Outdoor heating ideas - 12 ways to warm up a patio, deck or back garden

Extend your time outdoors with heating ideas that will keep the space toasty and warm all season round

Long sunny days in the garden that linger into the evening are what summer is all about. But when the sun goes down, it can often feel quite cold and chilly. Thinking about outdoor heating ideas is a must if you want to extend your time outdoors and stay toasty.

Aside from the warmth element, an outdoor fireplace, wood burner or firepit ideas can make a fabulous focal point feature in any outside area. They can help to define the space and pull an outdoor scheme together. A great crowd-pleaser, an outdoor fire adds instant ambience too and makes a natural gathering point that guests gravitate to and linger around when entertaining into the evening.

Outdoor heating ideas

Deciding on which type of outdoor heating to opt for will depend on the size of your outdoor set-up and whether you want a permanent heating feature or a portable design that can be stored away when out of action. Think about ease of use too. There are the best firepits, baskets and burners that will require wood or solid fuel to burn, or there are gas-powered and electric heaters that will give warmth at the flick of a switch.

1. Create a focal point fireplace

outdoor sitting area with white sofa and fire place

(Image credit: John Lewis)

If you like to spend time outdoors all year round and you have the space for it as part of your patio ideas, then why not consider installing a permanent outdoor fireplace? A sheltered area or covered verandah makes the perfect location for an outdoor living room. Plus installing a fireplace feature (or making use of an existing one) will keep the whole area warm and dry and extend the time you can use your outdoor space.

Outdoor fireplaces have much the same construction as indoor ones, with a flue to direct smoke up the chimney rather than out into the seating area. Designs can vary from elaborate brick-built set-ups similar to indoor fireplaces, to outdoor kitchen-style grills and cooking spaces, simple chimineas or rustic wood burners.

‘The cost of building an outdoor fireplace might range from £600 upwards, depending on the type of fireplace you want to build, says Harry Bodell, gardening expert at Price Your Job, ‘alternatively, installing a small, pre-fabricated fireplace unit will be less expensive than constructing a massive handmade stone fireplace.’

2. Opt for a centrepiece stove

outdoor seating with wooden bench and fire place

(Image credit: Future PLC/Max Attenborough)

There’s nothing like a roaring fire to add instant atmosphere outdoors. If you’d prefer something more contained than a blazing open fire outdoors, a wood-burning stove is a good option that will throw out plenty of heat and make a stylish centrepiece for a patio or terrace.

Mesh doors, metal grate and a chimney will encourage airflow and allows logs to burn more effectively, while the rusty-finish steel of this design adds a rustic charm that is perfect in a country setting.

Buy now: Wakehurst wood burning fireplace, £449, Gardenesque

3. Turn up the heat with a chiminea

outdoor seating area with grey sofa and fire place

(Image credit: Future PLC/Jamie Mason)

If patio space is tight or you have an area further along the garden that could use a little heat too, then consider a compact chiminea to warm up the space. Usually made from clay, cast iron or steel, chimineas are neat in size and take up a smaller footprint than similar garden fire pit ideas.

Chimineas are a traditional form of outdoor heating that originated in Mexico, with a traditional design of a round lower body topped by a vertical smokestack, and although modern variations of the design are available, they work in much the same way. The body of a chiminea will get quite hot, so should be positioned on a heat-proof surface or tiled mat for safety.

Buy now: Santa Lucia chiminea, £149.99, Primrose

4. Add impact with a freestanding fireplace

outdoor seating area with fire place

(Image credit: Made)

While brick-built fireplaces make a fabulous focal point feature, they can work out costly and will be a permanent fixture in an outdoor space, so this needs to be considered. For a lighter-weight, moveable option, consider a freestanding fireplace which will give an outdoor space a centrepiece, but requires no permanent fixtures so can be easily moved around.

Compact, but eye-catching, an iron fireplace like this one has a built-in flue. It combines the wood-burning area with a grill above for warming food, plus a small log store underneath.

Buy now: Ivy Line outdoor fireplace, £500, Made

5. Keep it simple with a fire basket

outdoor seating area with chairs and fire pit

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

For a fuss-free option that will provide plenty of heat for your garden seating area, consider a simple fire basket. Lightweight and easy to shift around, should you want to move up garden or take it with you to the beach, a basket’s compact size makes it a good option for smaller spaces.

Make sure that any logs that you burn are dry and well-seasoned. Damp wood will smoke heavily and won’t get a good hot fire burning. Kiln-dried wood is a good option, but it can be a bit more expensive. Protect the surface underneath a fire basket or fire pit with paving slabs or stone.

‘Create a flexible entertaining space by making a fire pit the focal point and styling your seating around it,’ suggests Lucy Kirk, creative manager, Lights4fun. ‘Hang festoon lights from trees or your pergola and dress the floor with lanterns and candles to add light at varying heights and make your space feel bigger and brighter.’

Buy now: Black metal fire bucket garden fire pit, £34.99, Lights4fun

6. Shape up with a slimline style

outdoor seating with white sofa

(Image credit: John Lewis)

If you have a small garden and outdoor space is tight, then consider a super-slim outdoor fire that will still look eye-catching but take up minimum floor space. A modern version of the traditional chiminea, this design has the same central wood-burning firepit, with a laser-cut flue to funnel air, plus a useful log store underneath.

