Before purchasing an outdoor fireplace, chiminea, or fire pit, there are many factors to consider. Keep in mind that you are buying a "fire place" and the safety for your family, your property, and possibly your neighbors will depend on it.
#2 The design and size does matter.
There are 2 basic designs of outdoor fireplaces, Chimineas and Fire Pits. A chiminea can be defined as a fireplace that has a chimney to efficiently fuel fire with fresh air. A fire pit is a bowl or 360 degree open fireplace.
The drafting action of a well built chiminea draws fresh air into the fire and directs any smoke or fumes away from guests making them very efficient, clean burning fireplaces. Chimineas also enclose a fire, protecting people and property from sudden gusts of wind. Properly designed chimineas will have a bit of smoke at the beginning and end of your fire, much like a well designed "in house" fireplace will smoke very little or not at all during a fire.
Fire pits and 360 degree open fireplaces are pretty much a raised ring of rocks. Some fire pits have chimneys, but the 360 degree opening prohibits proper drafting. Without proper drafting fire pits often smolder and smoke due to inadequate airflow. Excess smoke from fire pits can linger making a fire uncomfortable for you and annoying to your neighbors. When comparing chimineas and other outdoor fireplaces, look closely at the fire box size before height. A smaller firebox will make wood buying or cutting more complicated. For a small fireplace wood will have to be cut special or ordered from a wood supplier in smaller pieces at a higher price. The Blue Rooster full size fireplaces all handle regular fire logs (16"-18") used in home fireplaces.
The size of your chiminea does not determine the size of the fire. Just because a chiminea is large doesn't mean the fire has to be. If you want a smaller fire use less wood. Some people buy small chimineas because the deck area is small. The problem with small chimineas is that the chimney will not be above your head when sitting down. Look for a large firebox and stay away from tall thin outdoor fireplaces. A small burning firebox area will cost more in the long run.
#3 The amount of maintenance needs to be considered.
Chain store and mass marketed fireplaces made out of copper, sheet steel, or clay, don't provide the safety or longevity of cast iron or cast aluminum. Below is a material list of currently manufactured outdoor fireplaces. If we missed one you're considering for purchase, give us a call. The Blue Rooster Company has owned, burned and studied about every type of outdoor fireplace, so if you find a new one let us know.
Clay chimineas can be babied;"Feed slowly, keep warm and dry." But if you want a fireplace that is going to be safer and last longer, any other material on the market is a better investment. See Tip #6 for safety concerns with clay chimineas.
Many home and garden outlets carry Sheet Metal outdoor fireplaces at a bargain cost. Cheap sheet metal fire pits are pretty much disposable items. Once they rust through their usefulness is gone. Be sure to check the gauge or thickness of the metal. Thin, mass marketed fireplaces may also melt if not thick enough. Enamel finishes disappear and exposed sheet metal will rust out quickly.
In some instances the fire bowl is cast iron but the neck or chimney is sheet steel. Eventually, you will be left with a cast iron fireplace body without a neck. Make sure the company carries replacement parts and find out the costs. If you will need to buy a new neck or other replacement parts frequently it's probably better to look elsewhere.
Cast Iron will rust if not maintained properly. The more cast iron you have to work with the longer it will last. Cast iron chimineas may also stain any surface on which it is standing if not maintained, so proper placement should be considered. If you decide to buy a cast iron chiminea make sure it is heavy and be prepared to maintain it.
Cast Iron may need a bit of maintenance but will last for years if looked after. Occasional painting with high temperature stove paint will halt rusting. Also, cast iron is extremely heavy and will withstand a lot of abuse. The Blue Rooster recommends cast iron chimineas for campground owners and places that they will be used without owners supervision. 200 pound chimineas tend not to "walk away."
There are no advantages of cast iron over cast aluminum except for a heavy weight. Cast aluminum is the best choice for most home and cabin owners.
