Outdoor fireplaces at their finest

Whenever the summer season draws nearer, we look forward to the times and places where we can spend time with friends and family such as the pool, the cottage or the lake, and the fireplace. Not your regular indoor masonry fireplace of course – most houses don't even have one today, and they can be very expensive to install. Increasingly, people want to gather around a semi-portable fireplace which can be located on the patio or in the backyard. Such outdoor fireplaces provide summertime gatherings with an enjoyable ambience, and they are less expensive than you might think.

The chiminea is by far the most common kind of outdoor fireplace. It basically consists of a concave base, an opening in the front through which to fuel the fire, and a short chimney or smoke stack. You can find chimineas constructed from a variety of materials, most commonly cast-iron, aluminum, copper, ceramic or terra cotta. A chiminea is typically designed for very small fires, mostly for style rather than function. Despite this, there are larger, more durable units which are typically made of cast-iron. These chimineas are meant for a closely supervised but sizeable bonfire within the safety of your own back yard.

Chimineas and other outdoor fireplaces are generally intended for summer use with the intention of winter storage, since clay or terra cotta can easily crack in extremely cold winter temperatures if a fire is built inside. Although cast-iron chimineas are at no real risk of cracking, precipitation such as snow and sleet will very quickly rust them into disuse. So in any case, your best bet is to replace a chiminea with an outdoor patio heater for the winter season. Chiminea prices can range from $150 all the way to well over $500 depending on the construction materials, size, and other features such as covers.

Some chimineas have safety grills or pitched chimneys to prevent hot embers or glowing ash from floating away and posing a risk of fire, while others are really nothing more than a firebox with a hole in the top. Whatever type of chiminea you may have, you should only burn firewood inside of it. Other substances are known to release toxic chemicals when burned. This can destroy the atmosphere of your gathering - literally as well as figuratively. Additionally, some solid fuels such as coal may leave hard-to-clean deposits on the inside of your fireplace.

Outdoor fireplaces are becoming a very popular way for people to gather together and experience the outdoors without having to trek far from home. If you ever find yourself thinking fondly of childhood memories of open campfires, wood smoke and no air conditioning, an outdoor woodstove might just be the thing to try.

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