British Columbia

Cold comfort: Why demand for patio heaters is on the rise

Patio heaters and outdoor shelters are flying off the shelves in the Lower Mainland as people look for creative ways to safely continue gathering with friends and family through the fall and winter.

Restaurants, bars and breweries are also looking for more permanent solutions for their patios

In an effort to keep customers warm and dry, the owners of Camp Beer Company in Langley, B.C., are replacing summer patio umbrellas with a more permanent solution. (Camp Beer Company)

Patio heaters and outdoor shelters are flying off the shelves in the Lower Mainland, as people look for creative ways to keep a safe physical distance and still gather with friends and family through the colder months.

Some products designed to keep you warm and dry outdoors have been sold out for weeks at home improvement stores and online retailers.

At the BBQ Shop in Port Coquitlam, owner Nash Shivji says sales of fire pits and patio heaters are up 40 per cent over last year, and he is struggling to keep up with the demand.

"Most of my suppliers are sold out, too," said Shivji.

"Customers say they've been everywhere and people are sold out. I will be in that same boat very soon, too," he said.

Aside from trying to stay warm, consumers are also seeking ways to stay protected from wind and rain, says an awning supply owner in Port Coquitlam. Sales of Aaron Greenaway's patio coverings and retractable awnings have doubled, at a time when the season is typically coming to an end, he said.

"I've never worked so hard in my life," said Greenaway.

He's hired four extra staff members to keep up with installation demands, as people look for space to safely gather, or work from home.

"They know the rain is coming. They know it's going to get cold, so they are trying to improve that space and overall enjoyment."

Home improvement stores and online retailers have already sold out of some models of patio heaters. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Increasingly, bars, restaurants and breweries — which were granted temporary permits to add outdoor patio space in the summer — are also trying to find solutions.

The permits were a lifeline for many establishments hit hard by shutdowns. Some owners however, are now finding themselves scrambling to find more permanent solutions to their summer patio spaces — just to stay in business.

"I'm scared to death," said Kevin Larsen, one of the owners of Camp Beer Company in Langley.

The craft brewery's outdoor capacity is 10 people, down from 55 before the pandemic hit. Its indoor capacity was also 55 before the pandemic, and that's now been halved. 

With fall and winter coming, Larsen says they have no choice but to get a larger, more permanent, retractable awning to keep customers warm and dry — an expense he says is unavoidable. 

Push forward

"We just have to embrace it and push forward," he said. "Hopefully people will put on a jacket and come out and have a beer."

Camp's patio is heated by overhead gas heaters and a fire bowl — which are permitted by the City of Langley, in an important distinction between business and personal use.

Units powered by electricity are safe for enclosed spaces, says Shivji. But he warns anyone considering buying natural gas or propane patio heaters and fire pits should use caution because the appliances are designed for outdoor use only, not enclosed spaces.

In fact, the City of Vancouver says on private property, any fixed or portable patio heater that produces an open flame requires a permit by the fire chief. 

Anyone using natural gas or propane patio heaters, whether fixed or portable, is advised to check their local regulations and bylaws to ensure the appliance is safe for use.

About the Author

Cathy Kearney is a digital journalist with CBC News Vancouver. @CBCcathykearney

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