Jun08

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Outdoor Fireplace

Relaxing around a crackling fire with an icy-cold beverage in your hand — perhaps the perfect way to spend a summer evening?

The good news is that adding a fireplace to your backyard is a relatively simple endeavor. With a wide range of stand-alone outdoor fireplaces available — from simple wood-burning types to more sophisticated gas-powered models — it’s easy to find one that’s right for you. And most require little to no setup.

However, using an outdoor fireplace— and properly incorporating it into your backyard scheme— does require some thought. So before you get too stoked about your fireplace, check out what a fire safety expert and a landscape designer have to say about backyard fireplace do’s and don’ts.

  • Do: Make sure outdoor fireplaces are permitted in your community. “A firepit is an open fire and should only be used if allowed by your local authorities,” says Judy Comoletti, division manager for public education at the National Fire Protection Association. “Be sure to check with your local fire department for any restrictions before using a firepit.”
  • Don’t: Place it on a flammable surface — or near flammable items. You may have the perfect spot for your fireplace, but it’s worth a second look to ensure it’s not on a flammable surface, like a wooden deck. Good surfaces for outdoor fireplaces include cold-cast concrete, concrete pavers and natural stone. It’s important to make sure your fireplace is in a safe spot, too, “at least 10 feet away from buildings or other things that can burn,” Comoletti says. “And be sure to clean up any debris and vegetation in the vicinity of your firepit.”
  • Do: Follow safety protocols at all times. Comoletti offers this list to keep in mind: Have a garden hose turned on and ready to use, or keep a bucket of water or dirt nearby in case you need to extinguish the flames. Keep children, pets, and guests at least 3 feet away from the fire. Carry your cell phone in case you need to call the fire department. Never leave a burning fire unattended. And, finally, keep potentially toxic or explosive materials, such as trash and pressurized wood, out of your fire.
  • Don’t: Think your options are limited. “Stand-alone firepits provide for an extra element of functionality in your landscape,” says Jim Saybolt, principal of Minneapolis-based landscape design firm Biota. For instance, if you enjoy watching the sunset, you may want to place your fireplace on the west side of your house. Or, if you enjoy entertaining on your patio, consider setting up your firepit there. However, Saybolt cautions against this idea if your patio is light-colored. “Its embers and ashes can cause permanent stains,” he says.
  • Do: Use your fireplace to extend your entertaining space. “Your firepit has can act as a focal element in your backyard,” Saybolt says. “Especially if it has some structure or height to it.” Saybolt recommends choosing a spot for your firepit that’s totally enmeshed in your landscape (while keeping it on a nonflammable surface, of course!). “This allows your fireplace to become a destination — a gathering point — in your yard,” he explains. “Just make sure it’s visible through your windows. This way, if you’re having a party and it’s lit, guests will recognize it as another option for entertainment.”
  • Don’t: Wait to start making the most of your outdoor fireplace! Call your family and friends, gather ideas for outdoor entertaining, and get ready to relax in each other’s company while watching the embers glow.

Leigh Kramarczuk

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