An outdoor fireplace can refer to any number of designs, including pits, rings, chimeneas, and built-in hearths
Just imagine the flames and glowing embers of an outdoor fireplace when the temperatures begin to drop. It's easy to see why they're so popular. When you're planning to shop for an outdoor fireplace, you'll find different types of heating units go by varying names. Each of these is also available in a range of materials and shapes, which can add to the confusion.
An outdoor fireplace
To break it down further, a chimenea can generally mean any outdoor heating unit with a base and a smokestack. Fire pits refer to any design with a bowl style for holding firewood, gel inserts, briquettes. They can also be designed with a propane or natural gas hookup as can standard fireplaces and chimeneas. A fire ring is more portable and probably used more for camping or rustic, open spaces. The built-in is the top of the line for outdoor living with a decorative surround. These can also be wood- or gas-burning. The term "hearth" is used randomly to describe all the above products in today's marketplace.
The name chimenea is Mexican for "chimney," and the originals are, of course, crafted from clay. You can find these in many garden centers and markets. They are indeed beautiful, but probably not as practical as other materials. In style, these generally feature the stack and the belly with a single round opening. They're also crafted in cast iron and cast aluminum.
Beyond the original rounded styles on legs, you'll also find other more contemporary shapes. These may also include a surround mesh design for full viewing and enjoyment of the flames. However, open designs that are less effective at wafting smoke upward.
Fire pits lack the chimney design. These may be bowl styles, shaped in cylinders, and even designed as dining, bar height, or full-sized coffee tables. They're wonderful for entertaining as everyone can gather around for conversation and enjoyment of the warmth. If the fire is hot enough, you can even cook right at the table. Like chimeneas, they can be quite decorative in copper, iron, and aluminum. Many also include protective mesh covers to prevent sparking during a wind gust. Drawbacks include more attention to keeping a fire going and smoke that tends to hover in the area, rather than venting upward through a smokestack. Fire pits can be portable or permanently installed.
A fire ring is simply an open box-style design with low walls, with or without a floor. It can be small or large and many are collapsible to transport for camping or the beach. They're not as practical for home use, unless you have a safe place to set them up. In many cities, regulations may prohibit them. In the open, they're great for cooking and will keep logs from rolling out at a campsite.
If space and budget aren't an issue, then a built-in fireplace is absolutely delightful and dramatic. It can butt up against the house or be created as a freestanding unit. You can work with an architect for a custom look; many plans and ideas are available through the Internet and at home improvement stores. Think about add-ons such as a pizza oven and gazebo enclosures before you start designing.
Before you buy, be sure the type of outdoor fireplace you're purchasing is legal to use. It's also important to enforce all safety measures when using a gas-fired or wood-burning unit.
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