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In the Magazine

Outdoor Heaters

Home Among Gumtrees > Around the House

Outdoor Heaters

Despite our wonderful climate, Australian's have been slow to embrace the concept of extending indoor living areas outside. Even though the idea is catching on, most people still wouldn't even consider dining alfresco during the winter months. However there's no reason to let the cold weather stop you - install an effective heating unit and enjoy the great outdoors all year round!

We looked at some of the different types of outdoor heaters available and tested them under controlled conditions. We compared their prices, ease of operation, heat output, safety, maintenance requirements and fuel costs. Heat output profiles were measured at a distance of 1m (3') from each unit, using a thermal imaging camera to produce a computer image of the scene. When seen through a thermal imaging camera, objects appear in different colours depending on their temperature: the blue areas are fairly cold, the blackish areas are intermediate and the red areas are very hot. We also compared radiant heat at 2m (6') from each unit using a Thermo-hunter thermometer.

Chiminea (Mexican Fireplace)

Chimineas are wood burning heaters made from wood-fired, hand-pressed clay. There are two sizes available, large ($530) and small ($370). They are one of the cheapest of all the outdoor heating devices, costing about 50 cents per hour to run. When alight chimineas radiate character, ambience and warmth, and they have a terracotta look which makes them attractive features even when not in use. However, chimineas are dangerous to touch. The thermal imaging camera revealed that they produce most of the heat near ground level. This is a safety concern, particularly for young children. The Thermo-hunter reading for the chiminea was 35C.

Availability:

Mexican fireplaces are available in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth from Innovative Imports Pty Ltd. For your nearest stockist phone 1800 331 336. Mexican fireplaces are available from outdoor living centres, some chain stores, hardware stores and barbecue specialists.

Chiminea 

Braziers

Braziers are old fashioned heaters made from tempered steel which is painted or powder-coated black. They are fuelled with briquettes. They are stylish, small and easy to store, and their glowing embers add warmth and atmosphere to outdoor entertaining. With a Thermo-hunter reading of 27C, the brazier we tested was not as warm as the chiminea. However, it was the cheapest of the outdoor heaters we looked at, and only cost about $1 an hour to run. Like chimineas, braziers are hot to touch and could be hazardous when children are around.

Availability: The brazier we tested was a medium-sized Sunbrix. They also make a small model for $85, and a large one for $125. Phone: 1800 621 253 for your nearest stockist.

Iron Design braziers come in 12 different styles, ranging from $99 to $169. They are available from Barbecues Galore stores nationally, or phone (03) 9894 2398 for your nearest stockist.

Kmart sells a 10kg capacity brazier, complete with ash tray, for $63.95.

Braziers

Patio heaters

Restaurants pioneered gas-fired patio heaters, but they're also available for domestic use. They work by radiant heat, warming people and objects without heating the surrounding air. Depending on the model and air temperature, they will warm a radius of up to 5m (15'). They are excellent as far as safety goes, because they are stable and hot parts are above 2m (6') in height, well out of the reach of small children. However, windy conditions affect their performance, and most will automatically switch off in strong winds. Only certain models can be connected to your home gas supply. The two models we looked at run on bottled gas, so there is always the problem of gas running out, and usually at the most inconvenient time! Gas bottles cost around $14-$27 to fill and last about 10 hours when these units are operated on full strength.

Top of range: Sole Mio

The Italian-made Sole Mio is a stainless steel patio heater. It is priced at $1400, and costs around $2.10 an hour (on full) to run. The Thermo-hunter reading for this heater was 27C. However, when viewed through the thermal imaging camera the Sole Mio unit gave did not appear to give off as much radiant heat as the other gas units tested. This may be due to the flat shape of the reflector at the top of the Sole Mio not focussing heat as well as the curved reflector on the cheaper units.

Availability: For details on Sole Mio patio heaters, call 1800 655 212, or visit the website at http://www.bromic.com.au/

Sole Mio

Bottom/Middle of range: Gasmaster/Focus patio heaters

These are cheaper to buy than the Sole Mio, at $800-$900, and they cost around $2.10 an hour (on full) to run. The Thermo-hunter reading for these models was 28C.

Availability: Gasmaster patio heaters ($900) are available at Harvey Norman & Brunnings stores, and Focus patio heaters ($800) are available at Kmart stores Australia wide.

Gasmaster

Electric Radiant Thermal Heater

We looked at an overhead radiant commercial heater made by Celmec International. This unit is suitable for undercover outdoor use and can be mounted under eaves, against walls or suspended from covered pergolas, pavilions, or verandahs. The Thermo-hunter reading for this heater was 22C, and the thermal imaging camera showed that the heat output was much less than the other heaters tested. This unit is priced at around $450, and it costs about 12 cents an hour to run. However, to heat a single outdoor area up to 4-8 units may be required.

Availability: Not available on the domestic market at this stage. For further information contact Celmec International Pty Ltd on (02) 9929 4544.

Electric Radiant  

Recommendation

Undoubtedly the Mexican chiminea puts out the most heat, but the heat is at or near ground level, so the chiminea is not recommended if you have small children. The cheaper of the two patio heaters we tested is the best value for money, although it does run on bottled gas which may run out. Our measurements showed that you have to be closer than 2m (6') to feel effective warmth from any of the outdoor heaters.

Further information

Outdoor heaters are available from chain-stores, barbecue specialists, outdoor and homeware specialists and some hardware stores. An article on outdoor heaters is featured in the May edition of the Burke's Backyard Magazine, available now at newsagents for $4.20.


Type

Chiminea
Razier
Sole Mio (stainless steel Gas Patio Heater)

Cost

$370 (small), $530 (large)

$110

$1400


Cost to run/hour

50c

$1

$2.10 (on full)


Fuel

Wood

Briquettes

Gas


Thermo-hunter reading (2m)

35C

27C

27C


Safety

Hot to touch - keep out of reach of children

Hot to touch - keep out of reach of children

Very safe - hot parts above 2m high


Comments  

Most effective heater tested

Effective and good value

Windy conditions affect performance


Type
Gas Patio Heater                  
Electric Radiant Thermal Heater

Cost

$800-$900

$450


Cost to run/hour

$2.10 (on full)

12 cents per unit (several units may be required)


Fuel

Gas

Electricity

Thermo-hunter reading (2m)

28C

22C


Safety

Very safe - hot parts above 2m high

Very safe

Comments

Windy conditions affect performance/ good value for money

Not yet available on domestic market

Copyright CTC Productions 2000

Disclaimer:  Burke's Backyard and Backyard Blitz do not accept payment to promote products. All recommendations are genuine. Details on the fact sheets are accurate at the time of publishing, however prices and contact information are not updated and may change.

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