Copper looks great out of the box and is a very safe material used for years in cooking utensils. Watch out for cast iron supports or bases that can rust quickly and stain your patio. Also, don't expect that shiny new copper fireplace to look like that after a fire or two. Green and rusty is usually the norm after it's been used. If you don't mind the look of it, make sure it has a cover or rain lid and prepare to maintain the cast iron parts.
Some companies will drill holes in the bottom of the copper fire pits to let water (and ash) out when it rains. Fire pits without drains can fill with water and make a mess. If you do choose a copper fire pit or any fire pit for that matter, be sure it has a heavy waterproof cover. Water and wind can make a mess of your ashes and/or embers.
If low maintenance and life span are priorities, Cast Aluminum is the best investment for your money. Aluminum chimineas are cast from the same molds as cast iron and look identical to cast iron. A Cast Aluminum outdoor fireplace will not warp and has a melting temp only a few hundred degrees lower then cast iron. Cast aluminum alloy will not rust and is much lighter so it can be easily moved. Like a gas grill, cast aluminum has very little maintenance. See tip #5 for more information on cast aluminum chimineas.
#4 Compare the weight of a fireplace to other manufacturers.
Be sure to check the weight. Many companies sell what is called a "Cast Iron" model that is made mostly of sheet steel. Cast Iron or Cast Aluminum is thick and heavy in a good chiminea. A chiminea labeled "Cast Iron" that is 67" Tall and 22" accross and 76 pounds, is most likely made with a lot of sheet steel. The Blue Rooster's Grap Style Cast Iron Chiminea weighs 178 pounds and The Blue Rooster's™ Cast Iron Venetian Style chiminea is a whopping 197 lbs of solid cast iron. A cast aluminum version of the chiminea may weigh half as much as cast iron. But it is still a far superior material for making chimineas.
If you're a typical outdoor fireplace user,The Blue Rooster Company cast aluminum chiminea is the best investment.
#5 The benefits of a Cast Aluminum chiminea.
Compared to a cast iron, cast aluminum chimineas are very low maintenance and can be easily moved during a wind change or patio re-arrangement. A cast aluminum chiminea will not rust and stain your deck or patio. The Blue Rooster™ Company aluminum chimineas are cast from the same molds as our cast iron chimineas, side by side they look and radiate heat identically.
The Blue Rooster cast aluminum chimineas are light weight and designed with safety in mind. See our Cast Aluminum Grape Style for a good example. Cast Aluminum chimineas are easily transported to a lake home or a neighbors and can be easily stored in the winter time in Northern areas. Storage is only recommended to prevent damage or theft. Both Cast Iron and Cast Aluminum chimineas are designed for year-round use in any climate.
Cast Aluminum is the most dependable and longest lasting material used in outdoor fireplace design. The Blue Rooster™ Company has owned, burned, and studied about every type of chiminea manufacturing material available and cast aluminum has consistently been the best product.
#6 Safety concerns with clay chimineas.
There are web sites that claim there is increased danger in using a metal chiminea versus a clay chiminea. From our experience you can get burned by a hot clay chiminea just as fast as a hot metal chiminea. If there was an inherent danger to using a metal outdoor fireplace, then all gas grills would be made of clay. If you are the type of person prone to sticking your fingers on hot items, maybe a garden fountain would be better for you than an outdoor fireplace.
The main problem with clay is that when it does fail, (fall apart) it can happen without warning. If the bottom falls out while you're having a fire, it can be a real mess. If you are using a clay fireplace on a wood deck or other surface that can be damaged, have it sitting on a cement, tile, or other type of protective base.
If you do decide to buy a clay outdoor fireplace, make sure to take extra safety precautions. A close-fitting mouth screen and spark arrestor insert may be extra, but is well worth the investment. Clay chimineas are usually fairly cheap, but the money saved usually is spent on add-ons or a new chiminea when the old clay one fails. A good cast iron or cast aluminum fireplace will always last longer then clay.
