What’s the best, cheapest patio heater to run on cold nights? The answer might surprise you. Here are some of the best technologies we’ve found.

Patio heaters are a modern day solution that we tend to greatly underappreciate. They are so convenient and have become so common in households, that we rarely ever stop and think how lucky we are to have a steady heat source at our disposal.

You’ll agree with me on this whether you own one yourself or have enjoyed these wonderful appliances at someone else’s home. Patio heaters can truly turn a freezing evening into a nice soirée.

That being said, you’ve probably wondered which kind of patio heater is cheaper to buy and run. Be it infrared, propane, gas, or convection, there are so many models out there, that it can be easy to get lost trying to check them all out.

However, in this economy, it’s crucial to get the best bang for your buck.

I want to answer your most burning questions, and give you a clearer idea as to what each model has to offer, which is why I’ve prepared the list below.

In it, you’ll find some general information about these heaters, which are cheaper to buy, and which are cheaper to run. I’m confident that this guide will help you understand them better, and make the right choice in case you’re looking to buy.

Sounds good? Let’s get to work!

Which Heater Should You Choose?

In order to answer this question, it’s vital that you know how each heater goes about warming up your living spaces. As stated above, the four main types of units we’ll be covering are:

#1 Infrared

Infrared heaters are great at direct heating

Infrared heaters are wonderful solutions, as they use the same principle as the Sun to warm up your living spaces. 

You see, these appliances radiate infrared waves while in use, which travel through the air until they hit a person or object, at which point, conduction begins. In case you’re not familiar with that term, don’t sweat it, it’s nothing but a fancy name for heat distribution on a surface.

For a clearer example, think of when you’re cooking. The heat from the fire on your stove top hits the metal in your pot, and travels around and inside it, thus increasing the temperature and cooking your meals.

A lot of people start panicking when they hear the word “radiation”, but trust me, as opposed to X-rays or UV-rays, infrared rays are perfectly safe.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I said these units are one of the most expensive to run as of right now, right? Why establish a specific period?

Well, because of current gas prices.

For decades, both propane and natural gas have been cheaper per consumed unit than electricity, which is what infrared heaters use. However, as you probably know, the price of the former energy sources is skyrocketing, and they might end up becoming more expensive than electricity soon.

As things stand today, infrared heaters are one of the most expensive choices to run on this list, but there’s no guarantee that this will be true for long.

Infrared Heater Working
Infrared heat works the same as sunlight: the infrared rays warm up people rather than the surrounding air. Infrared heating is a safe, natural process.

#2 Convection

These heaters are all about air circulation and redistribution

These models are probably the least common of this list.

Whenever you go to a restaurant or a friend’s house, you’re much more likely to find a gas or infrared unit, than you are to find a convection appliance. And the reason for this is the cost of running it.

Just as their Infrared counterparts, convection patio heaters use electricity to function; however, they use more electricity.

This is mainly due to how they work. Convection heaters use a fan to suck in the surrounding air, pass it through a metal coil called a heating element, and blow the warmed up air back outside.

Since infrared heaters do not have any kind of moving parts, they draw less power from your outlet, and end up costing less money to run every month.

Just as I said before, as of right now, when comparing all four models, propane and natural gas units are the cheaper alternative, but this could quickly change soon.

If you’re concerned about your utilities’ bill at the end of the month or live in an area where Kilowatt per hour price is expensive, you might want to avoid convection heaters for good.

#3 Propane

These heaters are great for long-lasting effects

Now that we’ve covered both electricity-dependent models, it’s time to move on to those that utilize gas as their main energy source.

Let’s look at propane first.

In order to properly function, these heaters need a full propane canister, a gas line, a gas valve, and a pilot. Propane leaves the tank, travels through the gas line, reaches a gas valve, and finally lights up a flame in the pilot.

This process might not seem too complex, but you’d be surprised at how easily it can be disrupted. Any kind of tearing across the gas line or debris on the pilot could lead to dangerous gas leaks, and even explosions.

This is why these units need a lot more maintenance and attention than infrared models, for example, as the latter are basically plug and play, and you’ll rarely ever have to worry about a malfunction.

Furthermore, owning a propane heater can solve some problems, but also put you in a position where you’ll have to constantly replace its canisters as they deplete. A double-edged sword, if I’ve ever seen one.

That being said, not all is bad news.

Propane gas is much cheaper than electricity per consumed unit, which represents savings on your bills every month. Moreover, these heaters tend to be cheaper to buy than their infrared counterparts, so, if you’re looking for a smaller price tag, this is it.

Piramid Patio Heater With Propane Gas Tank Connected
Having a propane patio heater, you will have to replace the canister frequently.

#4 Natural Gas

This is the cheapest alternative, but several conditions must be met to take advantage of it

Last, but definitely not least, let’s discuss natural gas heaters.

These appliances themselves operate very similarly to propane models. They use a gas line to light their pilot, and use fire to warm up your living spaces.

The main difference lies in the gas source. While propane heaters use replaceable propane canisters, natural gas models require a direct source of natural gas in order to function.

This is a two-edged sword, as you won’t have to constantly replace your canisters, but on the other hand, there are few homes adapted to have a natural gas exhaust.

Out of all the heaters on this list, this is the cheapest alternative, as natural gas is cheaper than propane and electricity.

If your home is equipped with a natural gas exhaust, and you’re looking for a reliable heating solution that will be gentle on your pocket month after month, choosing natural gas is the right way to go.

Bonus: Portable Fireplaces

If you want a heating solution for your patio or backyard, but are not married to the idea of a patio heater, you can also check out portable fireplaces.

You can find these appliances in the same aforementioned technologies and provide your home with a more rustic, elegant look. Since, although the appliances change, the energy sources remain the same, the cost of running a portable fireplace will be very similar to that of patio heaters.

Having said that, fireplaces are a lot smaller, so less energy might be consumed while using them. However, convection will always be the more expensive alternative of them all, and natural gas will always save you a couple of bucks.

Which One’s Best for You?

The aforementioned options are all cheap ways to keep your patio or backyard warm. Some of them are more cost-effective than others, and their processes might be different. But at the end of the day, I’d be lying if I told you there’s a one-size-fits-all.

The best heater for you will be that which solves the most problems and makes your life easier. You might be all for infrared units to avoid maintenance. But if electricity costs in your area are very high, taking the time to clean the gas line and the pilot in a propane unit, might be worth the effort.

And it goes both ways. If you love the idea of a natural gas-powered unit but don’t have a natural gas exhaust, your only choice might be infrared or convection.

It all comes down to every person’s situation and needs.


Having several patio heater models to choose from might sound like a good thing. And while for the most part it is, sometimes, it can also be puzzling and overwhelming.

I hope I’ve provided you with enough information in this piece to make the differences between each unit clearer. Although now you know which patio heater is cheaper to run, don’t base your decision solely on that. Due diligence and additional research is required to avoid buyer’s remorse.

Trust in yourself, and analyze your specific conditions. I’m sure you’ll reach the right result that way.

Thank you for sticking with me all the way to the end. If you found this article helpful, why not become an expert in the subject through our other incredible resources below?

I wish you all the best!