Case Study: Propane for Outdoor Heating

Propane is a big factor in architect Phil Kean's Florida designs. Here's why.

Since September of 2001, Phil Kean has been designing and building homes, mostly in and around Winter Park, Fla., that contain echoes of every sort of warm-weather architecture: tiled roofs, stucco exteriors, wrought-iron details, interior courtyards, and, of course, high-style outdoor "rooms" (no swing sets in these backyards). And in most of those homes, propane plays the key role of a dependable and efficient energy source, especially for heating applications.

"I'd say that probably 70 percent of the homes we've done use propane," says Kean, who has a BA, MArch (Master of Architecture), and MBA. He's also a Certified Green Professional (CGP). "People like the cleanness and, because we lose power during storms and hurricanes, many of our homes have propane standby generators. Plus, a lot of people want a solar water heater but don't like to see a lot of panels on the roof. A nice alternative is an on-demand tankless water heater."

On a spec house that Kean dubbed Summerland, the outdoor living area includes a modest propane grill with storage underneath. The high-impact element is the propane fire pit—actually, a converted fountain—which anchors one end of the "room." Such fire features and fireplaces are especially attractive in outdoor spaces, both for their comfort and aesthetics as well as the value they add to the home.

Summerland, by Phil Kean Designs. Photo by Harvey Smith Photography

For a more robust seasonal space heating solution, Kean could have installed 99.9-percent efficient patio heaters, each producing up to 60,000 Btu of heat and capable of warming a 10-by-10-foot area. The newest heaters go beyond basic, with built-in cocktail tables, decorative finishes, and stylish covers for the propane cylinder. Some feature wicker or wood tank covers that match patio furniture.

And for year-round patio floor comfort, in floor radiant heating in patio areas can warm bare feet even when the sun isn't shining. This application can also be installed beneath driveways and sidewalks to keep pathways free of snow in colder climates.

Summerland's pool is not heated, but with all his projects Kean runs a propane line to the pool and/or spa in case the owners want to upgrade at some point. Doing so would allow owners to enjoy the pool later into the year.

Summerland demonstrates how propane's flexibility makes accommodating future additions and applications easy to accomplish. The high performance and attractiveness of propane products and appliances is another selling point for spec builders. Case in point: Summerland was sold before it was completed.

"This project had to appeal to what I thought people would want," says Kean. "There's nothing outrageous about it. It's just a nice place to be. I'm finding that people are opting for a smaller house but want more outside living space. It's a case of moving square footage around."

For more information, as well as free AIA- and NAHB-approved education courses about heating outdoor spaces with propane, go to the training section of our website. The topics discussed in this article are more fully explored in the following course and video:

Innovations with Propane for Outdoor Residential Use

Expanding the Experience of Outdoor Living Spaces

How to Expand Outdoor Rooms
Case Study: Propane for Outdoor Heating
Outdoor Beds and Baths?


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