Outdoor Tabletop Heaters: Warming Up an Urban Balcony or a Pocket-Sized Patio

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In threading through the gridlock and rain on my way across the city earlier today, I got to thinking about some of the parties we attended this past Holiday Season.  And it struck me—that having outdoor fires and heaters to create warmth and, in one case, breathtakingly beautiful effects were among my best memories of these events.  Good food and good friends, notwithstanding.

The fires bestowed light-filled beauty; furnished focal points and direction; provided places to gather, talk, imbibe; and of course, supplied comfort.  There’s something primal about the human attraction to warmth and fire.

OK, great, you say.  But your “backyard” is actually a wee balcony overlooking a busy street downtown.  Or maybe it’s a pocket-sized patio, where there are (somewhat draconian) local regulations against burning wood.

Fret not.  I am an intrepid hunter of products that can bring the sparkling mood and magic of fire to just about any space. Or simply something warm and convenient, if that’s what you’re after.

This time, I’ve researched small-scale propane and bio-ethanol options (and electric alternatives), and posted the best performers below.  I think you’ll find something here that will end the dark and chilly predicament you now find yourself in.  Be warm and happy!

Tabletop Propane Fire Bowl –  The Fire Topper Concrete Fire Pit Bowl

WHAT’S NOTEWORTHY:

  • It’s a fire pit for your patio table!
  • Made of architectural cast stone, hand finished and marbleized.
  • 18 inches in diameter.  50,000 BTUs.
  • Durable stainless steel burner.  Powered by clean burning propane.
  • Everything you need except the 20 lb. propane tank is included.
  • Designed specifically for patio tabletop use (requires umbrella hole).

What I Love:   A fresh and well executed idea!  Made of architectural cast stone, this fire bowl is currently available in two colors, Pearl Gray or Suffolk Tan.  At 18 inches in diameter, you’ll still have space on a standard size patio table for small place settings and a few bottles of your favorite.  Everything you need to set it up, except the propane tank, is included in the box.

The burner pipe extends approximately 4 inches below the bowl and connects to the flexible propane hose.  Fire Topper has tested this fire bowl, running it consistently for 45 hours on a standard 20 lb. propane tank.  It is designed to be long lasting, hassle-free and cost effective.  Why not prime and repaint that old patio table with the busted umbrella, and top it off with a high quality fire bowl?

This little tabletop fire pit is perfect if you have limited space on a patio or deck and can mount the bowl through a hole in the center of your patio table.  Lots of great reviews on this fire bowl, so be sure to put it on your short list of considerations.

A dealbreaker for you?..   There has to be a hole in the patio table to set up the bowl. Fire Topper has apparently done some testing on glass patio tables, but it really depends on the type of glass you have.  Personally, I’d steer away from putting a fire bowl on a glass table, but you could contact Fire Topper for specifics on this issue. 

You can, however, switch out the rocks that are included and buy fire glass instead—and get some sparkly effects that way! Be careful not to overfill the bowl or you’ll diminish the flames.

Measures 6 x 18 x 18 inches.  Weighs about 40 lbs.  Heat output of 50,000 BTUs.

Bio Ethanol Tabletop Fireplace – The Sunnydaze El Fuego Tabletop Fireplace

WHAT’S NOTEWORTHY:

  • Requires no venting
  • 14 inches W x 8 inches H
  • No smoke or soot
  • Sleek, modern style.
  • Bio-ethanol fuel (not included) burns clean and is made in the USA from plant sources
  • Heat output 2000 BTUs.  Will burn for about 1 – 2 hours.

What I love:    The ultimate in small fireplaces!  It’s so simple, sophisticated—and portable.  Liquid bio-ethanol fuel is made from plant sources, so it burns without leaving stains, soot, or residues.  Fireplace requires no venting,  electricity or propane.  And it will radiate quite enough heat to warm the area around it.  Includes a pre-inserted wool wick (do not remove), tempered glass panes and a flame snuffer.  Scatter three or four of these around the balcony to add a very polished look to your cocktail hour.

This tabletop fireplace is perfect for a small balcony or courtyard if you want to add light and beauty, and you can’t burn wood.

 A dealbreaker for you?…  This fireplace is not suitable for continuous operation, nor for grilling and cooking.  Also, you can burn only liquid bio-ethanol fuel in it.  You may or may not notice an odor if burning indoors.  I recommend using outdoors only.  I sent one of these as a gift and they absolutely love using it on a semi-enclosed porch.  I also recommend having something protective under the base if placing it on wood or other sensitive surfaces, as it does generate some heat.

Measures 14 W x 7.25 D x 8 inches H.  Weighs about 7 lbs.  Heat output of 2,000 BTUs.

Table Top Propane Heater – The AZ Portable Tabletop Patio Heater in Gunmetal Finish

WHAT’S NOTEWORTHY:

  • 11,000 BTUs, with variable control
  • Anti-tilt safety feature.
  • Base is weighted for additional stability.
  • Uses a 1 lb. propane tank, not included.
  • Can be used with 5 ft. adapter hose to connect to 20 lb. tank
  • Heat radius of about 5 feet.

