Patio Heaters: the new 4 by 4s

Whilst the newly introduced smoking ban may have improved the indoor environment, the knock-on effect of the new legislation beyond the walls of Britain’s boozers may be far from healthy.

According to an increasingly vocal army of objectors, the gas-fired patio heaters springing up around the country to cater for shivering smokers could pose a grave threat to the environment.

Organisations including Friends of the Earth, The Energy Saving Trust, and British Gas are all warning that the sudden boom in patio heater sales threatens to cancel out many of the positive steps people have taken to reduce their impact on the environment.

Indeed, according to recent research carried out by British Gas, patio heaters in pubs in Scotland – where the ban came into force last March – now emit up to 10,000 tonnes of CO2 each year, with the average heater emitting more CO2 in a year than a Range Rover. British Gas reckons that, based on gas heater sales figures and surveys of English pubs this figure could rise dramatically to around 160,000 tonnes of CO2 per year – almost 10% of the annual reduction the UK needs to meet its Kyoto commitments by 2012.

What makes these figures doubly galling – as anyone who’s ever stood near a patio heater will agree – is that its futile attempt to heat up the outside is not particularly effective: stand too close and you risk burning your hair; too far away and they’re no use at all.

With opposition to the devices growing by the day and some garden centres already removing them from their stores, it seems their days could be numbered. But ruling out the obvious steps of either giving up or popping down to Blacks and investing in some cosy outdoor smoking garb, what could be done to keep the shivering smoker warm?

In its report, British Gas suggests that carbon neutral wood burning chimneas would be a preferable solution – but these can probably be ruled out on health and safety grounds. Carefully placed walls to reduce the chill factor from the wind have also been suggested. But perhaps Engineer readers could come up with a more elegant solution? Here’s one idea to set the ball rolling: Electric heaters which offer more focussed heat and emit less CO2 than their gas powered equivalents. Such systems could be made more efficient through the use of sensors to ensure that they are only switched on when people approach.

Jon Excell, Features Editor