Arrange outdoor seating in a sociable set-up, much like an indoor living room. Position sofas and chairs across from each other and the heat source set centrally. That way everyone stays warm.

Make sure that a chiminea is positioned away from overhead branches or greenery and six inches or more away from wooden fences or other combustible materials.

Buy now: La Hacienda chiminea, £149, John Lewis

7. Double-up with a dual purpose design

outdoor seating area with table and chairs

(Image credit: Homebase)

Flex your garden space by investing in a combination table with built-in firepit that guests can gather around after dark. Taking up far less space than individual pieces, the smart metal coffee table features an integral firepit with grill insert for easy s’mores making and a mesh cover to keep sparks contained. When the firepit isn’t in use, just pop in the insert section and it can be used as a regular coffee table.

Buy now: Tuscany fire pit set, £1300, Homebase

8. Create a cosy corner plot

outdoor sitting area with sofa and fire pit

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Be strategic with your outdoor seating set-up to create the cosiest arrangement and harness warmth from your heat source. A corner sofa or sectional seating can be arranged in an L-shape with a fire pit positioned centrally where you can benefit most from the heat.

Positioning furniture in front of fences and panels will also help to enclose the area. The smaller the enclosure, the warmer it will be. Add taller plants and foliage around the boundary as another way of screening off the space further.

Buy now: La Hacienda Hawkesbury Magnesia fire pit, £169, John Lewis

9. Opt for an ‘incognito’ option

outdoor sitting area with fire pit

(Image credit: Charlton Island)

For a neat and discreet outdoor fire that will blend in with its surroundings when not being used, you can’t beat this mini column-style fire pit. The heat source is gas-fuelled and operated at the flick of a switch, via a propane gas canister. But the best part of all is the column’s timber-effect finish. This creates the appearance of a wooden log, with a lid that fits on top. That means it can double up as a side table when the flames are not in action.

Buy now: EcoTop UK Log style gas fire column, £389.99, Charlton Island

10. Enjoy instant heat

garden with chairs and fire pit

(Image credit: Solus Decor)

If a wood-burning fire is too much effort or too messy, consider a gas-fuelled fire that offers heat at the flick of a switch. Styles vary from simple fire pits and table-sized options to mini gas-fuelled pits that sit in the centre of a dining table.

A slimline design like this one is a good choice if patio space is limited. It offers a wall of flames that makes a statement feature, as well as throwing out plenty of heat. In larger spaces, a linear fire pit like this can be used in multiples. Create a long line run and space divider or double-stacked them to create a wall effect.

Buy now: Linear fire pit, POA, Solus Decor

11. Save space with a hanging heater

outdoor area with sofa and hanging heater

(Image credit: Wayfair)

If lack of space is an issue or you want a heating source that can be kept well away from little ones or pets, then consider a hanging patio heater. This is suspended from the roof of a covered terrace or verandah and designed to look like a regular light fitting.

Most electric hanging patio heaters use infrared technology, that radiates heat from above to warm anyone sitting or standing underneath. Heat is pretty much instant and because there is minimal heat loss, they can be a cost-effective option.

Buy now: Rhett electric patio heater, £99.99, Wayfair

12. Cook up a storm outdoors

outdoor sitting with fire pit and candles

(Image credit: Future PLC/Emma Lee)

Combine a simple fire pit with a tripod cooking frame. This allows the family to enjoy backyard cook-outs on summer evenings outdoors. The basic steel tripod simply slots over the top of a fire pit, so you can hang a pan or pot above the heat. Add a grill for easy barbecuing.

Buy now: Campfire tripod, £45, Wild Stoves

What is the best form of outdoor heating?

This depends on different factors, such as how much outdoor space you have, whether there is an outside power source and if you want your outdoor heating to be a permanent fixture or a portable option that is easily moved around.

‘Electric heaters are an easy and budget-friendly way to heat your garden,’ according to the experts at Homebase. ‘Simply plugin, flick a switch and enjoy instant warmth, choosing from floor, tabletop and wall-mounted units to tall, freestanding models.’

‘If your aim is to impress, firepits or fire baskets are a great outdoor heating idea. Designed to look like a freestanding open fireplace, usually made from steel or cast iron, they can make a stunning focal point in any space after the sun goes down.’

‘Gas heaters for outdoors are affordable, don’t require an electric outlet and can be moved around, although some models can be heavy.’

Can you leave a patio heater outside in the rain?

Electric patio heaters should never be left out directly in the rain, especially while they are on and operating. Natural gas and propane heaters will continue to work in the rain, but frequent exposure to rain can cause interference with burners and make equipment rust, so covering them up will prevent unnecessary wear and tear.

While wood-burning fire pits can withstand some rain, if left outside in the elements too long they may rust, so again covering up is sensible.

Lisa Fazzani
Deputy Editor

Lisa is Deputy Editor of Style at Home magazine and regularly contributes to sister title Ideal Home. She has written about interiors for more than 25 years and about pretty much every area of the home, from shopping and decorating, crafts and DIY to real home transformations and kitchen and bathroom makeovers. Homes and interiors have always been a passion and she never tires of nosying around gorgeous homes, whether on TV, online, in print or in person.