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Warm up your patio

AP Photo/Tim Carter A freestanding outdoor fireplace can be finished in many fashions and styles.
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Ask the Builder.BY TIM CARTERTRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

Dear Tim: Outdoor fireplaces seem to be popular, and I have the perfect patio to place one on. What do I need to know before I go shopping? I have seen them in all sorts of shapes and sizes but am unsure what would work best for me and my family. The fireplace will not be used for cooking, just warmth and appearance. Should I build my own fireplace? – Beth A.Chowchilla, Calif.

Dear Beth: Anyone who has enjoyed the pleasure of warming herself in front of a campfire on a cool evening knows why outdoor fireplaces have exploded in popularity. I am convinced there is a deep psychological pleasure trigger in our brains that is activated by fireplace smoke and the orange glow of the embers in a real fire. My guess is that programming goes back millions of years when fires provided needed heat for survival, cooking and a great place to have a conversation.I really like my own outdoor fireplace, as it allows me to enjoy the exterior of my home early in the spring and late in the fall. My own patio is treated as a room of our house even though it is outdoors. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy sitting around a crackling fire just after sunset on an October night. That experience really recharges my mental batteries.Outdoor fireplaces some in a variety of sizes, styles and price points. There is an outdoor fireplace of one type or another for every person. But before you pick one out, check your local codes and laws, as some municipalities have concerns about outdoor air quality. Traditional wood-burning fires can, under certain weather conditions, create air-pollution problems. If local laws prohibit wood-burning fireplaces, look for approved models that may be fueled with natural gas or propane.



If you want the satisfaction of building your own fireplace, I suggest you find one that is prefabricated. Unless you are a serious do-it-yourselfer with great skills, you will struggle building a traditional masonry fireplace. Be aware that the actual design/construction of the firebox, smoke chamber, flue and chimney is a precise science. If you do not size all of the components correctly, the fireplace will not burn properly, and it may send clouds of billowing smoke toward you and your family as you sit near it.Look for an outdoor fireplace that will satisfy your most important needs. If warmth is what you are looking for, I would urge you to get an outdoor fireplace that resembles a traditional campfire. This device will allow many people to gather around and bask in the radiant heat that is sent out in all directions by the fire. Traditional fireplaces reflect heat in a small cone in front of the firebox, meaning only a few people can enjoy the warmth.If appearance is more important to you than warmth, then I feel sorry for you. There are so many gorgeous outdoor fireplaces, I can’t imagine how you will begin to make a decision. Be sure to consider how the fireplace materials will withstand the elements in your location. An outdoor fireplace that might perform flawlessly in the Southwest may fall apart in several years in the harsh, wet winter weather of the Northeast.Some magnificent outdoor fireplaces are awfully large. Be aware that not only can they take up valuable space on your patio, but their weight may stress the patio and cause a crack. Before you make any purchase, create an imaginary fireplace on your patio and arrange your chairs and side tables so they are a minimum of four feet from the fireplace location. You want to take the time to do this to ensure you will have enough space for all to enjoy the new addition to your outdoor living space.


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