Patio Heaters: What Your Patio Heater Manual Doesn’t Tell You

April 30, 2023 0 Comments

A patio heater, like any other appliance, needs regular maintenance. By reviewing your manual, you will probably have very good instructions on how to assemble and operate your patio heater. There may even be some helpful troubleshooting information if your patio heater isn’t working properly. But there is something that the manufacturer does not bother to let you know.

The warmer seasons are winding down and you’re pulling your patio heater out of storage, ready to warm up those brisk mornings and chillier nights. Turn on your natural gas supply or make sure you have a full propane tank. Friends and family are looking forward to standing by the patio heater, so go turn it on. Using the outdoor heater before, you know to turn the knob to pilot and push the on button…click and won’t light. Ok, you try again, you click and it does not turn on again. Your guests continue to wait patiently, but slowly begin to move in and out of the cold. He checks the gas supply again and tries the lighting process a few more times, but decides to take the party inside.

The next day, you review the instructions and troubleshooting guide, but you still can’t turn on your patio heater and think you may need a new outdoor heater to move the gathering outdoors once more. However, if he knew a few maintenance tips, he could save himself the cost of a new patio heater and be the life of the party again.

What most patio heater instructions won’t tell you is that a covered or stored heater is a favorite home for spiders and other small critters. The cool, dark and confined space makes it a perfect nesting place for our eight legged friends. Debris, nests, and spider webs created during your patio heater’s non-use period block important working parts, causing it to malfunction or not work at all. Unfortunately, without dismantling a couple of key pieces, you’ll never be able to see the problem created by the netting, debris, or nest. If your patio heater is over a year old, it’s most likely out of warranty and the manufacturer won’t be offering much help.

So what should you do now to get your outdoor patio heater working again? Almost all propane or natural gas patio heaters contain the same components of a control valve, pilot, thermocouple, and main burner. Reaching and cleaning these components is essential to get your outdoor heater working again.

Cleaning the internal parts of your patio heater:

Note: Always make sure the patio heater is cool, with any gas supplies disconnected.

1. Remove cover or reflector and shield from emitter. The pieces are usually attached to the main burner housing with four screws. Once you remove it, you will have access to the main burner, pilot, and thermocouple.

2. Remove the main burner, which is usually attached to a bracket with two to four screws. Once the main burner is removed, you will have access to the main burner orifice. The hole is a small brass fitting with a small hole, measured in gauges. This small hole can be covered or clogged by debris, the nest, or the web the spider leaves behind. Because little or no gas can pass through the obstruction, the outdoor heater will not create a flame or will have a very yellow sooty flame.

3. Using a socket or wrench, remove this hole for cleaning. To clean, use compressed air or a needle to remove any obstruction.

4. Check pilot for other obstructions. Sometimes the pilot orifice, like the main burner orifice, will have traces of spider deposits. This brass fitting will have an even smaller hole than the main burner hole. Removing the pilot hole can be tricky as different manufacturers will secure the pilot in different ways. However, most pilots will be attached to a bracket that holds the pilot and thermocouple. Loosen this bracket so that you have free access to the pilot. The pilot hole will be directly above the small copper tube and just below the pilot. Remove the pilot and then remove the pilot hole. Clean the pilot hole in the same manner as the main burner hole with compressed air or a needle.

5. On the main burner, there should be two openings near the bottom of the burner, these are called venturis. Make sure the opening is free of obstructions so that the air can mix properly with the gas.

6. With all parts of the patio heater clean, reassemble all parts in the reverse order above, but DO NOT replace the cover (reflector).

7. Reconnect and turn on your gas supply. Following your operating manual, run your patio heater only to the pilot position. While holding the control knob in the pilot position, verify that the pilot is lit, with the flame touching the top of the thermocouple. After you have verified this, release the control knob (about 30-60 seconds) and the pilot should stay on. If not, wait for heater to cool and follow pilot hole cleaning instructions above. Reassemble and light pilot again.

8. Once the pilot stays on, turn the control knob to the high position. If the main burner orifice was cleaned properly, you should see a 4-6 inch blue flame with yellow-orange tips. If the flame is mostly yellow, then the clogs in the burner venturi have not been cleared properly. The venturi allows air to mix with the gas to burn it clean. If air is not mixed with the gas, a dirty yellow flame is produced.

9. With the pilot and main burner now working properly, allow the patio heater to cool down then re-mount the emitter screen and cover to the housing bracket, using the same screws provided.

10. Turn on your patio heater and get back to work and be ready to have another great party, gathering or outdoor dinner once again.

Please note, with either a natural gas or propane patio heater, if you are uncomfortable with gas appliances, contact a qualified gas technician.

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