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Frequently Asked Questions about Fire Pits, Chimineas, and Outdoor Fireplaces
1. What is the difference between a fire pit, a fire ring, a chimenea, and an outdoor fireplace?
The most basic method of containing an open fire is with a fire ring. Fire rings are made from a durable metal such as steel or iron, and, although they have no bottom, they surround the fire to contain ashes. Many cities and camp sites have ordinances against open fires, so the fire ring is beneficial on camping trips and vacations. Modern fire rings often have decorative accents, so your fire ring will not only serve a utilitarian purpose, but will also create a warm and inviting outdoor living area in any campsite or park! Please always consult a local fire marshal regarding fire ordinances in your area.
A fire pit is similar to a fire ring, but more sophisticated. Fire pits are raised off the ground with a bowl to contain the fire, and usually allow a 360-degree view of the fire, creating a lovely campfire ambiance in your backyard! We recommend, for safety purposes, that you purchase a fire pit with a screen or cover, which will allow you to view the fire, but help prevent ashes from scattering. Fire pit styles can range from small round bowls on pedestal bases, to mosaic or metal "outdoor coffee tables," to large stone slabs with thick iron legs. Our fire pits not only serve as a safe method for building a fire in your backyard, but also act as alluring accent pieces to extend the beauty of your home outdoors.
A chimenea is more like a small fireplace. Chimeneas (also called "chimineas")originated in Mexico as bread ovens, but became popular gathering sites for neighbors and family. A basic chimenea has a round "bulb" fire bowl with a mouth opening, and a chimney to allow smoke to vent out. Several years ago, the chiminea design became vastly popular in the US as people began to rediscover the charm of their backyards and porches. The "outdoor living room" movement and chimineas have been almost synonymous, and the chimenea has become such a popular decorating piece that many people now use them indoors for candle holders, planters, and art pieces. PLEASE NOTE: Do not light a fire indoors! If you plan to use your chimenea for fires, you must use your chiminea outdoors for safety reasons.
An outdoor fireplace combines the charm of an open fire with the safety of a screen. Outdoor fireplaces range from mobile grill-style units, to large, ornate stone pieces. They all come with screens of some sort to protect users from flying ashes and smoke. Many smaller outdoor fireplaces allow for a 360-degree view of the fire, creating a lovely, friendly glow as the sun sets on your outdoor gathering. The largest outdoor fireplaces are literally fireplaces outdoors - they are made from stone or brick and share all the features of an indoor fireplace, sometimes even including the mantel! If you wish to create a living space for your friends and family outdoors, an outdoor fireplace is a perfect method for creating the warmth and homey feel of your living room outside!
Just like an indoor fireplace, an outdoor fireplace, fire pit, or chimenea creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for families or friendly gatherings. However, just like an indoor fireplace, there are important safety issues to consider.
First, look around your outdoor area. Are there any low-hanging branches to watch out for? Are there patches of dry grass, piles of brush, or other material that might catch a spark? Which direction will the smoke blow? Make sure your fire pit is on safe ground, away from potential fire hazards. Concrete or stone patios with open space above are perfect for fire pits and chimeneas! Be sure to keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.
If you have a wooden porch or deck, you can still put your fire pit or chiminea on your deck, but be sure to use a fire pit pad, bricks, or stone slabs to ensure your fire pit or chimenea does not drop ashes directly onto your wooden deck. Click here to see our selection of fire pit pads. Fire pit pads or flagstones can also be found at many hardware stores. We recommend an area of 3 to 4 feet around the base of your fire pit or chiminea, depending on the size of the piece.
First, you will want to find a suitable space in your backyard for your fire pit. Not only are you looking for a place that is far away from flammable material, you will want to find a place large enough to for you and guests to stand comfortably nearby without smoke billowing too close. Measure this space to determine the size of the fire pit you can accommodate. Once you have an idea of the size of fire pit you need, you will want to consider the size of the bowl or firebox on the fire pit. Many fire pits are made for smaller backyards, and as such will have smaller bowls or fireboxes. Because of the smaller bowl, you will need smaller pieces of wood, so you may need to find specialty fire logs, or cut fire logs yourself.
