Safety Tips for Using Space Heaters and Fire Pits on Your Patio

These strategies will help you stay cozy and comfy outside without creating a fire hazard.

Do you have to start socializing inside once the temperature drops? The Norwegians don't think so—Friluftsliving, anyone?—and neither do we. But as the weather gets colder, it's likely that you'll turn to space heaters, fire pits, and other outdoor heaters to make sitting outside more comfortable.

Outdoor heating products can be safe if you follow the rules. That includes keeping your patio heater or fire pit away from buildings, bushes, trees, and other flammable objects and ensuring that kids and pets keep their distance. Stick to these safety tips to make your evening around the campfire (or the patio heater) safe.

Fire Pit Safety

Who doesn't love making s'mores around a crackling fire? Just be careful about the way you use your pit or chiminea—here's how.

Start the fire safely

Use natural materials like tinder, kindling, and firewood to start your fire. Do not use the following items, which can release toxic fumes when burned:

  • Cardboard, junk mail, or magazines printed with ink
  • Anything plastic
  • Painted wood
  • Particleboard

Light your fire with matches, a kitchen lighter, or a butane torch. Do not use the following flammable liquids, which can cause an explosion:

  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Kerosene

Guard against flying embers

Fire pits can throw sparks, which could put everything surrounding them at risk. To help prevent embers from hurting anyone:

  • Put brick, metal, or stone beneath it.
  • Set up chairs at least three feet away from the pit.
  • Keep at least 10 feet between your pit and houses.

If your fire pit comes with a screen, use it to give you an extra layer of fire safety. The metal mesh will prevent sparks and embers from flying out. Also, consider investing in a screen with a hinged door that will allow you to add firewood without lifting and removing it.

Dispose of the ashes properly

Ashes can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to two days. Don't toss them on a compost pile or throw them out near anything flammable (like a paper bag or cardboard box). Instead, after you put out the fire, discard the ashes into a metal can.

Patio Heater Safety

Patio heaters have become so popular they are practically a must-have accessory. Whether you opt for a small tabletop option or a restaurant-style overhead propane heater, you can take a little of the chill off. Just follow these tips to stay safe.

Check out the safety features

Choose heating products that have been tested and labeled with UL and CSA safety certifications, and look for ones that feature tip-over switches and automatic shutoffs to help reduce the risk of a fire.

Make sure the manufacturer's instructions indicate that the heater is outdoor compliant. This means the heater's components are built to withstand the temperature changes (and inevitable rain) that come when they're outside.

Consider your energy source

Most patio heaters either run on propane gas or electricity.

  • Propane heaters tend to provide stronger heat but are more expensive to run and require refilling propane tanks regularly.
  • Propane heaters shouldn't be used in an enclosed space. (It could put you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.) If you have a screened-in patio, choose an electric heater.
  • Electric heaters are easier to run but may not provide the necessary power. You may need to buy more than one.

Follow the manufacturer's directions

The owner's manual will give you all the information you need about where to place your heater in relation to your house, plants, and other potential fire hazards.

Generally, about two feet of distance is recommended. Set a patio heater on level ground—ideally, a patio or deck. Putting it on grass or dirt could make for an unstable surface that could result in it falling over.

Alternative Outdoor Heating Options

Fire pits, chimineas, and patio heaters may be hard to come by as the weather gets colder. But there are other safe options you could consider to keep everybody toasty.

Heated Seats and Seat Cushions

Generally, these are used by sports fans or hunters to keep warm when they're outdoors, but there's nothing stopping you from using them to make a backyard get-together more comfortable.

Heated Blankets or Wraps

Electric blankets or shawls can be used for single guests (or a couple with a larger blanket). Look for ones that can use USB power and a USB cell phone charger for wireless warmth.

Hand Warmers

Consider springing for reusable hand warmers that can be boiled and "recharged" or are battery-powered so you'll always have them ready to share with guests.

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