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).
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.