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Outdoor Fireplace Tips : Champlain edition : Monday, 1 September 2014 07:13 EDT : a service of The Public Press
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10 Tips for buying an Outdoor Fireplace

     by Stephen Morris

As an environmental magazine we should probably not be recommending the recreational burning of wood, but there is something irresistible about flickering flames on a summer night. Add a little good conversation, a field full of fireflies, and you have a perfect evening's entertainment. In recent years a variety of outdoor fireplaces have come on the market to make the practice just slightly more civilized. Here are a few tips for deciding which style may be right for you. Just remember to save the ashes for the compost.

#1 All outdoor fireplaces are not the same.

Before purchasing a chiminea, outdoor fireplace, or open firepit, there are many factors to consider. Keep in mind that you are buying a "fire place" and the safety for your family, your property, and possibly your neighbors will depend on it.

#2 The size and style does matter.

When comparing chimineas and other outdoor fireplaces, look closely at the fire area size before height. A smaller firebox will make wood buying or cutting more complicated. For a small fireplace wood will have to be cut special or ordered from a wood supplier in smaller pieces at a higher price.

Look for a large firebox and stay away from tall thin outdoor fireplaces. Anything over 54" is excessive and a small burning firebox area will cost more in the long run. Just because a chiminea is large doesn't mean the fire has to be. If you want a smaller fire use less wood.quiet zone
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Fire pit designs without smoke stacks do not burn as clean or efficient as a good chiminea design. The drafting action of a traditional chimenea draws fresh air into the fire and out the neck making them very efficient burners. Fire pits will smolder and smoke more then traditional chiminea designs since the fire pit design does not provide efficient airflow.

Excess smoke from a fire pit can also linger at head level making a fire uncomfortable for you and annoying to your neighbors. If your not comfortable building a ring of rocks, then an efficient burning chiminea design may be a better choice. Properly designed chimineas will only have a bit of smoke at the beginning and end of your fire, much like a well designed "in house" fireplace.
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#3 The amount of maintenance needs to be considered.

Chain store and mass marketed fireplaces made out of copper, sheet steel, or clay, don't provide the safety or longevity of cast iron or cast aluminum. Below is a material list of currently manufactured outdoor fireplaces.

Clay chimineas can be babied, "Feed slowly, keep warm and dry.". But if you want a fireplace that is going to be safer and last longer, any other material on the market is a better investment. See Tip #6 for "Safety concerns with clay chimineas.".

Many home and garden outlets carry Sheet Metal outdoor fireplaces at a bargain cost. Cheap sheet metal fire pits are pretty much disposable items. Once they rust through their usefulness is gone. Be sure to check the gauge or thickness of the metal. Thin, mass marketed fireplaces may also melt if not thick enough. Enamel finishes disappear and exposed sheet metal will rust out quickly.

In some instances the body is cast iron but the neck or chimney is sheet steel. Eventually, you will be left with a cast iron fireplace body without a neck. Make sure the company carries replacement parts and find out the costs. If you will need to buy a new neck or other replacement parts frequently it's probably better to look elsewhere.

Cast Iron will rust if not maintained properly. The more cast iron you have to work with the longer it will last. Cast iron chimineas may also stain any surface the on which it is standing on if not maintained, so proper placement should be considered. If you decide to buy a cast iron chiminea make sure it is heavy and be prepared to maintain it.

Cast Iron may need a bit of maintenance but will last for years if looked after. Occasional painting with high temperature stove paint will halt rusting. Also, cast iron is extremely heavy and will withstand a lot of abuse. The Blue Rooster recommends cast iron chimineas for campground owners or places that they will be used without supervision. 200 pound chimineas tend not to "walk away".

There are no advantages of cast iron over cast aluminum except for a heavy weight. For most homeowners the added weight is a disadvantage.

Copper looks great out of the box and is a very safe material used for years in cooking utensils. Watch out for cast iron supports or bases that can rust shortly and stain your patio. Also, don't expect that shiny new copper fireplace to look like that after a fire or two. Green and rusty is usually the norm after its been used. If you don't mind the look of it, make sure it has a cover or rain lid and prepare to maintain the cast iron parts.

Some companies will drill holes in the bottom of the copper fire pits to let water (and ash) out when it rains so placement is important. Fire pits without drains can fill with water andmake a mess. If you do choose a copper fire pit or any fire pit for that matter, be sure it has a cover. Water and wind can make a mess of your ashes and/or embers.

