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A Starter’s Guide to Outdoor Fireplaces

Adding an outdoor fireplace can be a great way to liven up your backyard or patio area. Not just do outdoor fireplaces offer a distinctive visual aesthetic, they can also serve a functional purpose.

Even though it’s outside in the open air, the heat produced by an outdoor fireplace can actually maintain the surrounding area fairly warm on cool autumn evenings. Before you decide to have an outdoor fireplace installed, though, there are a few things that you should take under consideration.

Fireplace Materials

Based on the appearance and functionality you want, there are a few different options available in regard to what your fireplace can be made of. Commercial outdoor fireplaces made of iron, steel or other metals are available for purchase and installation as-is.

If you are constructing the fireplace itself, materials such as concrete, brick and rock are often utilized. In many cases, a concrete or stone fireplace may feature supplemental elements made of metal such as fireplace grates and racks to hold logs or other fuel.

Chimneys

Another important aspect of your outdoor fireplace is the chimney. Even though the fireplace is outside, you still need to divert smoke up and away from you and your guests as there are a range of hazardous materials found in fireplace smoke.

A handful of options made of metal or other heat-resistant materials are available, and it is also likely to build a chimney from brick or stone as well. Even if the chimney is constructed from a number of these materials, a lining may be needed to prevent smoke from leaking out of cracks or gaps in the chimney structure.

Fuel Alternatives

Wood is the most popular fuel option for outdoor fireplaces, though it is not the only one. Propane fireplaces are also a possibility, however fuel lines will have to be run through the fireplace material so that the tanks can be hooked up safely away from the fire. Other less common choices include pressed wood pellets, charcoal and some forms of biofuel.

Cooking Alternatives

Many people who have outdoor fireplaces utilize them for cooking as well, allowing the fireplace to double as a rotisserie or a wood-fired pizza oven. This may restrict some of your fuel options as the fuel needs to be food safe, and the fireplace design will have to incorporate a large enough chimney to prevent extra smoke from building up around the food.

Based on the design that you want, additional elements such as metal cooking grates, a heat rock, rotisserie controls or other features may also be needed.

Cleaning and Maintenance

As with any fireplace, an outdoor fireplace may need periodic cleaning and maintenance. This is especially important before winter as the fireplace is going to be exposed to potential freezing temperatures and other inclement weather that may cause cracks or other damage to appear.

The fireplace should have a visual inspection every few months for signs of problems and should have its chimney cleaned at least annually. After any stage where the fireplace has not yet been used for more than a few weeks, the chimney must also be checked to make certain that birds or other animals have not attempted nesting or otherwise created potential blockages within the chimney.

Other Considerations

Before installing an outdoor fireplace, make sure to check and determine whether there are any constraints or ordinances in place from the city where you live. If you are in a homeowner’s association, you should also check to find out if they have any rules concerning outdoor fireplaces.

You may be restricted in the materials you can use, the fuels you can put in it, the height of your chimney and also the location of the fireplace, in regard to nearby vegetation or plants. Installing an outdoor fireplace without checking this first could lead to fines or possibly even having to take out the fireplace entirely.

 

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