Safety tips for outdoor patio heaters and fire elements

By: Stephanie Ferreiro | Economical Insurance
October 8, 2020

Patio season took on a whole new meaning this year, as people across the country adapted their yards for physically distant visits, playdates, and even outdoor workspaces. If you’re hoping to keep patio season going a little longer, you’ve probably thought about how you might heat your outdoor space as the weather continues to cool down. Some popular options include freestanding or mounted heaters, fire pits, lanterns, and fire pit tables. Keep these tips in mind if you’re planning on installing any type of outdoor heating system:

  1. Choose the right location for your patio heater or fire element. When you’re thinking about where you want to install a heat source, think first about where you spend the most time — it probably makes most sense to heat this area, but you might need to do a little rearranging to make it safe. It’s important to place your outdoor heat source a good distance away from anything flammable (like trees, fabric patio furniture or gazeboes, or propane-fueled cooking equipment), especially if it has an open flame. If your heat source is run by fuel, you’ll also need to make sure it’s located in an open area with good airflow to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. No matter where you plan on putting a heat source, be sure to check the owner’s manual and follow any recommendations from the manufacturer.
  2. Safely handle and store fuel tanks. Many outdoor heat sources are fueled using natural gas or propane, with propane being the top choice for portable heaters. When your heater isn’t in use, always close the gas tank valve and turn off the switch to keep the tank in good working order. When handled incorrectly, any type of fuel can be dangerous, so take care to properly store your spare tank away from open flames and heated areas. After swapping gas tanks, check their valves and hoses for leaks by applying soapy water to the components and watching for air bubbles.
  3. Keep the kids at distance. Children shouldn’t be allowed to touch a patio heater or fire element, including turning it on or off or moving it. Be sure to put your heat source in a safe space where your kids aren’t likely to accidentally touch it while playing or running around. Carefully explain the risks and discuss some rules before using your heat source for the first time, and never leave a patio heater or fire element running while your children are unattended nearby.
  4. Properly secure your standing heater to prevent tilting or toppling. Standing patio heaters tend to disperse heat over a larger area because of their height, but their height can also make them top-heavy, which means they could potentially topple over more easily. Many models come with built-in anti-tilt devices, but you should still take precautions to secure and stabilize your heater whenever possible. Some options include weighing down the base of your heater with heat-resistant sandbags or water weights, or using flame-retardant ties or bungee cords to secure your heater to the lawn with pegs (like you would with a tent).
  5. Know your local bylaws and obey fire bans. Depending on where you live, there may be bylaws in place that restrict the use of certain types of outdoor fire pits, fireplaces, and other fire elements. Before you invest in an outdoor heating system or fire element, find out how your local bylaws might need to factor into your decision. You should also obey local fire bans that may be enforced when weather is drier or when your area is at risk for wildfires.
  6. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Every heat source is unique. From cleaning and maintenance to general safety tips and operation instructions, it’s important to carefully review any information that came with your heater or fire element and follow all instructions. Some types of heaters may require you to turn off the gas a certain way when not in use, and others may have strict distance requirements or other setup parameters to follow. Be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s instruction manual.

Sometimes accidents happen, even when you’ve taken all the right safety precautions. In the event that your property is damaged because of an outdoor heating mishap, contact us or your insurance company’s 24-hour claims service line. If you’re wondering how installing an outdoor heating system might affect your home insurance, contact us today.

The content in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as professional or expert advice.

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