Heating Your Deck

Heating your deck, especially in Colorado, can be a year-round feature – especially during cool or breezy nights in the spring and fall. A tall propane burner like the one shown here provides enough heat to keep even a stiff chill off of anyone using the deck.

Who doesn’t love sitting around a roaring fire on a cold day? The colder the day and the hotter the fire, the more satisfying it is to be fireside, especially if the fireplace is on your deck. There is no better place to make memories with family and friends than while you’re gathered around dancing flames, roasting marshmallows, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate or hot coffee, or a glass of wine. There’s just something about the warmth, the light, and the smell of a fire that brings out the best in us. Subtle lighting that helps us find our way out to the fireplace or table, only adds to the ambiance of the fire.

When the days are short and often overcast, lighting and heating your deck can extend the number of hours you can comfortably use it. But how do you decide which heating options work best for you, your deck and your lifestyle? Let us help:

While the idea of a fire on a wooden deck may seem dangerous, it’s actually not – as long as you create a no-burn zone beneath and around your fire pit or fireplace. When designing a fireplace, or installing a fire feature, be sure to position it away from furniture, plants, railings, or anything that could catch fire. Install a flame-resistant surface to hold the fire pit and catch sparks. This can range from special stones, to fire and flame resistant mats, concrete, or metal structures. Your contractor or company installer will give you a range of options to choose from. What you want is a surface that will catch stray sparks and embers and not burn.

There are four primary heating options for heating your deck, each with greater or lesser heat generating qualities. Anything that burns wood will provide the most heat. If you’re looking for a fire feature that adds ambiance and esthetics as well, consider propane, and then alcohol or ethanol features:

Propane Burners

Propane burners come in a variety of sizes, shapes, with varying BTU output. They can be as small as a tabletop option, or be a ten foot tower of flame. Standing propane heaters are typically full-sized and are often portable, with a compartment for the fuel tank. They’re ideal for an outdoor party as they have wheels and can be moved around depending on where they’re need. Standing propane heaters can provide warmth in a 20-foot diameter. Freestanding heater models generally operate at 40,000 BTUs. (British Thermal Unit. One BTU can heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.) Estimate the square footage of the space you want to heat (multiply length times width to get the square footage. 10×20 = 200 square feet). Then check the fire feature’s projected heating range. Not all fire features will have this – but most should. The rating will vary depending on wind chill factors, temperature outside etc. so get the largest, warmest features you can afford if heat is your primary concern.

Gas Burners for decks
These friends are enjoying the heat from a propane burning heater set up beside their table. These type of heaters come in both the stand alone version seen here, as well as tabletop models.

Fireplaces

As with many features of your deck, it’s best to plan for a fireplace before you build. You can add a fireplace later, or use a portable fireplace. There are many varieties, sizes, and types of portable fireplaces – ranging from metal to concrete, or brick. Fireplaces aren’t just for cold weather. They can increase the ambience of any deck any time of year. They provide a natural entertaining spot, and can even serve as a cooking space. They’re so popular because they’re a natural gathering spot, no matter where they are – inside or outside the home. Along with wood stoves, they will give you the most heat and be the most affordable to operate.

Lovely furnished back deck with fireplace.
This interior fireplace serves double duty – heating both the inside and providing an enclosed fireplace and view of the fire from the outside.

Wood Stoves

Wood stoves have been used to heat everything from ice fishing shacks, tents, RVs and tiny homes to huge homes – depending on the size of the stove. From the 1-foot square cubic mini woodstove to more massive sizes, wood stoves of all sizes and shapes have long been a favorite heating method for all living spaces. Pot-bellied stoves, hunting stoves, any kind of woodburning stove can add to the personality of your space, as well as provide the amount of heat you need to stay comfortable on your deck.

Four plastic chairs on a scenic sunny outdoor deck with a fireplace on a raised platform and a small table all surrounded by a wood and metal railing.
This small wood stove is placed on a corner of the deck on top of both metal and brick which are fireproof and will keep embers and sparks from falling onto the wood deck. It is also perfectly placed to give users a tremendous view of the river and woodlands off of the deck.

Fire Pits

Most of us think of fire pits as a hole dug in the ground, or a metal ring on the ground. But fire pits can also be elaborate wood or gas burning structures made of stone, brick, or metal. The common feature of fire pits is that they are designed to contain and keep fires from spreading. Some fire pits, like a chiminea, are free-standing, while others sit directly on the deck. While propane fueled fire pits are beautiful to look at, they don’t give off nearly the amount of heat that a wood fueled fire pit will.

An outdoor fire heater
An old metal Chimera, popular in the west and southwest. Chimera’s are also made of pottery and often colorfully decorated mosaic tiles. The clay Chimeras have been known to explode when overheated, so look for a metal or cast iron version if you plan to use them on a deck. ShopHome.com has some modern versions that are sleek and come in charcoal and orange colors.
Modern Chimera
More modern versions, such as this “Tribal” Chimera, are also available from Modfire.com, and in a variety of colors.
Stone Firepit
Firepits can be located on a deck, or adjacent to one. This firepit has stone pavers placed around it to ensure sparks and embers don’t drop on the wood deck.

Don’t limit yourself to permanently installed firepits. Use mobile or portable units until you know what you want, like, and need in a fire feature. Most features retain their value and can be sold in order to purchase a different feature. Other fire features include:

Alcohol or Ethanol firepits are a very popular fire feature that can be used year round as they don’t give off massive amounts of heat. If you’re looking to heat your deck these aren’t the features you want. They only give off a limited amount of heat and are great for center pieces on tables while you’re dining – for extra heat, or when used in larger configurations, as shown below.

Ethanol Firepit
Photo Courtesy of Gaiasoil.com. Ethanol Firepits are very popular fire features for many deckowners. Ethanol firepits come in a variety of sizes, from the 72-inch feature shown here, to the smaller, table top designs (below).
Table top Ethanol fire feature.
Table top Ethanol fire feature.

Don’t forget you can add candles, especially hurricane candles, tea lights, and other fire features along with a serious heat source, like a commercial heat blower like this one from GlobalIndustries.com. They may not be romantic, but they do put out the heat. Multiple units can be positioned around your deck, and supplemented with more asthetic heaters or firepits.

Industrial heat blower 2 globalindustrial dot com
This commercial heat blower from GlobalIndustries can be mounted to provide serious levels of heat that will warm large areas. Typically used at construction sites, these heaters run on electricity and are designed to heat large open outdoor areas or factories, garages, workshops, and other places where temporary localized heat is needed.

Whatever heating or fire feature you choose, make sure it fits your budget (cost of propane, wood, electric) and actually heats the area you want to heat. Don’t be afraid to mix and match heaters – using some for actual heat, others for ambiance or mood, and still others for cooking.

To learn more about heating your deck, download our free Heating & Lighting Your Deck ebook here.