easy to use as a camp stove. With the Piezo ignition system, you just press a button to spark and start. A knob allows you to control the heat—dial down for lower heat, or dial up for a stronger blast. It uses a standard propane tank, just like you’d use for an outdoor grill. Depending on how high you run the heater, a full tank should provide eight to ten hours of heat.
With 46,000 BTUs of power, the heater really packs a punch. Sitting on an outdoor couch under the heater, the warmth radiating down was very toasty, like a sunbeam on a hot, sunny day. Even the seat farthest from the heater (about 7 feet away) could enjoy it, though it was less powerful. And at a seat 8 feet away, we could still feel the warmth, but only just enough to take the edge off the chill.
Sitting on an outdoor couch under the heater, the warmth radiating down was very toasty, like a sunbeam on a hot, sunny day.
It’s not as effective on cold, windy days, as the blowing air has a cooling effect. In fact, the manufacturer recommends not using it on days with winds above 10 miles per hour. But since it’s radiant heat, we could still feel the warmth reaching us, even on a breezy 45-degree night. And on still evenings, the heat radiates like an open oven door.
Design: Classic and sturdy
The Fire Sense Outdoor Patio Heater has the same classic look of outdoor heaters you find on restaurant patios. It has a sturdy cylindrical base, a long post, and a screened top where the flames reside. A metal disc on top, called a reflector, reflects the heat downward. Since the heat source is about 7 feet off the ground, the heater is very safe to use around kids and pets.
It’s simple enough to blend in with most outdoor décor and comes in several finishes, from copper and stainless steel to aqua blue if you want a splash of color.
We found that the reflector did a good job of directing the heat down where we could enjoy it, though of course the heat was even more noticeable when we were standing since our heads were closer to the heat source.
It’s simple enough to blend in with most outdoor décor and comes in several finishes, from copper and stainless steel to aqua blue if you want a splash of color. Two wheels on the back made moving the heater around fairly easy: We simply tipped it back onto its wheels to maneuver it. However, they didn’t exactly roll smoothly on the uneven surface of our flagstone patio. Two handles on the side made it easier to lift up and downstairs when necessary.
Take a look at our guide to heating up your patio.
Setup Process: Simple but time-consuming
All the nuts, bolts, and screws are provided, including a little wrench, but you’ll still need to provide your own Phillips head screwdriver and an adjustable socket wrench. The instructions were clear and understandable, but if for some reason your manual wasn’t included, gets lost, or blows away in a gust of wind, the manufacturer posts PDFs of all its products online. According to the manual, assembly should take 60 minutes, and we found that was about right. We finished assembly in just over an hour.
It definitely helps to have an extra pair of hands when bolting the heat reflector to the head assembly, since you have to tilt the heater in order to reach the top. The propane tank needed to fuel the heater isn’t included—you’ll have to buy that separately at a home improvement store or a propane supplier.
Safety Features: Auto shut-off and options for securing base
The heater weighs about 40 pounds on its own, and a full propane tank makes it far heavier, so it’s not likely to tip over in the wind unless the gusts are particularly strong. However, if you live in an area prone to high winds or just want to keep the heater secure, it has holes in the base through which you can thread a cable and secure it to a post or anchor. The XL models come with a “water box” in the bottom of the base, which you can fill with sand or water for added weight. The heater also comes with an auto shut-off tilt valve in case it does topple over.
If you’re planning to use it under a pergola or on a porch, note that it should be placed 3 feet below any roofs or branches and 2 feet away from anything on either side.
Because the top of the heater gets so hot, it’s important not to situate it under anything combustible. The manual warns it should be placed 3 feet below any roofs or branches and 2 feet away from anything on either side. Take this into consideration if you’re planning to use it under a pergola or on a porch. Also, because it produces carbon monoxide, it can’t be used indoors or in enclosed spaces like a garage.
Price: Not the cheapest
At a retail price around $230, the Fire Sense Outdoor Patio Heater isn’t the most low-budget option. However, certain colors are often sold online at discount, bringing it closer to $150. The Sunjoy Lawrence 88-inch patio heater retails for $150, looks almost identical, and has the same features. It’s also 2 inches shorter, which is a boon to those who want the heat closer to where they’re sitting, and it purportedly has 1,000 more BTUs. However, it’s also a little lighter, which could make it less sturdy and more prone to falling over in high winds. On the other end of the spectrum is the Fire Sense Pro Series, which has an MSRP of $479.99 and boasts electric ignition, heavy-duty stainless steel construction (it’s around 15 pounds heavier), and a lifetime warranty (compared to the 1-year limited warranty of the model we reviewed).
Fire Sense Outdoor Patio Heater vs. AmazonBasics Commercial Patio Heater
The closest competitor to the Fire Sense is the AmazonBasics Commercial Patio Heater. It has all the same specs but offers the addition of a reservoir in the base to add water or sand for extra ballast to prevent tipping. It comes in a similar selection of finishes (though instead of hammered bronze you get Havana Bronze) and retails for $139.99 to $169.99 depending on which one you choose.
Some reviewers, however, have complained of heat melting the paint. Also, the product description says the heat will reach an 18-foot diameter, but with the exact same specs as the Fire Sense (including the BTU output and the diameter of the heat reflector), it seems unlikely it will reach farther than the 8 to 9 feet we noted with that model.
- Product Name Outdoor Patio Heater
- Product Brand Fire Sense
- Price $229.99
- Weight 40 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 18 x 33 x 87 in.
- Color Brown, stainless steel, copper, aqua blue, hammertone bronze, stainless steel/black, and stainless steel/mocha
- Warranty 1-year limited warranty