This is a subject I can really warm up to. Everybody seems to love a good fire. It is the universal magnet for humans. We gravitate to them as if drawn by the beauty of the flames. You can turn any outdoor gathering into a special event by adding the warmth and radiant glow of a fire.
The traditional way to enjoy a fall evening outdoors and stay warm is a bonfire or a campfire. A bonfire is usually made for a very large group of people, and will require an open burning permit in many areas. Ensure that you have proper permissions before attempting to have a bonfire event. Campfires are nice, but they also require a lot of supervision to make sure they are under control. They have to be set up far from homes, and properly extinguished before they are left for the night.
One alternative, which has become popular for outdoor wood burning in recent years, is the fire pit. Sometimes these are called outdoor fireplaces. You can build one out of cinder blocks or bricks set into a patio, or you can buy a metal movable fire pit. These can be found at specialty stores as well as some larger general retail stores or home improvement/hardware stores in the outdoor department.
The nice thing about a movable fire pit is that they can be moved to an out-of-the way place when not in use. They come in different sizes, so just make sure the diameter is large enough to accommodate the wood you are likely to burn. They are usually about 3 feet tall. Since it is off the ground, the ashes are contained for safety and easy clean up. When you are done burning for the night, just extinguish the flames as you would any outdoor fire. Later you can empty the ashes.
Fire pits are typically cylindrical and the sides are made of metal mesh so that people can gather around and enjoy the warmth on a cool evening on a patio or in the yard. There is plenty of room for lots of toasting marshmallows. There are also many new decorative designs, so before deciding to buy, you should shop around and make sure you are getting the style that best suits your outdoor décor.
For a nice southwest look, a large clay chiminea pot is great, but don’t expect a lot of heat from it. They are more for the show of the glow and light of the fire than to provide a lot of warmth. These have traditionally been made of clay with only a relatively small opening. Pictured here is a small decorative chiminea made for holding candles.
More recently some manufacturers are making chimineas from metal to provide a more durable product. The design has also been changed in some cases to allow heat to radiate all around, so they are more like a very decorative fire pit. If you decide to purchase a chiminea be sure to investigate what all the new choices are before you buy. All the safety precautions for a fire pit should be observed for a chiminea.
Ah, propane! Even those who shun propane gas as a cooking medium outdoors can appreciate the warmth of a propane heater on the deck on a fall or mild winter evening. Many restaurants extended the use of their outdoor tables with these tall heaters when they were first introduced. As the prices came down, and the designs became more varied, they became a viable choice for homeowners.
Outdoor propane heaters provide very convenient radiant heat. You can simply turn it on and off as needed. Most also have variable temperature controls, just like a gas grill. They can raise the temperature in a protected area between 10 and 20 degrees (F) for about a 10 to 20 foot radius.
Both self-standing and tabletop models are now available. Larger self-standing models are about 8 feet tall. They usually come on a weighted base with wheels so that they can be moved to where they are needed. They are usually designed with a large conical heat radiator at the top, which radiates the heat downward. They work best with little or no wind, like most fires. They come with built in safety features, such as tip switches and safety valves, so they make a great choice for families with small children. They can be used on your deck, dock or patio. For a large space, one may not be enough, so make sure you know how big a space you want to warm up.
Small propane patio hearths with gas logs are now starting to gain popularity as well. They provide the convenience of the propane heater with the look of a real log fire.
Relax and Enjoy the Warmth Safely
So put on your winter woolies and enjoy some warmth with your friends family outdoors this fall and winter. Build a fire or turn on the propane heater. Take a look at the stars. Warm your feet, toast a marshmallow, or simply sit back and enjoy watching the fire. Don’t forget the hot chocolate!
Written by Lori Wolak on The Lake Channel