Choosing an Outdoor Fireplace
These tips help you choose the top outdoor fireplace options.
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One of the most enjoyable things about cool summer evenings for me is to sit outside and enjoy an outdoor fire with my family and friends. I have spent many an evening with my friend and co-host Shari Hiller and her family, sitting around a cozy little fire. As with any type of fire, be it an outdoor grill or an indoor fireplace, you do need to take some precautions.
Let's talk about some of the models of "outdoor fireplaces" that you can purchase to enjoy an outdoor fire safely. One of the most poplar fireplaces that have I have seen are clay "chimeneas." You've probably have seen these at your local garden center or even at a neighbor's home. They are decorative and can be purchased starting at $100 and working your way up to $400. With these clay models, you always want to insulate the inside bottom with either sand or volcanic rock, or keep fires within the small to medium range. Otherwise, the heat can get too intense, causing the clay to crack, not only ruining the chimenea but creating a fire hazard. These are meant for a small, ambient flame — low heat, but great looks.
Chimeneas require yearly coats of acrylic wax or water sealer to protect against moisture penetration. Also available are fire retardant vinyl covers to protect against moisture and for winter storage. The main thing is to keep water from entering the chimney when not in use.
If small, intimate fires aren't your style and you want a larger fire, cast iron models are a little more expensive but definitely worth the cost. They're incredibly durable and can withstand roaring fires and high temperatures. They have the added feature of a safety grill and pitched chimneystack to contain hot ash and embers. Most models start at around $400. Some cast iron models come with accompanying tools and cooking utensils. So, for a completely contained fire these models are, in my opinion, the safest and best buy.
But if it's a good ol' campfire feel you're after, check out a grated cylinder style. I've used one of these on my patio for a couple of years, and I love it. It only set me back about $250 and can accommodate large and small fires. It's great for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs, fall clambakes or just kicking back with a cider for the evening. Some models come with wheels and can be moved from location to location in a snap.
Just to go back over one important detail, safety is very important. So keep a few things in mind when using a unit like this. The surface will get hot, so if you have young ones you will want to carefully instruct them about safety. Keep these units away from roof overhangs, hanging branches and anything flammable. Always keep them on top of brick, concrete or block as the intense heat of these burners will scorch patio wood and lawn grass. Of course every city has different burning regulations so check with your local city hall or firehouse for restrictions before purchasing any outdoor fire unit. And for goodness sake, never use one of these guys indoors.
As for the type of wood you burn, always use a non-chemically treated wood such as pinon to avoid harmful fumes.
Those are just a few of the many types of outdoors fireplaces available. If you are in the market for one, check out your local garden centers for all the newer models.
Enjoy the outdoors and stay nice and toasty at the same time. And don't forget the marshmallows!
(Matt Fox co-hosts with Shari Hiller the Home & Garden Television show Room by Room. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)
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