No matter how good a clay fireplace is built, if you put a piece of a clay chiminea in a bucket of water, in a few days you will have mud. The bottom line is that clay chimineas are just large clay pots made of burnt dirt and clay pots should be used for flowers, not fire.
#7 360° Surround View Fireplaces and Raised Fire pits.
Surround 360° view fireplaces and fire pits are not chimineas. Most surround view outdoor fireplaces are built of very light materials that if tipped over will send fire, embers and ash everywhere. For safety reasons traditional chimineas are built with only one opening. Even if a traditional chiminea gets knocked over, the ash and embers will be contained. Since the majority of weight is in the bottom of a traditional chiminea, it is very hard to tip over.
If you are concerned that the people behind a chiminea will not see the fire, visualize a campfire with a small breeze, no one wants to sit in the smoke anyway. Anyone who has had a chance to use both a fire pit and a chiminea will choose the chiminea for its excellent drafting qualities. By using patio block or other materials to build a proper hearth pad, chimineas can be used safely on wood decks and other locations where an open burning fire pit may cause damage.
Chimineas were originally designed as cooking devices and are used legally throughout the United States and other countries as such. Using a fire pit or surround fireplace is like building a ring of rocks and is not legal in many areas.
Anyone who has experienced an outdoor fire pit knows that a gust of wind will blow embers and sparks around that can damage your deck or other property and possibly that of your neighbors. A good chiminea will protect the fire and draft smoke out the top for a safer and more pleasurable experience. If you're not comfortable building a ring of rocks on your deck or patio, an efficient burning chiminea design is the better choice.
#8 What to burn in an outdoor fireplace.
Although wood may be a bit more work then lighting a propane insert, the aroma of a campfire and the cooking benefits make wood the number one fuel source. If you use wood in your fireplace, a fatwood stick is a quick way to get a fire going. Once the neck is heated the draft will start a fire quickly. A good hardwood such as oak creates the best fire. You can ask your local lumber yard or look in the yellow pages for a good wood supplier in your area.
Hard woods are the primary fuel for outdoor fireplace enthusiasts. Other sources are manufactured fire logs, propane, natural gas and gel inserts. Pinion wood, pronounced "pin-yon", is commonly recommended by chiminea owners for its pleasant "pine aroma." It also helps to repel mosquitoes and other flying insects. In the Southwest, piñon is a common fireplace and stove wood. It keeps an active flame, produces good heat, and burns well with other woods.
You can also add pine cones, apple wood, or other exotics if you would like a more aromatic experience. Manufactured fire logs are a quick way to get a fire going but make terrible marshmallows (toxic s'mores anyone?). The Blue Rooster Company chimineas are all rated for manufactured fire logs.
Gel inserts are also available in insert kits. They are operated by lighting a canned burning insert like the ones under serving trays, but much larger. Some are even marketed for indoor use, check with the manufacturer before using any indoor fire source.
Outdoor fireplaces with propane or natural gas inserts provide a trouble-free fire source. The Blue Rooster can convert any of our chimineas to natural gas or propane. If you are ordering a chiminea for natural gas or propane conversion we will make any modifications needed and supply a gas fire log kit with natural looking ceramic logs to go along with your new outdoor fireplace.
#9 Safety First
When using any outdoor fireplace make sure safety is your #1 priority. Have a fire extinguisher, a bucket of water or other water source available. Never leave a fire unattended and know how to use your fire safety equipment.
Don't sacrifice safety in order to save a few dollars on a bargain rate fire extinguisher or a cheap outdoor fireplace. Remember you are dealing with fire. Anytime a fire is lit there is a potential to cause damage to your self, friends, family, your property or your neighbors. When starting any controlled fire, safety is the number one concern.
An outdoor fireplace will enhance your life. At the end of the day a nice toasty fire and a good glass of wine will do wonders for your state of mind. Sharing stories around the fire has brought families and friends together for millennia. A Blue Rooster Chiminea may not replace your TV, but it's a good start.
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