What I Love:   Modestly sized, practically effortless to use.  Has attractive, durable, grey and black speckled finish.  Propane connector swings out, making it easy to attach the 1 lb. tank, not included.  Tank will last about 2 or 3 hours on high.   I’ve had positive experiences with customer service at AZ Patio Heaters.

This little tabletop heater is perfect if you have a small patio or porch and don’t want to fill or store 20 lb. propane tanks, though it can be adapted for use with a standard 20 lb. tank.  Includes a storage cover.

A dealbreaker for you?..   While it’s roughly 50 inches shorter than many floor models, I still find it too tall for a small patio dining table, especially if I’m serving lunch or snacks, so I use mine on a nearby side table.  It depends on your furniture and specific needs, but the heater is a little over 3 feet tall.  Assembly required.

Measures 24 x 24 x 37 inches high.  Weighs 19 lbs.  11,000 BTUs.  Heat radius of about 5 feet.

Electric Tabletop Heater – The Westinghouse Infrared Electric Outdoor Tabletop Heater

WHAT’S NOTEWORTHY:

  • Water and dust resistant.
  • Uses standard AC wall outlet.
  • Lightweight and portable.
  • Silent, odorless operation.
  • Perfect for balconies and terraces.
  • About 26 inches tall.

What I Love:   Instant, effortless, quiet warmth for your outdoor space!  Water and dust resistant heater is perfect for a balcony, porch or terrace.  Odorless and efficient operation.  Electric infrared heat warms you, so there’s no wasteful heating of the air.  Transitional style works very well with almost any outdoor decor.

This is a great heater if you just want an easy, straightforward way to warm up quickly while enjoying your balcony or terrace.  Can be used indoors, as well.

A dealbreaker for you?..  Requires standard AC wall outlet.  Heat coverage is approx. 9 sq. feet.

Measures 17″ x  17″ x  26″ High.  Weighs  8.82 lbs.  1500W, 5100 BTUs.

Electric Umbrella Heater – The Fire Sense Umbrella-Mounted Halogen Patio Heater

  • Durable, high quality, steel construction.
  • Lightweight and portable.
  • Fully electric.  7-foot, 8-inch cord, not retractable.
  • Silent operation.
  • Heats almost instantly, no initial warmup period.
  • Approximately 10% the energy costs of propane heaters.
  • No harmful emissions or byproducts of combustion.
  • Uses standard 110V household current.
  • ETL Approved.

What I Love:  Technically, this heater sits above your umbrella table, but it’s such a clever, easy way to both stay warm and save space on a small patio.  The variable heat levels are a snap to adjust.  Press the switch once for 500W, twice for 1000W, and a third time for 1500W.  Infrared heat warms you and your guests, not the air.  Heater folds down when you want to collapse your umbrella, or you can simply remove it from the umbrella pole. Either way, it’s simple and quick.  There are no moving parts, just silent and efficient heating for your family and guests.  ETL approved (complies with North American safety standards).

This is a good choice if you have an outdoor umbrella table or a freestanding market umbrella with your patio furniture.  Great for allergy sufferers who prefer something odorless.

A dealbreaker for you?..  It must be mounted on a standard umbrella center pole.

Measures 3.3″ H x 4″ W x 39″ L.  Weighs 7.92 lbs.  Heat coverage area is about 9 square feet.  Heat output of 5,118 BTUs.  Total 1500W.

A Quick Summary

If you’re looking for a hassle-free, cost effective fire pit for your small patio, and you have a table with a pre-existing umbrella hole (or you’re able to drill one), then the Fire Topper Concrete Tabletop Fire Bowl will add light and warmth to your patio suppers.  18 inches in diameter, approx. 40 lbs., 50,000 BTUs.  Requires standard 20 lb. propane tank, not included, but everything else is in the box.

If you’re looking for a stylish way to welcome your guests as they arrive before dinner, consider having a few Sunnydaze El Fuego Tabletop Fireplaces on your balcony or terrace.  They use clean burning, plant-based bio-ethanol and are super easy to set up. 14 x 8 inches H.  Requires no venting.

If you want a table top propane heater that’s straightforward to use and easy to move around the patio, the AZ Portable Tabletop Patio Heater in Gunmetal Finish is a very reliable and high quality option.  Uses 1 lb. propane tank.  37 inches high.  Weighs 19 lbs.  11,000 BTUs.  Heat radius of about 5 feet.

If you want a tabletop heater that’s electric instead, have a look at the lightweight and portable Westinghouse Electric Infrared Tabletop Heater.  It’s both dust and water resistant, and while it’s ideal for a balcony or porch, it can be used indoors, as well.   17″ x  17″ x  26″ High.  Weighs  8.82 lbs.  Corded electric.  1500W, 5100 BTUs. 

If you want to enjoy cool weather by relaxing or entertaining at your patio umbrella table, the Fire Sense Umbrella-Mounted Halogen Patio Heater is a durable, high quality, lightweight infrared option that mounts quickly and easily on your  umbrella’s center pole.  Heat coverage, 9 sq. feet.  Corded electric, 1500W.

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