If you are ordering a steel fire pit, the gauge of steel is very important - The lower the gauge number, the thicker the steel. Thinner gauges and sheet steel will not last as long, so if you plan to use your fire pit frequently, you will want to purchase a lower gauge of steel. Cast iron or cast aluminum can be effective replacements for steel as well. However, if your fire pit will be primarily an accent piece and will not often have a live fire inside, thinner gauges provide the same beauty for a lower price. Also, if you plan to leave your fire pit out in the elements, you may prefer stainless steel to other types of steel because of stainless steel’s rust resistance. Cast aluminum is also very rust-resistant. You can also purchase fire pits made from powder-coated steel, which is a black finish that protects the steel from soot and weather damage.
Copper fire pits are beautiful and elegant, and with proper maintenance can remain that way for many years. Because copper tarnishes over time, you should invest in copper cleaning products available at your local hardware store. However, many people love the look of tarnished copper - designers and decorators frequently refer to the greenish finish as a patina! Many manufacturers will drill holes in the bottom of copper fire pits to help drain rainwater and ash when it rains. We recommend with ANY fire pit that you use a heavy, water-proof cover to protect your fire pit from weather extremes. In addition, drainage holes in copper fire pits are doubly useful, as they ensure that water will not pool and tarnish your copper fire pit. With proper care, your copper fire pit will be long-lived, whether you prefer the patina look or the reddish glow of polished copper.
If a fire pit features a stone, mosaic, or granite top, often the fire bowl itself will be made from metal. With ANY metal fire pit, you will need to be extra careful of heat! Metal is a very conductive element and can hold heat for longer than many other materials. Use thick gloves and fireplace tools to ensure that you do not burn yourself while using your fire pit. Fire pits often come with special screen-lifting tools. Be absolutely sure your metal fire pit has cooled down before touching it.
As with a fire pit, you will want to find a suitable place in your backyard for your chimenea. Measure this space to determine the size of the chimenea you can accommodate, and ensure that it is at least 4-feet away from flammable materials. Once you have an idea of the size of chiminea you need, you should consider the size of the chiminea bulb or bowl. Chimeneas made for small backyards will have smaller bowls and bulbs, and as such, you may need to find specialty fire logs, or cut fire logs yourself. Because of the popularity of chimineas, you may be able to find wood made specifically for your chimenea.
When looking for a chiminea, you will want to consider the height of the chimney vs. the size of the bowl. Larger, heavier bases ensure that the chimenea will stay upright. You will also want to make sure that the chimney itself is tall enough to allow smoke to dissipate away from your outdoor gathering. We recommend avoiding tall, thin chimineas, unless you are using the piece for purely decorative purposes.
As with clay chimeneas, you will want to fill the bowl with sand, gravel, or rock up to about an inch from the bottom of the opening. This step ensures that smoke escapes from the chimney, and not the opening of the bowl. When smoke escapes from the chimney, it will stay above your head and blow away.
Although metal chimeneas do not need to be "cured" like clay chimineas, it is still best to start with a small fire. This will help you learn to build a fire safely in your chiminea. You will also want to purchase a water-proof cover to help prevent rusting. Cast aluminum is very rust-resistant and durable, but cast iron and lighter metals are more prone to rust or tarnish. Remember: rusting can be just as dangerous in a metal chimenea as cracking in a clay chiminea.
A patio heater - sometimes referred to as a mushroom heater or umbrella heater because of the umbrella top - is an outdoor heating device that radiates heat from a burner, through a perforated metal screen, and reflects off the umbrella top to warm an outdoor area.
Traditionally, patio heaters are designed with either a propane or natural gas burner. As patio heaters have become more popular, a wide variety of sizes have been developed - from Turbo Power Level heaters which emit 40,000 to 50,000 BTUs, to small tabletop patio heaters. Recently, electric patio heaters have become very popular as well, because they radiate infrared heat, rather than burning fuel. Electric patio heaters help reduce emissions potentially harmful to the environment.
LPG stands for Liquified Petroleum Gas, and is sometimes also referred to as LP-gas. In the United States and Canada, LP-gas is mostly propane and butane; in other countries, the percentage of propane to other gases is often less than 50 percent. It is a very portable source because the gases that comprise LPG are easily condensed, and sold in canisters at many hardware stores. LPG is heavier than air, so it sinks to the ground; be sure to sniff the area of your LPG fire pit or patio heater before lighting it.
