When the cold weather beckons, so does the need for cosy, warm nooks to relax in and entertain around. Outdoor fires offer both form and function, in equal measure
Light my fire
While it might be fun for some to cuddle up under a blanket outside when the weather turns a bit nippy, there are plenty of other ways to keep cosy on the deck. From rustic fire pits to sophisticated gas-burning fireplaces, the range of outdoor heating options on the market now makes chilly outdoor entertaining a thing of the past.
The king of outdoor heating has to be the fireplace. Like moths to a flame we’re irresistibly drawn to the smell, sight and feel of a real fire, inside or out. But before you order those fire-proof bricks and start building, there are a few questions to consider:
Designers usually always opt to build large elements like fireplaces into an outdoor living space because this creates an integrated appearance, can save on space and gives the feature a look of permanence and solidity. If you’re keen to have a built-in outdoor fireplace, think about where it can be positioned to keep seating and dining areas toasty without impeding circulation, where you’ll store fuel (eg gas tanks, wood) and what materials will work best with existing architectural features such as walls, house cladding and paving.
With clever planning you may be able to use your outdoor fireplace to screen unsightly views, neighbours and/or the wind. And if building a fireplace is beyond your ability or budget there is a range of pre-cast models now available. You could also consider a built-in fire pit – they’re cheaper to construct than outdoor fireplaces and most are well within the capabilities of a reasonably skilled DIYer to install, particularly the prefabricated models.
Freestanding and portable fireplaces
There’s plenty of choice with freestanding or portable outdoor fireplaces. For Mediterranean, informal or coastal gardens consider the Spanish-style chimenea, a wood-burning fireplace traditionally made from clay but now also in cast iron, copper, steel and cast aluminium. Like many outdoor fireplaces, chimeneas can be used for cooking as well as heat. They should be positioned with their back to the prevailing wind, on fire-safe concrete or brick and ideally 500mm off the ground so that the heat is directed at your body rather than your feet.
A brazier or fire bowl is the accessory du jour for many contemporary gardens
A brazier or fire bowl is the accessory du jour for many contemporary gardens, and the range of different styles, shapes and materials reflects this popularity. Versatile fire bowls can be positioned on tabletops, mounted on walls or plinths, at ground level or even hidden below ground to pop up when it’s cool outside. Fire bowls can be filled with pebbles and other fire-retardant decorative fillers and you can use solid fuel or gas as a fuel source.
Wood-burning or gas
Fuel source must be considered before choosing your outdoor fireplace. The appeal of a wood-burning fire is undeniable but you need somewhere to store that wood and there will always be ashes to clean up. In many areas wood and other solid fuels cannot be burnt outside during the summer. Also, remember to avoid treated wood as the chemicals can release harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
Gas is clean-burning and easy to use and maintain. However, if you want to connect to an existing gas line this can restrict where you position your fire bowl or fireplace.
Outdoor heating options
If a fire of any description is too much fuss, noncompliant or a safety concern, you could consider an outdoor heater, powered by electricity or gas. There are many attractive portable outdoor gas heaters on the market now, while electric models are most often built-in, usually tucked away in an unobtrusive location.
Top tips for choosing an outdoor fire
- Always check council requirements when building an outdoor fireplace, particularly if it’s on a boundary or close to a neighbour’s house or your own. You’ll also need to find out if there are any restrictions on the use of outdoor fireplaces in your area.
- Position all outdoor fireplaces on a fireproof surface (eg gravel, concrete), keep away from trees and power lines and make sure sparks and embers won’t reach garden structures or flammable materials. Always keep an eye on young children when in use. Work out the prevailing wind direction, too. To maximise the benefits of your outdoor heating you may need to install windbreaks such as walls or screens to keep the warmth where you want it.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Derek Swalwell/bauersyndication.com.au. Photography by: Sharyn Cairns and Chris Warnes/bauersyndication.com.au. Photography by: Prue Ruscoe/bauersyndication.com.au. Photography by: Alicia Taylor/bauersyndication.com.au.