Traditional masonry models ― with footing, a firebrick-lined firebox, and a brick-lined or stone chimney ― are heavy and costly. Here are lighter, less expensive options.
Zero-clearance units. These are designed so they can be installed in contact with combustible framing material. Many builders start with a prefabricated metal shell. They add a metal chimney, frame the unit with studs (wood or metal), encase it in plywood or backerboard, and finish it with stucco, stone, or tile. Stainless steel shells are available from Lennox (from $1,800; 800/854-0257) and Vermont Castings (from $1,612; 800/227-8683). Heat-N-Glo makes a gas-fueled stainless steel model called the Dakota, which arrives complete with a gas-log set and glass doors. It doesn't need a chimney, since the exhaust is released through slots in the decorative face frame ($2,499; 888/743-2887).
Modular units. Precast modules (often made of pumice stone) stack together to make the firebox, fireplace, and chimney. Installing these lighter-weight sections is easier than dealing with heavy solid units. Isokern Fireplace Systems makes a 36-inch-wide patio fireplace with options including a firebrick interior and stone, tile, or stucco finish on the exterior. $1,200-$1,700 plus shipping. (866) 476-5376.
Another modular fireplace, the Manor House from Nexo (imported by Hearthlink International), comes prefinished with a stone veneer. $1,999 plus shipping. (877) 337-8414.
Chimeneas. Originally made of clay, these freestanding portable units have been updated with more options in recent years. Hearthlink International offers several versions made of cast aluminum. At a relatively light 90 pounds, they're easier to move than the traditional kind. They include spark arresters, small-mesh screens, and leg levelers (for uneven patio surfaces). An optional gas-log set can also be ordered. From $399 including shipping.
Freestanding metal units. These resemble firepits or fireplaces crossed with chimeneas. A fanciful model for wood burning and grilling comes from SoJoe ($399; 888/316-1404). Waterloo Gas Products' 7001 Solarium uses propane or natural gas (from $425; 519/725-0196).
For more information on outdoor fireplaces and related products, contact the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association: (703) 522-0086.