6 Repair Tips for Patio Heaters

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Is your patio heater malfunctioning? These six repairs fix the most common problems people have with their patio heaters.

Restrictions on indoor social gatherings have driven more and more people outdoors. Unfortunately, cold weather can make outdoor living spaces uncomfortable and unappealing. As a result, many homeowners purchased patio heaters to provide warmth in their outdoor living areas.

If you’re one of the people who bought your first patio heater this year, here’s how to combat some of the most common problems you may encounter. Whether you have an electric or gas (propane or natural) patio heater, read on to discover six DIY patio heater repairs.

Patio Heater Troubleshooting

Here are some sure signs that your patio heater isn’t working properly:

  • The heater won’t start;
  • A gas patio heater won’t start with the ignition switch, but can be lit with a match or lighter;
  • The heater stops working after a few minutes;
  • Reduced heat output and/or flame production.

Six Common Problems and Solutions

If you experience any of the above issues, determine if one of the following six problems could be the cause. Before attempting any repairs, ensure that your heater is turned off to avoid being burned.

The propane igniter won’t fire up the heater

Many gas patio heaters are equipped with a spark igniter (a.k.a. sparker), a small electrode that ignites the pilot light to get things started. Over time, spark igniters fail. If you can successfully start the heater with a match or lighter, the igniter is probably the problem.

To test the spark igniter, use a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the screen around the main burner (a.k.a. emitter screen). This will expose the ignition assembly, which consists of the spark igniter, pilot tube and thermocouple. Hold down the ignition switch to visually inspect for a spark. If no spark is detected, you may need to replace the igniter.

To replace the spark igniter, note that it is usually secured to the ignition assembly by a single retainer nut that can be removed with a wrench. On the other end, it’s usually linked to the ignition switch wiring with a push-in connector that can be easily pulled out by hand. Once you remove the old spark igniter, simply reverse the process to install the new one. You can purchase a universal igniter compatible with all patio heaters, or one designed for your heater’s specific brand.

The pilot won’t light or stay lit

If the spark igniter produces a spark but the pilot won’t light or stay lit, a clog in the gas supply line to the pilot could be to blame. The pilot feed tube located on the ignition assembly and attached to a small brass fitting (a.k.a. orifice) connects the pilot tube’s supply line to the heater’s main gas line. Often, one or both of these components becomes clogged with insects, carbon deposits or accumulated dust and debris.

To unclog the line, start by removing the emitter screen with a screwdriver to expose the ignition assembly. Grab a small wrench and loosen the orifice from the gas line. Use a toothpick, needle or compressed air to remove the blockage from the pilot tube and orifice, then reconnect the orifice to the gas line. Finally, reattach the screen.

Starting issues or reduced heat production

Outdoor furniture and fixtures accumulate dust, dirt and debris. When these elements stack up on a patio heater’s gas or electric heating element, the heater may have starting issues or reduced heat production. If your patio heater has these issues, cleaning it could be all you need to do.

To clean the burner or heating elements, remove the emitter screen to expose the burner or element. Because these should be kept dry, use compressed air to blow off dust and dirt instead of a damp cloth. Reattach the screen.

To clean a gas burner’s individual ports, remove the emitter screen and take a pipe cleaner or straw brush to remove dirt and debris. Once clean, reattach the screen.

The burner goes out after a few minutes

The thermocouple of a gas patio heater is a safety component designed to prevent gas leaks when the pilot goes out. It’s a copper rod that sits next to the pilot tube on the other side of the spark igniter; it allows gas to flow through the pilot tube when it detects heat from the pilot light.

If the thermocouple is too far away from the pilot tube, it can’t detect the heat and will restrict the gas supply. Free-standing portable units are most prone to this malfunction because the thermocouple may be bumped or wiggle out of place while the heater is being moved.

To fix a thermocouple that’s too far from the pilot light, remove the emitter screen to expose the ignition housing. After locating the thermocouple, use pliers to gently squeeze the thermocouple and pilot tube closer together. Reattach the screen.

Gas heater doesn’t stay lit or heat production is reduced

A gas patio heater requires proper gas pressure to function properly. Without it, the pilot tube and burner may not receive enough gas to keep the heater lit, or the burner’s flame and heat production will be reduced. Low gas pressure is usually caused by broken, kinked or otherwise damaged gas lines.

To fix damaged gas lines, first visually inspect all the heater’s gas lines, inside and out, that connect to the primary gas source. Kinked lines are easy to spot, but cracked or broken lines that produce leaks may be more difficult. You can use a leak detection spray to make leaks more visible.

Any damaged lines should be replaced. To do this, use a wrench to loosen and remove both ends of the gas line connections. Then connect both ends of the new gas line to the heater and tighten them with the wrench.

Electric heater doesn’t start, or starts but doesn’t work right

Damaged or corroded wiring is one of the most common causes for electric patio heater problems. This includes everything from the heater not starting at all to a whole host of malfunctions while it’s running.

Signs of damaged wires include corrosion, frayed wire and broken wire insulation. Exposure to the elements, rodent infestation or simply age can lead to wire issues. A wall-mounted patio heater’s electrical wiring is especially prone to damage from birds if they build nests on top of them.

Damaged wiring can’t be fixed. It has to be replaced. If you’re comfortable splicing new wires with wire connectors, you can DIY. Otherwise, hire a professional electrician or electric appliance repair professional to replace the wires.

James Fitzgerald
James Fitzgerald is a handyman and freelance home-improvement writer with a passion for DIY, gardening, and anything involving working with his hands. He has over a decade of professional experience in a variety of trades, including construction, tree work, landscaping, and general maintenance. When not in search of the next enticing DIY project, he may be cooking, lifting weights, riding his motorcycle, hiking out at the coast, or nose deep in a great book.