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Outdoor Patio Heating: Fire Pits, Rings and Freestanding Fireplaces

Whether you call it a fire pit, fire ring, fire bowl, portable fireplace or bonfire, it is a great outdoor gathering place for friends and family on cool evenings. We are talking about the kind fire everyone can sit around and enjoy just like a campfire. This classic fire is a source of warmth and a great social centerpiece. Whether you are thinking of building a fire ring or purchasing a portable model, they are a great way to provide warmth on chilly nights and have a charm that portable propane heaters just can't match. Circle the chairs and warm yourself up.

Portable Fire Pit

Portable fireplaces abound, available even in some grocery stores. Portable units range from simple models that resemble a BBQ grill to elaborate models with ornate designs. Some are wheeled making them easy to move or even take along on a camping trip, while larger models stretch the definition of "portable". The key is that they do not require the commitment or expense of a built in fire pit.

Portables can be wood-burning or gas fired, few are both. You must decide which suits your needs best. Wood-burning models require more effort. You must maintain a store of wood and feed the fire periodically. A wood fire takes more time to start and creates annoying smoke. On the other hand, wood fires have a look, aroma and sound that gas doesn't duplicate. Gas fired models typically have ceramic logs, some of which can be difficult to distinguish from real wood. Some even include material that creates a very realistic "glowing embers" effect. The gas logs heat up and radiate additional heat in addition to the heat from the flames. Gas fired units are more convenient because they are easy to start, require less maintenance and are virtually non-polluting. The primary downsides include smaller, less realistic fires and the necessity of refilling propane tanks (unless you plumb for a permanent gas line). One thing to consider is that some communities have banned wood-burning fireplaces. While the regulations may or may not specifically include these portable units, the intent is clear and the law could change to include them in the future.

Fire Pit

Permanent fire pits are typically built from masonry or rock. Most designs create a ring roughly 18" tall, a comfortable height for seating when a fire is not burning. The diameter will depend on how large a fire is desired and how many people will be seated around it. A ring 5 feet in diameter is comfortable size for a couple or up to about 10 people. One advantage to a permanent unit is that it can be integrated into your yard's design by choosing construction materials that match those used elsewhere in your landscape.

A fire pit can be designed to be wood-burning, gas fired or both. With planning, you can even design it to convert to a fountain for warmer seasons. By designing for a dual-fuel fire pit, you gain versatility and protect yourself against the potential for bans on wood burning. If you build one, be sure to install heat-resistant fire brick as a liner; other materials can crack or shatter when exposed to great heat.

Whether a portable or permanent fireplace, make certain that is it used well away from combustible materials and structures. Do not use under overhanging branches and keep patio umbrellas well away. Check with your building department before beginning construction of a fire ring in your yard.

Learn more about the options in outdoor heating in these articles listed below.


Outdoor Heating Overview

Outdoor Fireplace

Freestanding Fires and Fire Pits

Patio Heaters

Commercial Heaters

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