Warm up your backyard with these design ideas, installation tips, and some low-committment choices

An outdoor fireplace makes a great gathering spot. It creates a feeling of intimacy while letting you stay outside to take advantage of long summer evenings.

You can install one in a sheltered entry courtyard, along the rear wall of a home, or at the boundary between paved and planted areas. Here’s some inspiration for your own setting and help in choosing the right fireplace unit, including some low-commitment choices.


“Good neighbors use chimneys, especially when a wood-burning fireplace is near the property line,” says John Crouch of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. The chimney elevates the release point of smoke.

• Burn dry, well-seasoned firewood. This greatly reduces the amount of smoke and particulate (a by-product of combustion).

• Add a spark arrester. Chimneytop units trap and break up embers.

• Avoid burning when fire danger is high or an inversion layer (which inhibits the upward motion of air) is likely.

• Switch to wood substitutes to reduce pollution and minimize the chance of a wayward spark escaping. You can buy wax-based logs, such as Duraflame’s Open Air fire log, at home-improvement or grocery stores. Logs made of “densified wood” ― compressed sawdust ― are also cleaner-burning choices. Try Goodwood from Summit Views (877/872-8341).


Sitting pretty

Notched into a hillside retaining wall, the stone-clad fireplace pictured above is an elegant garden focal point. An arbor tops the gently curving wall, which includes built-in storage for firewood.

Design: Michael Yandle, landscape architect, Ross, CA (415/464-0763).

Patio furnishings: Linda Applewhite & Associates, San Rafael, CA (415/456-2757)


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.



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; www.outdoorfireplaces.com or 877/337-8414).


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; www.outdoorfireplaces.com or 877/337-8414.


The safest and cleanest-burning outdoor fireplaces use natural gas and log sets made of a cementlike, heat-resistant ceramic material molded to look like real logs. (The log sets also include molded, ceramic-fiber “embers” that glow realistically.)

Install log sets in outdoor fireplaces that have been plumbed with gas lines. (They should not be installed in open firepits.) A variety of log sets are manufactured by the Robert H. Peterson Company (800/332-0240).

For more information on outdoor fireplaces and related products, contact the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association; 703/522-0086.

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