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Patio Heater vs. Fire Pit: The Ultimate Showdown

As temperatures start to dip, savvy homeowners are taking steps to keep their outdoor spaces cozy and warm. But what’s the best outdoor heating solution for you?

A fire pit or a patio heater are two of the most popular solutions out there, but how do you pick the right option for your specific needs?

In this guide, we’ll provide an in-depth analysis that looks at the benefits and drawbacks of these outdoor heating options so that when push comes to shove, you’ll ensure your space is perfectly suited for your specific needs!

Quick Preview: Firepits, whether wood-fueled or gas-fueled, provide more heat to a larger area but require much more space for seating and furniture. Patio heaters work best for smaller areas where you would like to heat a specific seating area quickly and efficiently. Let’s dive into the details! 

Pros and Cons of Fire Pits

For a cozy, traditional outdoor fire experience that doesn't require extensive upkeep or installation fees, look no further than the classic backyard firepit. Whether you opt for rustic wood-burning flames or cleaner-burning, more modern gas fuel, both offer an inviting ambiance and lively mood perfect for shifting any event outdoors!

Wood-burning fire pits provide that classic outdoor fire experience, while natural gas (NG) or propane fire pits offer convenience through easy ignition and low maintenance. Both wood-burning and gas fire pits can provide a cozy and inviting atmosphere for outdoor gatherings with your family and friends.

Advantages of Fire Pits

  • Serves as a focal point for outdoor gatherings.
  • Provides a cozy and rustic atmosphere.
  • Can be fueled by wood or gas.
  • Can also be used for cooking.
  • Low maintenance with gas-fueled versions.
  • Transforms the look and energy of your backyard.
  • Upgrade your commercial space with commercial fire pits.

Disadvantages of Fire Pits

  • Can be hazardous if not used properly.
  • May require more upkeep and maintenance than other options.
  • A heavy firepit may be more permanent.
  • NG versions may have a higher installation cost.
  • They require more space than other heating options.
  • Smoke, sparks, and ash can be produced (wood burning only).
  • Recommend purchasing a burner cover for protection.

Commercial Fire Pits

Photo: EcoSmart

Pros and Cons of Patio Heaters

Patio heaters, or umbrella heaters, are an excellent way to extend your outdoor season. Patio heaters come in two main types: electric and propane. Electric patio heaters save you from constant refueling, while gas patio heaters provide more coverage and higher BTU output. With either option, you will stay warm and enjoy your outdoor space all year round.

Advantages of Patio Heaters

  • Provides consistent heat output without producing smoke, soot, or ash.
  • Easy to move around and adjust as needed.
  • Can come with safety features like tip-over protection.
  • No refueling is required (for electric models).
  • Ideal for commercial applications like outdoor restaurant seating.
  • Cost-effective to operate.

Disadvantages of Patio Heaters

  • Electric umbrella heaters will require a power source (120v or 240v outlet).
  • Gas umbrella heaters require frequent propane tank replacements.
  • Can be more expensive to operate.
  • They may not be as visually appealing as campfire pits.
  • Heat is concentrated in one area, not dispersed.
  • Prone to tip over due to wind if not secured.

Commercial Patio Heaters

Photo: Paraco Gas

Fire Pit vs. Patio Heater Comparison

The decision between a fire pit and patio heater is an important one. With everything from design to heat output, fuel efficiency to cost, and safety features to consider – it's essential that you weigh up all the options before making your selection!

Differences in Design and Aesthetics

Fire pits and patio heaters provide a great way to stay warm outdoors, but they have very different designs. Fire pits tend to give a more cozy atmosphere due to their rustic design and require more space due to seating and other furniture. Heaters used on a patio are either free-standing or wall-mounted and usually have a more modern, sleek look.


In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. Fire pits provide a more rustic and cozy atmosphere, while patio heaters offer convenience and modern aesthetics.