Unmixed propane is also a very good fuel source. Because of US and Canadian fuel codes, sometimes propane and LPG are used interchangeably; however, they are not the same type of fuel. Propane is very energy-efficient, as well as easy to compress for portability. Most gas stations and hardware stores will sell condensed propane. Propane is a by-product of petroleum and natural gas production. However, because propane is heavier than air, it sinks to the ground; before lighting any propane-fueled item, sniff the area, especially the ground, for gas.
Natural gas, which is a mix of propane, methane, ethane, butane, and pentane, among some other gases, is difficult to compress, so local utility companies pump natural gas to homes through dedicated fuel lines. Not every home has a natural gas line, but if your home does, a natural gas fire pit or patio heater may be a good option for you: natural gas is lighter than air, so there is less risk of explosion from gas sinking to the ground. You will still need to check the area for gas leaks before lighting the patio heater or fire pit, but because natural gas rises, the danger is reduced. Natural gas is less expensive than propane and LPG, although it provides fewer BTUs.
Fire pit enthusiasts agree: Pinon wood is the best! Pinon (sometimes spelled "pinion" or "pinyon") comes from pine, with a lovely pine smell. This wood also wards off mosquitoes, which makes it one of the most widely used woods for outdoor fires. We recommend using this wood with other woods, such as oak, or another hardwood. Check your local lumber yards for the best deals on hardwoods.
We DO NOT recommend burning pressure-treated wood or manufactured fire logs. Although these can help start nice fires, they release toxic gases which can be harmful. Do not burn wood that has been treated with paint, stain creosote, or other chemicals. Do not burn pellets in your chiminea, as they are manufactured specifically for wood stoves and they tend to burn very hot and leave a lot of ash. Most chimenea manufacturers also do not recommend burning charcoal in your chiminea. NEVER use gasoline or petroleum-based accelerants to help start a fire! Try to avoid green woods, as they will create a great deal of smoke and very little fire.
If you want a more aromatic fire, pinon wood is not your only choice: we also recommend apple wood, hickory, mesquite (especially if you will be using your outdoor fire for grilling), or pine cones.
A recent addition to the firewood market is the Eco Log. These logs are wonderful for many reasons: not only do they burn longer and with larger flames than other manufactured fire logs, they are also inexpensive! Eco Logs are made from hardwood dust and scraps from manufacturing companies. They are 100% recycled wood! Due to the size of the flames, you will need to be careful if you use Eco Logs in your chimenea; however, for fire pits and outdoor fireplaces, we highly recommend this product!
Find out what the local laws and regulations regarding outdoor fires are in your area. We strongly recommend consulting with your local fire marshal before making a final decision about what type of outdoor fireplace, firepit, or chimenea to purchase.
When finding a location for your fire pit, keep an eye out for anything combustible. Avoid patches of dry grass or brush piles. Make sure there are no low-hanging branches. Once you find your location, we recommend putting down flagstones, bricks, or a fire pit pad, with at least 3 feet around the base of the fire pit. If ashes fall out of your fire pit or chiminea, the stone base is likely to catch the embers and prevent them from catching anything on fire. This is especially important if you plan to put your fire pit or chiminea on a wood deck or patio.
For fire pits, screens are very important. These screens help catch flying embers or ash when the wind blows. This not only keeps you and your guests safe, but it keeps your neighbors safe as well.
Keep a fire extinguisher on hand when you have a fire going. Do not leave your fire unattended, and be aware of children or pets that may be near the fire. Do not touch your fire pit while it is in use - many fire pits, chimeneas, and outdoor fireplaces come with tools so you can carefully adjust screens as needed, and you can use fireplace tools to stoke the fire. We also recommend a pair of heavy-duty gloves when handling the fire.
Do not burn anything toxic. Pressure-treated wood, manufactured logs, or wood that has been treated with chemicals can be dangerous. Consult with your local lumber supply or hardware store to get recommendations for clean-burning wood. NEVER use gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid, or other petroleum-based products to start your fire! We also do not recommend burning pellets or charcoal in your chiminea. Please carefully read the instructions that come with your fire pit, chimenea, or outdoor fireplace for details on fire safety and fuel for the specific model you have purchased.
Do not put out fires in fire pits or chimeneas with water. This will cause a sudden change in temperature that can crack or warp your fire pit. However, you may wish to have a bucket of water on hand in case a fire starts outside of the fire pit.