Warming up to patio heaters: what British Columbians need to know to stay safe this spring and summer

Patio heater safety

Over the course of the pandemic, our province has seen more and more outdoor dining options, especially as the spring and summer months arrive with longer daylight hours under the northern sky. Restaurants have spruced up their existing patios or created al fresco spaces to welcome and accommodate diners. And although the weather is warming up, we’ll continue to see more patio heaters this spring and summer, for those cooler days and cooler nights.

Patio heaters can help keep the cold at bay, but it’s important that they’re used properly to avoid potential fire and carbon monoxide (CO) hazards. These heaters are often fueled by propane, and while propane is safe to use, it’s important to remember that it requires air to burn efficiently, otherwise incomplete combustion may occur. CO is produced when there is insufficient air for propane combustion.

If you’re considering the use of a propane-fueled heater for your patio or outdoor space, make sure you’ve got the knowledge you need to stay safe. In collaboration with the Canadian Propane Association, Technical Safety BC has compiled some important patio heater safety tips for British Columbians:

1. Only operate patio heaters outdoors

Patio heaters are intended for outdoor use only. Never use a patio heater inside your home — including the garage — to avoid any safety risks, like fire and rapid-onset CO exposure.

2. Never use patio heaters in an enclosed space

Enclosed spaces include a four-wall tent. There must be adequate ventilation and spacing around the heater. To avoid potential risks, consider the following: if you’re placing your heater under an open tent, is it too close to the tent ceiling? Or too close to something combustible, like an umbrella or tablecloth? Your heater’s manual can provide the right guidance on surrounding objects.

3. Do not store propane cylinders indoors

Propane cylinders must be stored upright and safeguarded with protection that is tamper-proof and can withstand vehicle impact, such as a locked cage or secured fenced-in area such as a backyard. A cylinder is considered to be in storage when not connected to an appliance.

4. Follow the safety instructions in your device’s manual

The manufacturer’s instructions provided with your patio heater will tell you everything you need to know about your specific model.

5. Never place a patio heater where it blocks an exit

Keep your heater out of the way. Be mindful not to place it where it will block firefighting equipment like fire hydrants, extinguishers, or safety exits.

6. Get your propane cylinders inspected and requalified every ten years

Propane cylinders must be inspected and requalified every ten years. In Canada, it’s against the law to fill an expired or damaged cylinder. To find a registered cylinder requalifier in your area, check out Transport Canada’s list of authorized recertification facilities.

7. Ensure your heater is placed on an even solid surface

Your heater should be placed on a stable, level, and solid surface. This way, your heater will not accidentally tip over and cause damage or create safety hazards. If the heater needs to be moved, always disconnect the cylinder first. Never move a lit heater.

If you’re planning to use a patio heater this winter, keep these safety tips in mind. And remember that your patio heater’s manual should always be your go-to source for information if you’re ever unsure about your heater’s specifications.

If you work in BC’s restaurant or film industry, now is also a great time to remind your coworkers to follow these safety tips when using any propane-fueled heating device. Check to see if the heaters owned by your workplace are being stored, operated, and maintained safely.

Want to know more about CO? Check out Technical Safety BC’s guide to CO safety in the home. You can also read more about patio heater safety with the Canadian Propane Association’s tip sheet.

Share article on