If low maintenance and lifespan are priorities, Cast Aluminum is the best investment for your money. Aluminum chimineas are cast from the same molds as cast iron and look identical to cast iron. Cast aluminum outdoor fireplaces will not warp and have a melting temp only a few hundred degrees lower then cast iron. Cast aluminum alloy will not rust and is much lighter so it can be easily moved. Like a gas grill, cast aluminum has very little maintenance.

#4 Compare the weight of a fireplace to others of the same material.

To compare chimineas and other outdoor fireplaces be sure to check the weight. Many outdoor fireplaces are manufactured by weight, so you should buy by weight. When comparing chimineas compare a copper model to a copper model, cast iron to cast iron model, cast aluminum to cast aluminum and so on. The heavier the product, the more durable it will be.

If your planning to buy a Cast Iron chiminea, a good rule is "go big or don't go at all." Many homeowners want portability in their backyard fireplace. This usually rules out cast iron.

#5 The benefits of cast aluminum

Cast aluminum is the best product for the typical outdoor enthusiast. Compared to a cast iron chiminea, a cast aluminum chiminea will not rust, is very low maintenance, can be easily moved during a wind change or patio re-arrangement. A cast aluminum chiminea will not stain your deck or patio. Many aluminum chimineas are cast from the same molds as their cast iron counterparts, so they offer identical aesthetics and also radiate heat similarly.

Cast aluminum outdoor fireplaces are light weight and designed with safety in mind. They can be easily transported to a lake home or a neighbors and can be easily stored in the winter time in Northern areas. Storage is recommended to prevent damage or theft. Both cast iron and cast aluminum fireplaces are designed for year around use in any climate.

#6 Pros and cons of clay chimineas.

Clay chimineas are attractive and inexpensive. They do have some limitation, however. There is a perception of increased danger in using a metal chiminea versus a clay chiminea. In truth you can get burned by a hot clay chiminea just as fast as a hot metal fireplace. If you are prone to sticking your fingers on hot items, perhaps a garden fountain would be a better choice than an outdoor fireplace.

The main problem with clay is that when it does fail, it can happen suddenly and without warning. If the bottom falls out while you're having a fire, a serious safety hazard can result. If you are using a clay fireplace on a wood deck or other combustible surface, it should be on a non-flammable base such as cement or tile.

A good cast iron or cast aluminum fireplace will always last longer then clay.

#7 360° Surround View Fireplaces and Raised Fire pits.

These are appealing options in that they emulate the experience of an open campfire. A main difference is that most surround view outdoor fireplaces are built of very light materials that, if tipped over, will send fire, embers and ash everywhere. Anyone who has experienced an outdoor fire knows that a gust of wind can blow embers and sparks around. If located on a deck these sparks can cause damage. If you do buy a raised fire pit be sure it comes with a lid. Some manufactures drill small holes in the bottoms to let rain water drain out. If you don't want fireplace ash all over your patio, be sure to have it covered. (Most traditional chimineas come with a lid to place over the stack when not in use to keep out rain.)

#8 What to burn in an outdoor fireplace.

Hard woods are the primary fuel for outdoor fireplace enthusiasts. You can also add pine cones, apple wood, or other exotics if you would like a more aromatic experience.

Manufactured fire logs are a quick way to get a fire going but make terrible marshmallows (toxic s'mores anyone?). Inevitably some outdoor fireplaces come with propane or natural gas inserts and provide a trouble free fire source. Some even operate on gel inserts like the ones under serving trays, but much larger. But why bother? If this is your idea of a natural experience, try star gazing.

Although wood may be a bit more work than other fuels, the aroma and crackle of a campfire, not to mention the cooking benefits, make it the only fuel to consider.

#9 Safety First

When using any outdoor fireplace make sure safety is your #1 priority. Have a fire extinguisher, a bucket of water or other water source available. Never leave a fire unattended and know how to use your fire safety equipment.

Don't sacrifice safety in order to save a few dollars on a bargain rate fire extinguisher or a cheap outdoor fireplace. Remember you are dealing with fire. Anytime a fire is lit there is a potential to cause damage to your self, friends, family, your property or your neighbors. When starting any controlled fire, safety is the number one concern.

#10 Enjoy

An outdoor fireplace will enhance your life more than a 42" plasma TV. At the end of the day a nice toasty fire and glass of wine will do wonders for your global perspective. Sharing stories around the fire has brought families and friends together for millennia.


Much of this information was adapted from materials provided by The Blue Rooster Company www.TheBlueRooster.com 1-800-303-4312


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