A fire pit is much like an elaborate version of the rock ring you made for a campfire as a kid. They can be permanent or portable. The cost for a stone or brick pit varies depending on design, but a portable metal dish on a stand can be found at stores such as Smith & Hawken and Summer Classics (www.smith-hawken.com or www.summerclassics.com) for as little as $100.
If you opt for a permanent pit, consider making it at least 24 inches in diameter, but 36 inches is better, giving you more room to build a good fire. As an inexpensive alternative to a custom-built pit, consider using a 24-inch-long section of large concrete pipe. Flip it up on end, and sink it partially in the ground. To find a concrete pipe supplier, visit www.concrete-pipe.org.
An outdoor fireplace is just like one inside. You have a firebox, chimney, flue, and hearth. Because they are constructed just like an indoor fireplace, they often must meet local regulations. And, unlike portable fire pits and chimineas, you can build outdoor fireplaces into a wood deck. (Check with your local building official and fire department about any codes governing outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, or chimineas.)
A full-blown outdoor fireplace is the most permanent and expensive option. They can cost from $5,000 for a prefabricated unit and surround to $10,000 or more for masonry. Because they are the most expensive option, these structures are often designed to complement the architecture of a new house or addition.
Until recently, the only option for an outdoor fireplace was masonry. But as popularity grew, companies such as Heat-N-Glo (www.heatnglo-lifestyle.com) started offering less costly prefabricated outdoor fireplaces. With durable stainless steel parts, they stand up to the elements. The structures are available as wood- or gas-burning. Prices for the firebox start at around $1,500, not including the surround, chimney, or any site work.
A chiminea is perhaps the original outdoor fireplace. Traditional versions are manufactured from clay, like a pot, and can be very fragile; newer types are made from metal or iron. Chimneas often come in two components: the base or bowl where the fire goes and the neck or chimney. Because they have a small chimney, smoke is directed upward and out of your face. Once a staple of quirky roadside pottery shops, chimineas can now be found at garden shops, home-improvement warehouses, or online at Web sites such as www.outdoorfireplaces.com. Basic chiminea models begin at around $130.
Before burning your first fire, insulate the bowl with 3 to 4 inches of sand or fine gravel. For clay chimineas, burn small fires the first five times you use it to keep it from cracking. If you live in a colder climate, store it in a garage or other protected place for the winter. Metal or iron chimineas can be left outside year-round, but one warning if you're opting for this style: Don't purchase a circular metal version with mesh sides and a solid top and bottom. Although the smoke escapes from the sides, the solid top and mesh sides get extremely hot.
Outdoor Fireplace Tips
Chase away the chill in the coming months with the addition of a fire pit, chiminea, or fireplace to your backyard. These options allow you to spend more time outdoors with your family as cooler weather arrives. But remember to be safe so you can enjoy them fully.
- Place a portable fire pit away from the house, tree branches, fences, or anything else that might be flammable.
- Never use a portable fire pit or chiminea on a wooden or covered deck.
- Just like indoors, never burn chemically treated wood.
- Metal fire pits and clay chimineas can produce a lot of heat, so don't try to move them for at least a day after the fire is out.
- Never use gasoline or other flammable liquid to start a fire. Use kindling, newspaper, and dry logs instead.
- Don't leave any type of fire unattended.