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- The powerful heat output of the Mr. Heater Buddy Heater let me spend a few more hours outside on my deck at home in Canada, where the winters can be harsh and temperatures dip below freezing even in the fall.
- With the novel coronavirus making outdoor time more precious than ever, this patio heater extends the time I can comfortably use my outdoor space this season.
- Its rugged design means it isn't a showpiece, but it puts out 9,000 Btu of heat; enough to warm a small deck or patio.
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I live in Montreal where winter is no picnic. As soon as September rolls around, people begin scrambling to put away patio furniture and close up their outdoor spaces in anticipation of a long chill.
But this year — with all the lockdowns during the novel coronavirus pandemic — outdoor spaces have become a social lifeline for people to battle cabin fever and socialize safely with loved ones. We're all looking for ways to extend the outdoor season a bit longer, which is why patio heaters have been practically sold out for weeks. When researching our guide to the best patio heaters, the Mr. Heater Buddy Heater was one of the few that we could actually get our hands on.
My deck, heavily shaded by a large and definitely hundred-year-old maple tree, is chilly even on warm days. As the temperatures hover around freezing at night, it's hard to sit outside and comfortably enjoy the fresh air. While I was excited to test the Mr. Heater Buddy Heater, I was skeptical that this compact little gadget would do much to warm me against the Canadian chill.
My first reaction to the Buddy Heater was, "Gosh, this is ugly." It's not one of those sleek, upright patio heaters you'd spot at a restaurant. Instead, it's compact and rugged, like something you'd use to jump-start your car. It's bright red, relatively small, and rectangular, with dimensions of about 14 inches long and 15 inches tall. It fit easily on top of my 5-foot metal patio table, with plenty of room to spare for food and drinks. It's meant to run on small one-pound propane tanks that you can buy at hardware or outdoor stores, but it doesn't come with one, so I had to take a trip to the store. With the tank attached, it weighs about eight pounds, so it's also very light and easy to move around.
I used the heater for two days in the late morning when it was breezy and cool enough to need a sweater. Turning it on took me a minute or so of fiddling with the knob. You need to press down on the dial while on the pilot setting for around 30-60 seconds to get it going, then you turn it to the desired heat setting; a bit like operating a gas kitchen stove.
On the first day, I let the heater run for two hours on the highest setting. I used a thermometer to monitor the outside temperature, and the heater warmed my 59 F patio to 75 F fairly quickly; I ended up feeling overly toasty, but confident that I'd be comfortable on a cooler day. I brought it back out the next day, which was a bit chillier, and ran it until the tank was empty — an additional hour. Even though I placed it several feet away from where I was sitting, I didn't experience cold toes. The heat on the max setting was enough to provide whole-body comfort.
Heating devices like the Buddy Heater advertise their heat output in British thermal units (Btu). The higher the Btu, the more heat a device can produce, though the exact max temperature a heater can reach depends on the starting air temperature, weather conditions, and heater design (a tall dome-top heater will disperse more heat evenly than a tabletop model that points in one direction). Most restaurants, for example, use outdoor heaters that put out 40,000 Btu to keep a lot of guests comfortable over a wide area.
By comparison, the Buddy Heater produces 9,000 Btu on its max setting. While it was more than adequate for solo use, I wouldn't rely on this to keep multiple socially-distanced guests comfortable. The company claims the heater can warm 225 square feet; a little less than the size of my 300 square foot patio. I tried sitting in various positions away from the heater along the length of my patio table, and was able to feel a comfortable level of heat as long as I was facing the front of the heater. I didn't feel much heat when I tried sitting behind the unit, which is to be expected, so most of my guests would have to be sitting close together on one side of the table to stay warm. That's probably okay for non-pandemic times when folks are more comfortable being closer together, but for now, I'll probably stick to using the Buddy Heater for personal use. Mr. Heater also makes a "Big Buddy" heater that packs nearly double the heat (18,000 Btu on max), which might be a good option for larger spaces.
Constant heat also comes at a premium. According to Mr. Heater, a one-pound propane cylinder lasts a maximum of three hours, and I confirmed that in my testing when I got just about three hours of heat out of it on the highest setting. You can purchase a hose to hook the unit up to a larger propane tank, but that's not something everyone wants in full view on their patio or deck. If you're planning on using the heater regularly, it's best to stock up on propane cylinders, or else be prepared to make frequent trips to the hardware store for refills.
The Buddy Heater boasts several safety features. The tip-over switch activates whenever you pick up or knock over the unit when it's powered on. It's very sensitive, and while I was glad that it worked when I purposely pushed over the heater, it was a bit frustrating that it turned the heater off even when I moved the heater around slightly. Because of this feature, make sure you place the heater where you want it before igniting the propane. It also has an oxygen depletion sensor that shuts off the gas if the air level gets too low, usually an indication of high carbon monoxide levels.
There are also two versions of the heater — one that's certified for Canada and Massachusetts, and another that's certified for the other 49 states (including the contiguous states, Alaska, and Hawaii). The key difference is the packaging and safety warnings. Due to region-specific regulations, the heater is not certified for indoor use in Massachusetts and Canada. In every other state, you can legally use it indoors. Because of my location, I wasn't able to test the Buddy Heater for indoor use. However, I spoke to Matthew Griffith, prevention chief for the Montreal fire department, who was adamant about never using a gas-propelled appliance inside for heat no matter your location. Propane-powered heaters are more likely to create carbon monoxide than electric-powered indoor heaters. It's safer and more economical to use an electric space heater to warm up your home.
Like most propane-powered heaters, the Buddy produces actual flames and the area near the grate gets really hot, so never put it close to flammable objects — including wooden patio furniture. If your patio table is made of wood, you may want to consider getting a small metal table to place the heater on.
Depending on your local regulations, you'll also want to avoid storing it indoors with the cylinder still attached. You can remove the cylinder to store it inside, but I left it fully assembled on my porch where it spent multiple days outside, uncovered in the rain in temperatures close to freezing. It's still good as new, so I wouldn't worry about durability. It's a tough little heater.
The bottom line
The Mr. Heater Buddy Heater is easy to use, compact, and incredibly lightweight for such a powerful machine. I was so impressed that I recommended it to my mom, who loves spending time outside in her yard but gets cold at even the slightest breeze. My parents had an electric heater, but it would flip their outdoor breaker. With this propane heater, my mom can easily enjoy her coffee outside and my dad can read a book without both of them freezing their fingers and toes off. It's an excellent option for those who don't have the room for a free-standing patio heater but still want to spend a bit of extra time outside into the fall and winter. I'd also recommend this to anyone who heads out on frequent outdoor excursions such as winter hiking and camping. The durable construction, compact design, and impressive heat output make this a great accessory for enjoying the outdoor season a little bit longer.