A Guide to Outdoor FIreplaces

A Guide to Outdoor FIreplaces

Summer has finally come to many parts of Canada, unfortunately not so much here on the west coast, where we are quite cold and rainy. But having an outdoor fireplace is not only functional, giving heat and light but it also makes your outdoor space more appealing. It creates an atmosphere and ambiance that reflects your individuality. Plus in this day and age of Covid, you can have family and friends over and maintain social distancing while around an outdoor fireplace.

There are many types of outdoor fireplaces to choose from, as well as different fuel soures and then there is where to place it. These are all aspects that need careful consideration.

Not to mention, local bylaws and codes must be adhered to; especially, if there is a burn ban or structural requirement that need to be met before lighting it up. You can usually do an online search of your area/municipality to find all the regulations.  

So now you know what you can/cannot do lets find the best outdoor fireplace for you.

4 types of Outdoor Fireplaces

 All fireplaces fall into 3 categories:

  • Wood-burning 
  • Gas-burning (natural gas, propane, or kerosene), 
  • Electric

Within these categories are 4 main types:

  • Fire pits (rings, bowls, and built-in patio pits);
  • Fireplaces and heaters;
  • Chimeneas; and
  • Patio torches.

Choosing  an outdoor fireplace comes down to function, features and performance. To get the right type for your space, ask yourself what is most inportant to you and the space you are working with? Is fashion more important than function? Do you want lots of heat or a lawn decoration? Is being environmentally responsible more important than ambiance? Let’s look at the pros and cons for each type.

Fire pits: rings, bowls, and patio pits

When you think of a fire pit you probably picture a traditional fire ring of rocks circling a shallow pit. Modern pits can be quite grand. However, fire rings and pits are quite permanent and require some landscaping to relocate them.

Bowls, on the other hand, come in different shapes, sizes and materials and are placed on the ground or a stand so are easy to move to different locations.

Patio fire pits can be easily integrated into your patio, such as a fire table where the fire pit is the table’s centrepiece. 


•An easy Do It Yourself project: fire rings are inexpensive, and easy to build.

•A fire bowl or table, are easy to move and usually efficient.

•A lavish fire pit: built-in are unmatched when it comes to quality, aesthetics, and personalization.


•If wood burning, it produces smoke, a known pollutant.

•There are safety concerns: fire rings- wood or gas burning have an open flame which could present potential dangers.

•Costly renovations can be involved for built-in patio fire pits.


Outdoor fireplaces can include various designs and features such as cottage-style chimneys, bronze inlaying, and detailed stonework. Gas-burning and electric-powered models are also available.


•It’s the real experience: outdoor fireplaces bring the heat with the sound and smell of burning wood.

•Provides you with an economical choice: less expensive than custom fire rings and built-in patio pits.


•Watch out for safety risks and pollutants: smoke creates pollution, while flames and sparks are potential dangers.

•Outdoor fireplaces fueled by natural gas or electricity lack an authentic, wood-burning feel.

•Placement is limited: natural gas and electric fireplaces or heaters are less portable than those fueled by wood or propane.

Patio heaters

Patio heaters are traditionally fueled by gas or electricity, and their lightweight construction offers more portability than a classic outdoor fireplace. Propane standing floor lamps are common styles, and patio heaters come in a variety of sizes to suit your space. 


•Superior temperature control: patio heaters allow you to control the output of heat.

•They’re environmentally friendly: since they aren’t fueled by wood, heaters are a greener alternative and safer to operate.

•Provides you with an economical choice: less expensive than custom fire rings and built-in patio pits.


•Patio heaters have a small warmth radius and can be pushed over by high wind.

•You aren’t able to cook with them.


Chimeneas are centuries old and combine function with fashion. Decorative wood-burning chimineas are shaped like a wide-bottom vase with a chimney, and are historically made from fired clay.


•They’re easy to light:. 

•You control the smoke: the built-in chimney stack directs smoke up and away from you and out of your eyes.

•They offer you optimal heat output: like fireplaces and fire pits, chimeneas generate a lot of warmth. 


•Chimeneas are freestanding and require a level surface to increase safety.

•They require upkeep: the body fills with ash quickly, and the chimney needs routine cleaning if used often.

•Water fills the bowl of a chimenea if it’s left uncovered when not being used.

Patio torches

Patio torches, or Tiki torches, are an cost-effective way to light up your outdoor space while creating an inviting, tropical atmosphere. 


•They can be rustic, or modern in feel and construction.

•A clean-burning alternative: fueled by kerosene or natural gas, so are environmentally friendly.

•You won’t be bothered by the bugs.


•They don’t provide heat..

•They are an open flame, therefore are susceptible to being blown out by the wind.

•They’re easy to tip over and are a safety concern around children.

When to Dig a Pit and Where to Place a Heater

The outdoor space you’re working with will help you decide which fireplace you can install. If you want to bring the heat to your deck or porch, a patio heater or gas-burning fireplace is a great option. If it’s a semi-enclosed space, the limited heat-radius won’t be as noticeable. 

If you want to crank up the heat in wide, open spaces, look to wood-burning fireplaces, pits, and chimeneas. Give them plenty of room to breathe, however. These options should be kept 10 to 20-feet away from walls, plants, trees or anything that could catch fire. They’re not recommended for enclosed decks or gazebos.

To play up the ambiance of your space or to decorate for special occasions patio torches are a great option, weather permitting. They’re perfect for lining walkways or outlining the perimeter of your deck, but they can also be used beneath an awning or slatted patio roof. For safety, be aware of the flame and make sure there’s plenty of airflow.

How you fuel your outdoor fireplace also determines which type you choose. Those that need an electrical outlet or natural gas line are not easily moved, while propane-fueled and wood-burning options provide more flexibility.

Fireplace safety, bylaws, and codes

We are responsible for preventing forest fires and this holds true for your outdoor fireplace as well.

Here are a few safety considerations to bear in mind:

  • Don’t leave a burning fire unattended and completely extinguish it before going inside.
  • Be prepared for an emergency, have buckets of water, sand, a fire extinguisher, or a hose nearby.    
  • Pay attention to the weather: high winds can knock over lamp-style patio heaters and tiki torches, while periods of drought will turn sparks into fires (always check with your local fire department or municipality to see if there is a burn ban in place for this reason.)
  • Choose hardwoods versus softwoods: seasoned hardwood burns more consistently to limit sparks from popping unpredictably.
  • Use tinder, not gasoline when lighting a fire.
  • Keep it ventilated: gas-burning fireplaces and heaters emit carbon monoxide, which is deadly in small, enclosed areas.
  • Bigger isn’t better: the larger the fire, the less predictable it becomes making it harder to control.

Ultimately, local bylaws and zoning codes have the final say in what type of outdoor fireplace you choose. Each province or territory has a different process, so be sure to check your local government’s website or your local fire department for regulations and recommendations.

For instance, firepits and wood-burning fireplaces are more acceptable in rural neighbourhoods, but if you live in the city, you’re likely limited to gas-burning models in covered bowls. If you live in a condo or townhouse there is a good chance that outdoor fireplaces are completely prohibited—check with your building management. 

If the warm smell of wood smoke is something you crave or an elegant patio with a built-in fireplace is what you’re looking for in a new home, make sure you talk with me about the dos and don’ts on the Sunshine Coast.


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