Differences in Heat Output and Coverage Area

The differences in heat output and coverage area vary greatly. Fire pits will generally provide more warmth than umbrella heaters. Fire pits can generate between 30,000 to 150,000 BTUs of heat, while umbrella heaters typically max out at around 50,000 BTUs for the most powerful propane models.

Additionally, fire pits can provide warmth over a larger area compared to umbrella heaters which are best for heating one specific area under the heater.

Factors That Impact Heat Output and Coverage Area

The type of fuel used is a significant factor. Wood-fueled fire pits can provide more heat than gas-fueled pits, while propane patio heaters produce more heat than electric models.

You can always turn up the gas flow or add more wood to a fire to increase the heat output of a fire pit, while umbrella heaters are limited by their design and power source.


Fire pits are more efficient, produce more heat output, and provide a larger coverage area.

Differences in Heat Output and Coverage Area

Differences in Fuel Efficiency and Cost

Fuel efficiency and cost depend on the type of fuel used.

Fuel and Cost For Fire Pits:

  • Natural gas firepits can be more expensive to install but are very efficient and cost-effective at about $0.25 to $0.75 per hour.
  • Propane firepits cost nothing to install and generally cost around $1.00 to $3.00 per hour.
  • Wood firepits are also economical, as wood is typically a very affordable, renewable fuel resource. Roughly $0.25 to $0.75 per hour.

Fuel and Cost For Patio Heaters:

  • Electric umbrella heaters will generally cost $0.50 to $2.50 per hour depending on your local electricity rates.
  • Propane umbrella heaters offer higher heat output at the cost of increased gas usage costing $1.50 to $3.00 per hour.


Fire pits are a more efficient and cost-effective option when it comes to heating an outdoor space.

Differences in Safety Features

Safety is always the top priority regarding firepits and patio heaters.

  • Wood firepits are the most dangerous because they emit smoke, sparks, and partially combusted material outside the firepit.
  • If the flame goes out on a gas firepit, there is sometimes an automatic gas shut-off and automatic burner control/reignition process.
  • Patio heaters offer tip protection with auto tip burner shut-off.


No matter which type of outdoor heating option you choose, it is important to consider the safety features offered. Remember to never leave an active fire pit or patio heater unattended!

Family Around A Fire Table

Photo: Napoleon Outdoor Fire Pit

Important Factors to Consider

There are so many important factors to consider when deciding between a fire pit and a patio heater. Here are some of the most vital considerations:

Outdoor Space and Location

When choosing an outdoor heater, the size and layout of your outdoor area will play a key role. If you have plenty of room to spread out around it, nothing beats an open-air flame from a fire pit for creating ambiance. If space is at a premium; compact yet cozy warmth provided by one or more patio heaters should do the trick!

Fuel Type and Availability

Patio heaters usually use propane, while fire pits can either be gas or wood-burning.

If you wanted to heat some outside areas for an event, propane patio heaters would be the easiest way to do so since propane can be bought at any hardware store and is easily accessible.

There may be some availability issues with NG and seasoned firewood, so make sure you know the type of fuel that is accessible before investing in a fire pit. See our article comparing Propane vs. Natural Gas Fire Pits.

Heat Outputs and Efficiency

Heat output and efficiency are essential factors to consider when selecting a unit. Fire pits generally have a more significant heat output of up to 150,000 BTUs, while patio heaters usually max out at around 50,000 BTUs. The higher the BTU rating, the higher the energy consumption. Check out our guide on BTUs here.

Weather Resistance and Durability

Fire pits are more durable than patio heaters and are specifically designed for outdoor use. Many of our fire pits for sale at Fire Pit Surplus include a free weatherproof cover to protect them from the elements. When deciding, consider the climate in your area and how much protection is necessary.

Maintenance and Upkeep

Maintenance and upkeep requirements can vary depending on the type of unit you choose. Fire pits must be regularly cleaned and checked for safety hazards, while patio heaters require occasional cleaning and periodic inspections. To keep your fire pit or patio heater in peak condition, always refer to the manufacturer's care instructions.

