Bringing the Heat

Exceptional Values in Outdoor Fireplaces

Manufacturers have improved the design and functionality of their outdoor fireplaces at all prices.

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The days are getting shorter, and the evening air is bringing the familiar autumn chill. If you’re looking to extend your time outdoors by gathering around a fire, you’ll find more options when it comes to outdoor fireplaces than ever before. We’ll give you the scoop, so you won’t get burned.

FUELING CHANGE. If you shop for an outdoor fireplace, you might notice that more gas-burning models are available than there were 4 years ago. Gas-burning models now make up nearly 26 percent of the marketplace, compared with 20 percent in 2007.

This change occurred even though gas-burning models cost significantly more than their wood-burning counterparts. And the cost disparity has increased in the past 4 years, as several manufacturers have either entered the market for gas-burning outdoor fireplaces or have made their products more upscale.

For example, Cal Flame ditched its moderately priced gas-burning fire pits over the past 4 years to focus entirely on its ultrapremium lines that start at $1,300. O.W. Lee added four models that start at twice that price. Meanwhile, The Blue Rooster, citing the convenience of gas, now offers gas-burning versions of its chimeneas that cost $150 more than the wood-burning versions do.

Conversely, among wood-burning outdoor fireplaces, growth is taking place at the low end of the price scale. Eight brands now offer wood-burning models for less than $100, compared with four brands 4 years ago. But you should know that these bargain-basement models typically are made from low-end steel that can rust and deteriorate if they’re left exposed to the elements.

HOT DESIGNS. Upscale is a good word to describe the design of today’s outdoor fireplaces. Manufacturers tell Consumers Digest that they are trying to make their products better fit with today’s outdoor furniture.

That means that now you’ll see extended mantels, designs that are meant to resemble artwork, and fashionable touches, such as wrought-iron bases that mimic table and chair legs. We also noticed an increased use of tile, marble or even slate, although you’ll pay a premium (at least $100 extra) for certain materials. For example, in 2010, Good Directions introduced its FireDome line (starting at $310). These wood-burning models have copper-finished steel fire bowls and domes that feature elaborately cut patterns, such as stars, moons and dancers. The domes were designed by artist Jason Long and replace the traditional mesh fire screen.

Meanwhile, other fireplaces have become the furniture. Cal Flame and O.W. Lee now make models that are basically dining tables that come with a gas-burning fire bowl in the middle. UniFlame added similar models in the past 4 years, although you’ll pay at least $600 for a serving-table outdoor fireplace.

Manufacturers of wood-burning fireplaces also increased the functionality of their models by adding cooking grates to more models, says Leslie Wheeler of Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. And last year, Weber introduced a model ($160) that has a unique, albeit logical, function: When you remove the outdoor fireplace’s support ring, the fireplace’s lid fits over the fire bowl to extinguish the fire in a few minutes. We weren’t able to test this model, but an innovation that would put out a wood fire without the muck that’s caused by dousing it with water should draw warm applause.

Brett S. Martin has been writing about home-improvement projects and products for 15 years. He’s written for Popular Mechanics, The Family Handyman and Masonry magazines.

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