Spring has arrived. Guests expect cooler evenings but still seek al fresco drinking, dining and socialising as part of their experience. Here are your accom property heating options…
What if spring nights are a bit cool to enjoy outdoor life?
After all, you want your guests to shiver with excitement, not because they are bitterly cold. Most accommodation properties, if possible, want to provide fantastic outdoor facilities for their guests all year round.
For a modest outlay, you can find a vast array of outdoor heating options available to you, and continue to please your al fresco loving guests. Providing a delightfully warm outdoor space for your guests can be a huge attraction and extend the use of al fresco areas throughout the evening and all year round.
Utilising this outdoor space over cooler periods can create extra revenue and, if marketed correctly, as an added attraction you can draw many more guests and visitors. Therefore, adding warmth and style to your outdoor area may add to the bottom-line success of your establishment.
Outdoor heating options can range from wood, briquette and coal fires to electric and gas heaters but, with rising energy costs, efficiency and effectiveness are key considerations when selecting outdoor heating for an accommodation property.
Here are some options available…
Gas heaters are available in two types: gas and propane.
Propane heaters usually have a heavy base for the gas bottle and a mushroom-shaped cap to reflect the heat. They should have a tip-over safety switch and piezo ignition to start them at the press of a button. These heaters require adequate ventilation as they release carbon monoxide. A 9kg bottle for a propane gas heater will need replacing after about 10 hours of use.
Natural gas heaters are usually fixed and plumbed into position by a licensed gasfitter but the gas never runs out and cannot be overturned. Wall-mounted models are available.
Electric radiant heaters run on regular power supplies and just need to be plugged in. They produce a soft, ambient light as well as heat and are safe to mount under shade sails, umbrellas and other fabric coverings.
While more electric radiant heaters may be needed to heat the same area as gas heaters, the total running costs work out about the same.
While a wood-burning fireplace has plenty of warm appeal, it also releases smoke and requires somewhere to store firewood. They are reasonably easy to keep clean as they come with an ashtray.
Gas fireplaces don’t have the cleaning or exhaust problems associated with wood fire and can run on natural or bottled gas to create the same ambience.
Another option is the chiminea (a Mexican outdoor fireplace traditionally made from volcanic clay or more recently from cast iron). These have an open flame fuelled by briquettes or wood and are usually unsuitable for use around young children.
Both gas and electric outdoor heating options have benefits but decide which best suits your property, refer to an expert.
Outdoor spaces with ceilings up to four metres can use both gas-fired and electrically powered high intensity heaters, mounted from the walls or suspended from the ceiling.
In spaces with low ceilings, mid-intensity electric heaters may be more suitable.
You can find heated umbrellas with in-built heating to provide shade and protection from the rain and outdoor heating.
Zone controls ensure optimal power/gas consumption and running costs and you can add timers for further control.
Remotes and passive, infrared switches are good alternatives to timers as they can be controlled by detecting movement in an area. These are best suited to units that provide instant heat, such as electric infrared heaters, to ensure equipment is operational only when required.
Industry opinion: Greg Trezise, national sales manager, Thermofilm Australia P/L
• What are the benefits of adding outdoor heating?
The main benefit of adding outdoor heating in a hospitality environment is that it enables use of outdoor areas all year round, ensuring that valuable floor space is fully utilised. It also allows customers to enjoy outdoor areas, beer gardens, smoking areas and more, in complete comfort, maximising venue potential.
• What choices are available?
The main options for commercial venues are electric and gas heaters. For electric units, including infrared radiant strip heaters, which are mounted either on walls or ceilings, and portable electric heaters. Both types utilise glowing or non-glowing element technology. For gas heaters, there are permanently mounted, mains-connected natural gas units (either wall or ceiling mounted), as well as fully portable bottled heaters.
• In terms of safety, what should managers look for?
Firstly, managers should ensure that the products are of true commercial quality, as the demand in a hospitality environment is significantly more than in a domestic situation.
It is imperative that the location of the units and mounting heights ensure guests cannot touch or be burnt by the heaters under normal conditions. Therefore, ceiling and wall-mounted units are ideal, as they are permanently mounted and not accessible to children, for example. New ranges of uni-directional portable heaters allow for the heaters to be located on the boundaries of the outdoor dining areas, meaning they are less accessible to patrons, but also allow extra floor space for tables.
For electric heaters, the addition of automatic timers will ensure that systems are not left running. For gas portable heaters, it is imperative that safety features such as flame failure protection, and tip over cut-off are included as standard. Outdoor portable heaters must also not be used indoors under any circumstances.
All systems must be professionally installed by qualified and licenced tradespeople. We would always recommend that outdoor heating systems are sourced from reputable international brands/suppliers that are experts in the hospitality markets, as some products that are primarily marketed at residential applications may not be robust enough for touch commercial-use.
• How should outdoor heating appliances be looked after?
With most reputable brands of electric and gas heaters, there is generally not an on-going service schedule/requirement. Normal maintenance will include cleaning of the units to remove build-up of dirt, dust and other contaminants. This is especially important in coastal locations, where build-up of salt can lead to corrosion issues. In these circumstances, it is recommended to clean the units at least every three months with a wet cloth and gentle cleaning solution.
• What new trends in outdoor heating aesthetics do you foresee?
The key drivers in outdoor heating design and development is to produce products that have unobtrusive and contemporary designs that can blend seamlessly in a range of decors.
Often, outdoor heaters are seen as a ‘need and last resort’, as they can be unattractive and detract from the design quality. New products on the market are designed with aesthetics (and quality performance) in mind, so that the units actually add to the appearance of the venue.
This includes electric heaters that are sleek and slim-line; options that can be flush mounted into the ceiling or new colours such as off-white, to blend in with white alfresco ceilings. For gas heaters, the design of the grille and portable stand can have a huge impact on aesthetic quality.
It is also popular to include timers and heat output based control of heaters to improve customer comfort.
• What energy efficient and environmentally friendly options are around?
Running costs and efficiency are considered very important factors for reputable outdoor heating manufacturers.
For energy efficiency in gas heating, new models now have directional infra-red ceramic burners, which are significantly more efficient than typical mushroom or pyramid type gas heaters. Not only will a ceramic burner produce a much higher output and temperature (covering a larger area), they are much more efficient with gas-use.
To maximise efficiency, heaters should be selected and installed to provide spot heating to customers; that is, heat only the areas that are used by customers, not all large spaces as that would lead to wasted energy. This will reduce the initial capital cost, reduce ongoing running costs and be the most environmentally friendly option.
With recent and ongoing cost increases for both electricity and gas, running costs for both electric and natural gas options are quite similar (however a gas heater will generally produce a higher output and cover a larger area). New ceramic burner technologies also significantly reduce running costs, compared to standard stainless steel burners, that are still very popular in the industry.