Entertaining under the stars this summer? Here's your guide to green heating for the patio

Kya deLongchamps explores taking a more sustainable approach to outdoor heating for the summer months.

IT’S IRELAND, not Malaga. No matter what hacienda touches you tickle together around the patio, come dusk, that Celtic chill can freeze out the enjoyment of entertaining under the stars. If wrapping up in blankets and pulling on a sweater doesn’t suit, you could add some dedicated heat to the party.

It’s astonishing in these environmentally sensitive times that gas-fuelled patio heaters are even available to buy. Fast, practical and heating a wide area beneath the burner, they have been described by Friends of the Earth as “gratuitously damaging” to outright “planet wrecking”. Their use surged in the mid-Noughties in both commercial pub and restaurant settings due to their snap-to convenience and relatively toasty conditions.

Gas guzzler

Gas patio heaters are highly emissive. A 12.5kW heater will produce almost 35kg of CO2 before the fuel runs out, and a standard propane patio cylinder runs out fast, in 10-13 hours (Energy Savings Trust). They are not only carbon engines, but are wildly expensive to use compared to wood or infrared (IR) electric.

You could run your kitchen gas hob for six months for the same energy used in a single party night with an umbrella-style patio heater. They are the antithesis of everything we’re trying to do in terms of de-carbonising our life at home.

Calor has extended its BioLPG, made in part from renewable waste, residues and plant oils, to its patio gas range. Producing less particulate emission compared to fossil fuels and given its means of production even burned outside and releasing greenhouse gases, it at least approaches carbon-neutral status. BioLPG is fully traceable through the Sustainability and Carbon Certification Scheme and certified as renewable, calorgas.ie.

Variable heat control and limiting the size of the unit to a tabletop 4kW variety (stabilised by the parasol hole in outdoor tables) will help keep CO2 emissions down.

Look for gas heaters with a flame cutout in the case of falls (anti-tilt) and a gas cutout in the case of the gas failing; Sahara 4kW Stainless Steel Table Top Gas Patio Heater SAHTT, €150, appliancesdelivered.ie.

Radiant alternatives

What you should be warming up to this summer for instant on, is the latest electric short-wave quartz heat technology. This emissions-free, silent, plug-in, IR technology delivers safe radiant heat to the body in rays that can be bounced off a parabolic reflector with greater accuracy than a gas heater (which creates a haze of heat).

On a breezy day, most of the energy from an overhead or tabletop gas heater blows away. Electric outside heating is at least emissions free at point of use with a suggested 15% of the CO2 of standard gas (DEFRA) and a healthy fraction of the running costs.

Halogen quartz carbon infrared heating elements intended for garden use and fed through a residual current device (RCD) and properly installed on a wall, on a stand or around a stable fixing point, are safe for outdoor use. Some units are versatile enough to come indoors — ideal for warming up the conservatory. The lamp life of a typical 2kW unit is around 3,000 to 5,000 hours with proper use. Look for incremental output control to save on your power bill and examine the suggested area of heat projected by the unit.

Bioethanol fires are the other instant solution for a touch of warmth in a flue-less fire, but don’t expect more than a token amount of heat outdoors. A litre of fuel will last in the area of three-four hours: perfect for atmosphere dining al fresco on a warm summer’s evening.

Hot products

The Heatwave IR Parasol Heater with a choice of three settings (650w, 1300w and 2000w) can be used inside and out and mounted under an umbrella around the pole, €180. Lamp-life is 3000-5000 hours with proper use.

Heatwave also offers light metal hanging units with integrated LED lighting (the element will gift some light on its own) from €150. Suppliers include outdoorfurniture.ie. Check out aosome.ie for Outsunny units for gentled industrial IR designs. 1.5kW hanging lamps, from €74, heaters.ie.

Wood wise

You can cook on chimeneas too, but ensure you model is intended to perform double duty. Hacienda Colorado Medium (125cm), from €150.
You can cook on chimeneas too, but ensure you model is intended to perform double duty. Hacienda Colorado Medium (125cm), from €150.

Obviously top of the tree in terms of green credentials, a wood, charcoal or log burner is only as good as the hands that tend it. Feed green wood with a high water content into an outside unit and it will smoke heavily — burning to the eyes, irritating to the neighbours and highly inefficient in terms of thermal performance. All wood-burning produces particulate matter air pollution to a great or lesser extent.

Fire pits, chimeneas and full “proper” outdoor chimneys can handle wood and charcoal and there are a limited number of wood-pellet stoves if you are prepared to shop in Europe at a much bigger spend. A real flame fire relies on constant vigilance and relative close quarters, making them potentially hazardous around the young, old and vulnerable.

Think about a sheltered position and avoid placing a free-standing wood stove directly on a wood deck. Choose from steel, cast-iron or thick traditional clay which acts as heat store — radiating warmth for some time even when the fire is low or even out.

Consider a fire pit or wood burner that is intended to double as a pizza oven and/or grill radiating warmth to the gathering. Keep in mind that a real “cooker” of any kind should have an insulated body and not bleed energy to the surrounding company. Just trying to cook over an outdoor fireplace intended only for outdoor heat can be downright dangerous.

Ensure any marshmallow melts are closely supervised by adults. Treat yourself to a cover to avoid corrosion or choose a product with a sanded surface designed to rust like the Crate line from Arpe Studio, €299-€374, arpestudio.co.uk.

The Weber Fireplace has the urban chic of many tabletop wood models. While the lid shelters the fire from the wind, you simply place it over the flames to extinguish when the evening is over (€199 in porcelain enamelled steel, weber.com/Weber suppliers. For a greater spend, go to a full fireplace with Jotul, suppliers include fentonfires.ie or masonry fire/barbecues from €699, bushbeck.ie.

Intended for firewood, the Morso Forno is based on an Italian stone oven and covers all bases, crisping up a pizza in minutes while radiating heat from its gorgeous cast-iron chassis. From €1,200, thestovedepot.ie and other Morso suppliers.

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