Do Patio Heaters Produce Carbon Monoxide? What to Avoid


Spending time outside in the summer can lead to bug bites, and spending time outside during the rest of the year can lead you to feeling chilly. It may not solve your summer problem, but a good patio heater may keep you from getting cold. But are they safe?

Patio heaters do produce carbon monoxide, and they don’t face as many regulations as indoor heaters. That means they can produce enough carbon monoxide to suffocate you or lead to death. If a patio heater uses propane gas, that also poses a health risk. Consider how to stay healthy with a heater.

While patio heaters can be a risk, they’re a great way to enjoy yourself and stay warm outside. As long as you get a good quality heater and use it correctly, you shouldn’t have to worry. Keep reading to learn more.

How Patio Heaters Produce Carbon Monoxide

When you use a propane gas patio heater, it will produce the following gases:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitric oxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide

As you run the heater, the propane tank will release gases, and those gases will get into the air.

While many gases are harmful to you, carbon monoxide is especially serious. Some people can survive carbon monoxide poisoning, but it can be deadly for others. It’s hard to detect carbon monoxide because it doesn’t have a smell or color.

Nitric oxide can smell somewhat sweet, and nitrogen dioxide can smell harsh. That means you can detect both of those gases when there’s a leak or some other issue. However, carbon monoxide can cause symptoms like a headache or stomach ache, and you may not know that’s the cause.

What to Avoid When Choosing a Patio Heater

While you may not be able to avoid carbon monoxide exposure, you can do a few things to select a relatively safe patio heater. That way, you can minimize your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Whether you want to use a patio heater when you’re alone or with a group, you need to protect everyone. Consider a few things you can avoid so that you can get the best patio heater and provide a safe experience for yourself and your loved ones.

Uncertified Heaters and Gas Containers

When buying a propane heater, make sure it’s a certified model. The heater will usually need to pass certain tests to get certification or approval from a reputable organization. Now, that doesn’t mean the heater is completely risk-free. However, it can be a good way to lower your risk of problems.

Once you select a patio heater, you should look for certified or approved gas tanks. That way, you can get good quality tanks to operate the heater.

CSA Group is one organization that certified patio heaters and other outdoor products. The group focuses on safety and efficiency, and customers trust the company’s seal of approval. If you want to get the safest patio heater available, look for a CSA-approved one.

I recommend these Patio Heaters (link to Amazon) they offer the best bang for your buck and work with approved gas tanks.

Here’s a video showing how to hook up a patio heater to give you a better idea of how a decent model works:

Unattended Heaters

Regardless of the heater and gas you use, you should always have someone around it when you turn it on. If you leave it on without someone nearby, there could be a gas leak or some other issue.

Depending on where you put the heater, the gas could get inside your home, especially if you leave a window open. If you’re using the heater yourself, be sure to turn it off whenever you go inside or far away from the heater.

You can always turn the heater back on when you return to sitting near it. That way, you can enjoy a bit of warmth. However, you won’t have to worry as much about the risk of a fire or of getting carbon monoxide poisoning.

Kids Around Heaters

While you can use a patio heater around your kids or your pets, you don’t want to leave them unattended by the heater. Kids may not know what smells or visuals to pay attention to, so they may not be able to alert you when something is wrong.

An adult should always be near the heater when it’s on. It doesn’t hurt to have an adult near the heater when a child is near it, too. Some kids can be curious, so they might turn the heater on accidentally, and the nearby adult can supervise them.

Pets also shouldn’t be near heaters alone. Like kids, pets may be curious, and they may sniff around the heater and get sick. If you have pets outside, make sure you stay outside with them if you want to use the patio heater.

By a Building

Fortunately, you don’t have to put your patio heater in the middle of your yard. However, you shouldn’t put it within a few feet of your house or apartment building. The closer it is to the building, the higher the risk of a fire.

If the heater happens to catch fire, it can spread. So when it’s right next to the outside of your home, your home may catch on fire. This is another reason why you shouldn’t leave the heater unattended.

Instead, put the patio heater on the far side of your patio. Not only will that help you stay warm, but it will help you feel more comfortable about your risk when using it.

Unstable Base

Consider if your patio is on a slope or if there are other issues that make it uneven. If so, you may need to be creative when setting up the patio heater. The heater needs a stable, solid surface to rest and stand upright.

Don’t use the heater on a slope or on a balcony where the heater might tip over. If the heater tips over, it could lead to a gas leak, fire, or some other problem.

To balance the heater, use

  • Sandbags
  • Bricks
  • Another type of weight

Then, you can use it safely, even on a slope or uneven ground.

Use When There Are Strong Winds

Another situation to avoid is using your patio heater when there are strong winds. It may seem like the heater can counteract the cold of the winds. However, the winds can move the gas around.

If you have an open window nearby, the wind could push the gas inside your home. The wind can also push the fumes toward you if you sit downstream from the heater.

When there are strong winds, you need to be safe. Turn the heater off and go inside so that you can stay warm. If you have to be outside, use blankets or more layers of clothing to keep from getting cold.

Unchecked Leaks

If you have a gas leak, that can lead to a lot of health problems, including carbon monoxide. Whenever you need to install a new gas tank, check the hoses and valves. Add soapy water and check for air bubbles, which can tell you if there’s a leak.

You may also be able to detect a leak while using the heater. If you smell anything out of the ordinary, you may be smelling nitric oxide or nitrogen dioxide. But remember that smelling something isn’t always enough to catch a gas issue.

If you do find a leak, stop using the heater until you get a new hose or can repair it. You can call the fire department if you smell the leak after you turn off the heater.

Final Thoughts

Patio heaters can produce carbon monoxide, which is why you should only use them outside. Make sure you keep them far from your house and any doors or windows. Don’t leave the heater on when you aren’t around, and be sure to check for leaks. That way, you can stay safe when using the patio heater.

Robert Sampson

I'm Robert Sampson and I live in Colorado where I spend a lot of time in the backyard with my family either grilling, playing games and sports, or working on a project to make our backyard a better place to be.

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