Propane and electric heaters are an excellent addition to the overall feel and ambience of any patio.
They keep the temperature consistent and warm, and make the environment overall extremely pleasant especially during winter nights.
That being said, there are some potential (although highly unlikely) things to be aware of. So can patio heaters explode?
Yes, patio heaters can definitely explode but to keep that from ever happening, however there are many inbuilt safety features that reduce the possibility of this happening. Gas powered heaters could explode in the event of a gas leak in a poorly ventilated space. Causing a build up of gas and then an explosion.
However, just as any other technological invention, there are various safety precautions, various do’s and don’ts to keep in mind so you don’t end up getting to the product’s ‘bad side’.
Patio heaters are no exception to this. When mishandled and not taken care of properly, it can cause extreme safety hazards and end you or your family members up in the hospital.
This article will help you understand the reasons behind why a patio heater might explode, the steps you should take to reduce the possibility of this and suggesting some of the safest patio heaters on the market…
What Makes Patio Heaters Explode?
All gas heaters, including patio heaters, work on the same elementary principle of combustion -fuel is burnt in order to produce heat.
The amount of heat produced by a heater is measured in terms of the standard unit BTU (British thermal unit). In the case of a typical 1500 Watts portable indoor heater, it produces 5,100 BTUs.
A patio heater, on the other hand, produces around 40,000 BTUs, about eight times the heat produced by indoor heaters.
Inevitably, this high amount of heat can cause other flammable materials around it, such as outdoor textiles, papers, furniture etc. to burn, which ultimately leads to an explosion or blaze if not dealt with timely.
Propane patio heaters may also lead to explosions because of leakage, particularly from the connectors or tubes.
A highly explosive and flammable material by nature, it can seep into fabrics or other flammable materials to cause a blaze.
Emissions of toxic gases such as Carbon Monoxide may further deteriorate the issue, since it leads to breathing problems and can eventually lead to death if left unchecked.
Has It Ever Happened Before?
A number of real-life incidents relating to patio heater explosions can be cited, of which one of the most gruesome examples is of Shirley Evans, a 34-year-old survivor who, as quoted by Mirror, suffered 67 percent burns on her entire body.
The incident took place in 2016, and basically occurred as a result of mistakenly filling the patio heater with fuel without turning it off, which lead to an extreme explosion.
Vinnie, her son, managed to save her despite suffering from burns himself during that time. Evans lost her job at BHS due to the inability to work.
Safety Precautions to Prevent Fire Hazards from Happening
Explosions from patio heaters can be appalling, but thankfully, there are some very simple steps and precautions you can take in order to close the doors to any such mishaps. For example:
1) Properly ventilating the patio space: As mentioned before, patio heaters work upon the principle of combustion, and propane leakage can cause fire hazards if patio hazards are placed too close in contact with furniture or other flammable objects.
Make sure the heater is given enough space from all the ‘risky’ objects around it and proper ventilation is provided.
2) Never use them indoors: A patio heater is, simply put, catered solely for use in a patio. It produces 8 times more the amount of heat as compared to typical indoor heaters.
So it would definitely not be suitable for indoor use because the high amount of emissions of carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes will cause health hazards for the inhabitants within a closed space.
The metal housing of patio heaters is extremely hot as well, so you wouldn’t want children or pets to fall a prey to their curiosity and end up touching the hot metal surface.
3) Taking clearance values into account: Clearance is defined as the minimum, safe distance the patio heater must be placed from other objects in the space.
It’s essentially the distance between itself and the plants, decorations, carpets, furniture, and even takes into account the vertical distance, as in, from the ceiling in the case of a covered patio.
Clearance values may vary from model to model and also depends on the BTU values. A higher BTU value is directly proportional to the clearance distance, as it would produce a generate a higher amount of heat and thus require more space from the objects around it.
It’s best to consult the instruction manual coming along with the heater’s packaging to get an idea of the exact distance.
As a general rule of thumb though, for a heater generating about 35,000 – 50,000 BTUs, it is safe to keep the heater at least 30 inches apart from everything around it horizontally, and of course, vertically in the case of a covered patio.
4) Check for leaks regularly: It is important to thoroughly check if there are any gas leaks from connectors or tubes both during the installation of the heater, and on a regular basis post-installation.
A simple test to check if any leakage exists is to apply a solution of soap and water on the connection points. In case bubbles form, it’s a yes. Consult a technician and avoid dealing with the issue on your own.
5) Smelling suspicious odors: Carbon monoxide or natural gas themselves are odorless, but manufactures usually add a sulfurous additive which has a smell similar to that of rotten eggs.
If you smell anything suspicious, act fast, and consult a professional to look into the issue.
6) Keeping fire extinguishers near: The last thing you’d want in case of a fire hazard is not being able to get your hands on an extinguisher. Make sure you always keep an extinguisher or two in the patio as a precautionary measure.
7) Turning them off after use: Do not keep them running overnight. Furthermore, if you do not plan to use them for a long time, it’s best to dissemble them in order to keep debris, clogging, and rusting at bay.
If the Patio Heater is Tripped Over, Can it Explode?
Short answer; yes. If the heater is tripped over, leakage may occur from its parts, which as discussed before, merges with flammable materials leading to an explosion.
There are a number of ways the heater can be tripped over. For example, installing them on an uneven surface. Always place them on a hard, stable surface, and also, avoid placing them in areas where there’s a lot of wind.
It’s best to store the heater away whenever there’s heavy wind as it may not only cause the heater itself to trip over but also cause the flames to shoot off at other objects in the surrounding.
Modern space heater designs come with ergonomic anti-tilt features – the base of the heater is made wide or given more weight in order to keep the heater anchored in place.
Some heaters also involve smart tilt-detection features which basically automatically turn the heater off if any tilt is detected.
In case you plan on using a heater quite regularly, or there’s lack of an even space in your patio, consider investing in modern good-quality designs.
Preventing “Tilting” Using DIY Methods:
In case your patio heater does not have tilt detection features, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of DIY methods you can make use of to protect your heater against strong winds or other such risky circumstances.
Weights can be added manually to the heater. Most patio heaters have a reservoir in the base, which can be filled up with a mixture of water and sand in order to provide ample weight to prevent falling.
Not all patio heaters have a reservoir system though. In that case, you can anchor your heater to the ground using sandbags or water weights. Bungee cords can also be tied around the heater to adhere them firmly to the ground.
Whatever DIY method you use, make sure the materials you’re using are flame-resistant. You don’t want to make the mistake of ending up using something flammable and causing a fire on your own.
What is the Safest Patio Heater?
There’s a lot of fish in the sea. What kind of patio heater is the safest and the best for you ultimately comes down to your individual requirements and needs.
Definitely consider where you will place the heater, whether you plan on using it a lot or only during specific occasions, whether you wish to buy gas or propane-based heaters or electric ones.
Amazon Basics sells some high-quality wheeled heaters with auto-turn-off safety features and openings for adding water boxes to the base.
Fire Sense’s Telescoping Infrared Patio Heater is suitable for both indoors and outdoors, and also provides anti-tilt security features.
Briza’s Infrared Patio Heater features a protective metal covering over the heating elements, making it safe for children or pets to touch it, and has an automatic timer system switching off the device after 1-9 hours.
Whatever patio you choose, make sure to do a thorough research on its quality, and of course, choose one that best fits your individual requirements.