Propane Patio Heater Usage and Maintenance Tips

If you're the proud owner of a new propane patio heater, these usage and maintenance tips will help you keep it working properly.

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As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the popularity of propane patio heaters has seen a similar surge. Because indoor gatherings remain restricted in most areas, many homeowners are buying patio heaters to bring warmth to outdoor social gatherings during the cold winter months.

If you’ve recently acquired one of these heaters and want to know how to keep it functioning at its best, read on to learn basic usage and maintenance best practices.

About Propane Patio Heaters

Patio heaters can derive their heat from multiple sources, including electricity and natural gas. But propane patio heaters offer distinct advantages. Not only is propane an affordable fuel source, it’s also highly portable. Propane patio heaters can be used practically anywhere without a municipal gas or electrical hookup.

The high cost of these heaters when they first came on the market limited their use to restaurants and other commercial businesses. Increasing consumer demand pushed manufacturers to produce more affordable units. Now the price is within reach of the average homeowner, and the heaters are sold at home improvement and garden centers.

Regardless of how reasonably priced your heater was, knowing some basic usage and troubleshooting tips will help you avoid repair or replacement expenses.

Patio Heater Usage and Troubleshooting Tips

Though it’s easy to operate a propane patio heater, occasionally you may run into problems.

One of the most common issues is the heater not staying lit, or shutting off after a few minutes. That usually happens when the thermocouple (a safety component that regulates the flow of propane by detecting heat from the pilot light) moves too far away from the pilot light. One simple adjustment generally resolves this: Remove the access panel to the pilot and thermocouple assembly, then use pliers to lightly squeeze the two pieces closer together.

Another common problem is low flame and heat production. This can be caused by low gas pressure from a kinked propane hose; air in the supply hose; or carbon deposits in the pilot light tube or the orifice (a copper fitting that connects the propane line to the top burner, located in the same area as the pilot and thermocouple assembly).

To clear this up, thoroughly inspect all possible problem areas. Replace any kinked or damaged propane line by disconnecting the bottom connection at the propane tank (unscrew it) and the top connection going to the pilot tube (removing the lock screw or disconnecting the quick connect fitting, depending on your heater). Then install the new one in reverse order, purging out the air by fully opening the propane tank while depressing the control knob for a few minutes.

If you detect carbon deposits on the orifice or pilot tube, you can usually clear any blockages with a toothpick or sandpaper.

Propane Heater Maintenance and Storage

The best way to avoid the issues mentioned above? Routine maintenance. Keep the following maintenance tasks in mind during periods of heavy use:

  • Regularly check the pilot tube, thermocouple and orifice for corrosion and damage to avoid problems with the heater’s flame. Any issues you discover should be dealt with as soon as possible by following the steps in the Usage and Troubleshooting Tips section above.

  • Periodically check the fuel regulator and fuel line for kinks, breaks, leaks and corrosion. A damaged regulator or fuel line could inhibit the fuel supply to the ignition system and heating element, so they should be replaced with a new one as soon as possible by following the steps described above. You can perform a rough visual inspection of these parts to detect damage, or use a gas leak detecting spray

  • After a long period of storage, clear the propane supply line by following the steps described above.

Like with a grill, proper storage is another important aspect of maintenance, because it protects your heater from the damaging effects of precipitation and wind. Whether you’re storing your heater overnight or for a few months, it’s important to disconnect the propane tank (ensuring that it’s empty for long-term storage) and keep the tank outside in a dry and well-ventilated area.

The heater itself should either be stored inside, or outside in an area protected from wind and rain or snow. You can use a patio heater cover for outdoor storage, but you still need to keep it in a place free from heavy winds.

Armed with this foundational usage and maintenance knowledge, you can avoid several common sources of frustration while preserving your patio heater’s functional lifespan for as long as possible.

James Fitzgerald
James Fitzgerald is a handyman and freelance home-improvement writer with a passion for DIY, gardening, and anything involving working with his hands. He has over a decade of professional experience in a variety of trades, including construction, tree work, landscaping, and general maintenance. When not in search of the next enticing DIY project, he may be cooking, lifting weights, riding his motorcycle, hiking out at the coast, or nose deep in a great book.