Reputable Brands

Sticking with reputable brands when selecting a fire pit or patio heater is essential, as they are designed specifically for outdoor use and must meet certain safety requirements. Reputable brands also offer warranties on their products, so you can be sure that your investment will last for years.

Reputable Fire Pit Brands

Reputable Patio Heater Brands


Value For Money

Price will be a significant factor when deciding between a fire pit and a patio heater. Here is everything you should consider about cost and value:

Initial cost: Fire pits are usually less expensive than patio heaters, but the price can vary widely depending on the size, material, and features.

Fuel cost: Fire pits are typically less expensive to operate than patio heaters, as they can use natural gas or wood logs (both very inexpensive). Propane is the most common fuel for patio heaters and tends to be more costly due to frequent tank refills.

Maintenance cost: Both fire pits and patio heaters require some level of maintenance and upkeep, which can add to the overall cost. Fire pits may require occasional cleaning and replacement parts like grates or screens, while patio heaters may require regular maintenance and inspection to ensure safety and optimal performance.

Long-term cost: The long-term cost of operating a fire pit or patio heater can depend on several factors, including fuel cost, maintenance cost, and the unit's lifespan. In general, patio heaters may be more expensive to operate in the long run due to ongoing fuel/electric and maintenance costs.

Value for the money: Ultimately, it's up to you to decide which type of unit offers the best value for your money. Some fire pits may be less expensive upfront but lack consistent and effective heat output compared to patio heaters. Patio heaters may cost more initially as well as in ongoing fuel and maintenance costs, but they can provide a more concentrated heating solution.

Fire Pit vs. Patio Heater Frequently Asked Questions

Fire Pit vs. Patio Heater Frequently Asked Questions

Which one is better for heating a large outdoor space?

Fire pits are typically better suited for heating a sizeable outdoor space due to their higher heat output and more extensive coverage area.

What are the differences in fuel types between fire pits and patio heaters?

Fire pit tables can use natural gas, propane, or wood logs as fuel, while patio heaters usually require propane bottles or electricity.

Which option is more cost-effective in the long run?

A fire pit running on natural gas is usually the most cost-effective in the long run, as it requires minimal maintenance and has the lowest ongoing fuel cost.

What are the safety concerns to consider when using a fire pit or patio heater?

Fire pits and patio heaters should always be used following the manufacturer's instructions to ensure safe operation. It is essential to check for flammable materials in the vicinity, keep the unit away from combustible surfaces, and never leave them unattended when in use.

Can I cook food on a fire pit or patio heater?

While you can cook just about anything over a wood-burning fire pit, gas fire pits should only be used to roast marshmallows at most. Patio heaters are not designed for cooking and should not be used for this purpose.

What are the differences in design and aesthetics between the two options?

Fire pits come in various styles and materials to easily integrate into any outdoor decor. Patio heaters tend to have a more industrial look, but models are now available with stylish finishes that can blend in with the rest of your outdoor decor.

Which one provides a better ambiance for outdoor gatherings?

The fire pit provides a better ambiance for outdoor gatherings, as the flames and crackling logs create a cozy mood and set the stage for conversation. Patio heaters can still provide ambient background heat but lack real flames' charm.

How do I properly maintain and care for a fire pit or patio heater?

It is essential to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully and follow them to ensure proper maintenance and care of your fire pit or patio heater. This includes regularly inspecting the unit, checking for loose connections, and cleaning as necessary. For gas models, checking for leaks in the fuel line is essential.


At FirePitSurplus.com, we know that choosing between a patio heater and a fire pit can be a difficult decision. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it's important to think about your specific needs and preferences.

Whether you want a cozy atmosphere or are planning to entertain guests, we offer a wide selection of patio heaters and fire pits to suit your individual style.

Let us help you take your outdoor living space to the next level. Browse our collection today and discover the perfect heating solution for your unique needs.

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