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.


Should We Allow Legal Public Drinking?

As of June 22nd some of North Vancouver parks are allowing legal drinking in 9 public spaces. The City of North Vancouver council approved the bylaw, allowing alcohol in some parks as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This allows people to come together to socialize in outdoor spaces safely, while still allowing for social distancing. According to the council, "This bylaw is about creating space outdoors for residents to socialize in a way that respects physical distancing. By allowing people to gather in our parks we're supporting their well-being, as well as supporting local restaurants and breweries."  The hours of legal drinking in these 9 parks are from 11am to 9pm and will be allowed until October 15th, 2020.

In many countries around the world drinking in public has been legal for a long time.

The question now is, should this type of bylaw be brought into some public spaces on the Sunshine Coast? There is already illegal drinking on many of our public beaches, so maybe it’s time we have specific areas where alcohol can be consumed. That way we know where it's ok to go to partake in an alcoholic beverage or which areas to avoid if we don’t. 

Just something to think about.


Fun Outdoor Activities for Summer Days

Looking for ideas to fill the time in these last few week of summer? Check out these outdoor projects the whole family can enjoy, ranging from easy projects like starting seeds or creating a mini fairy garden, to more involved projects such as turning a stock tank into a raised bed.

These activities are listed in age-group order — starting with simple projects appropriate for little ones, scaling up to those that older kids and teens might enjoy and learn from — but feel free to adapt any of them to suit your needs.

Grow an Herb Box

It’s not too late in the season to start a pot of kitchen herbs, the kids can help pick leaves to add to your favorite dishes. Young children can help with all steps of the process: putting in potting soil, patting down soil, spacing plant starts and watering them in. Easy-to-grow herbs to consider are basil, parsley, thyme, tarragon, sage, oregano and chives. All thrive with full sun and consistent water.

You could consider tucking a few strawberry plants (which generally produce spring, summer and fall crops) around the edges for a treat to discover later.

Start Seeds

There’s nothing quite like the magic of seeing little leaves pop up from the ground as if by magic. Big seeds — like those of squash, melons, peas and beans — are the easiest to handle and can be a good place to start for most beginner gardeners. Now is a good time in most climates to sow seeds for pumpkins to have them ready by Halloween. You can begin to sow crops like snow peas and fava beans now too.

Make Handprint Stepping Stones

Creating stepping stones with family handprints or footprints can be a fun afternoon project, and it’s a way to make your garden feel more personal. It’s easiest to use a handprint stepping stone kit, but you can also make them without a kit using fast-setting concrete and a mold. Have family member whose handprint you want to commemorate imprint their hands or feet and arrange any treasures they wish — like polished stones, marbles or shells — into the concrete. Adults can help sign the names of young children with a stick or wooden pencil. Once the concrete sets, find a spot to display them in your garden.

Pick Your Own

If there’s one garden “chore” that kids of any age can get behind, it’s harvesting — particularly if it’s something sweet like berries, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas or tree fruit. Picking fruit from your garden or a nearby pick-your-own farm makes for a fun family activity and is a good way to teach kids where their favorite fruit come from.

For slightly older children, you can make harvesting from the garden a daily or weekly responsibility.

Open a Bug Hotel

Have you seen these bug houses before? The concept is as simple as hanging a bird house, except bug hotels resemble collections of items such as hollow bamboo canes and seedpods that aim to mimic habitats like tree cavities that are increasingly rare in urban and suburban environments. The little holes and bug-size crevices are designed to attract insects, such as bees, that look for such spaces to rest for the night.

You can purchase kits for DIY bug hotels or build your own. (Just be sure to include some type of roof or cover to keep the gathered materials dry.) Family members of all ages can help collect materials to use, such as dried seedpods, twigs, small pine cones and bark. Older kids and teens can help with building the frame for the hotel. Everyone can learn or be reminded of the vital role beneficial insects play in ecosystems and the challenges they face.

Create a Fairy Garden

Anyone with a whimsical side may enjoy creating a miniature fairy garden in a pot. Start with an empty vessel of your choosing and fill it with potting soil. Then choose small plants at the nursery, such as succulents, creeping wire vine or mossy-looking ground covers like baby’s tears or woolly thyme. Use indoor plants if you are going to keep the garden inside.

Arrange a scene from your imagination on the surface of smooth potting soil, tucking in plants as they go. Fine gravel can become fairy pathways or streams, rocks can be seats or stepping stones. You can purchase (or make, if you’re feeling extra crafty) accents such as miniature houses, benches, gates, animal or fairy figurines and toadstools. 

Plant Up Recycled and Repurposed Containers

You can reporpose any type of container for plants, and kids can have fun scouting for unused containers around the house or yard to repurpose into planters. Some things to consider: old teapots, cups, small wooden boxes, old hiking boots, helmets, urns and more.

For containers that don’t have drainage holes, either plan on drilling a few at the bottom or keeping plants in their plastic nursery pots set inside the container. Or, if you decide to plant directly in the container without drainage holes, be sure to water plants very lightly, as excess water will have nowhere to go.

Propagate Succulents

Succulents are a great place to start with plant propagation, as most of them root easily from cuttings or offshoots. Kids can help with all steps of the process, from splitting off baby succulent “pups” from rosette-forming types, to laying them out on a gravel bed (or a paper plate) to harden or potting up the new little succulent plants once rooted. Teens can own the whole process and, if they’re hooked, quickly multiply your succulent collection or create one of their own.

Turn a Stock Tank Into a Raised Planter

Turning a galvanized-metal livestock tank into a planter is easier than building a raised bed — and it’s a pretty stylish container too. Choose a stock tank based on how much space you have, what you’d like to grow and how much you’d like to spend.

Stock tanks range from $30 for a small, shallow one that could be used to grow herbs, succulents or strawberries to $300 and up for a large model where you could grow anything from tomatoes to dwarf fruit trees. They will all need drainage holes drilled at the bottom and enough potting soil to fill them to the brim before planting.

Plant a Living Wall

While professional living wall systems are fairly complicated projects best left to professionals, simpler models that use felt planting pockets are no more effort than planting a container and mounting it to the wall. Purchase a premade kit and follow the package’s instructions with regards to mounting and planting.

Living walls made from kits generally look best with plenty of billowing and trailing plants that, once they fill in, can help cover the felt pockets holding the soil. A few to consider for hanging gardens that receive four to six hours of sun: bacopa, trailing fuchsia, sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), lobelia and nasturtium. For shadier gardens, check out ajuga, variegated ivy, campanula, heuchera and ferns or talk to your local garden store they will tell you which plants grow best in your area.

Remember that living walls, particularly those in sun, dry out very quickly; stay on top of the watering or set up a drip irrigation system.

Have fun, we only have a few weeks more of summer.

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