Outdoor Fireplaces: Your Comprehensive Guide

Your Comprehensive Guide To Outdoor Fireplaces

Introduction

Fire has provided warmth, ambience, food and survival since the beginning of time.

Fire has kept us warm, powered our trains and ships and brought light to our homes.

Whilst we have predominantly replaced fire with technologies designed to give us more time, there’s nothing quite like an outdoor fireplace to really slow time down and create space for family, friends and fun.

A well-designed outdoor fireplace can bring outdoor spaces and entertaining to life.

The Australian’s call it the bush TV, others refer to it as the caveman’s Netflix.

What follows is our comprehensive guide to outdoor fireplaces. Any questions, just reach out to office@flarefires.com. Enjoy!

5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Buying Your Outdoor Fireplace

1. “Why do I want an outdoor fireplace?”

This is the first question we ask every customer who contacts us.

Do you want an outdoor fireplace to make your space look great or do you also want to cook on it?

Do you want to entertain and draw people around, or is it more about making your space look good?

Do you like to entertain guests, or is the fire more for you and your family?

Is it about creating a place where you can relax and make fun moments?

Asking yourself “why?” is key in choosing the right type of outdoor fireplace for you.

If you want the option of cooking on your outdoor fireplace you will need to consider a fireplace model that sits at cooking height.

If you think you might cook occasionally, the cooking height will be less of an issue. If you want to cook on it often, then definitely go for a model that sits at usual cooking height.

You will also need to consider the size of the firebox and the cooking options and accessories available. Flare only does one size firebox, it’s a big wide fire designed to make cooking easy.

If you want an outdoor fireplace that draws people around it, you totally need to go for a wood fired outdoor fireplace. It creates warmth and ambience gas just can’t provide.

If you are looking for an outdoor fireplace that is more of a feature, for show, then gas would be the simplest way to go, reducing the need for fire wood supply.

2. “What is my budget for my outdoor fireplace?”

Your outdoor fireplace budget is less than $5k

If you’re like me, you may have started off by circling up some spare bricks on the ground and roasting marshmallows.

This costs nothing.

There are however a large range of options available from retailers for less then $5k.

The main challenge is finding something that will last. Also, if you are finding yourself more focussed on buying local, none (that we know of) of the low-cost models in our retail stores are made locally.

Typically they come from low cost producing countries, enabling the retail outlet to make the margin they require.

Your outdoor fireplace budget is between $5k and $10k

This is the budget you need to have in mind to get something made local that will last.

There is a wide range of outdoor fireplace brands available in this price range.

Again, the key consideration is will it last, try avoiding something with a steel firebox, as the warranty will be less than three years and when you spend this kind of money, you don’t want to have to keep spending money.

If you look at most custom built solutions, due to the level of investment they are most often designed to last, without a steel firebox.

Your outdoor fireplace budget is between $10k and $20k

With this budget you can have something custom designed from scratch.

This may also be enough to include an engineer’s report so as to get local body permission.

We see some great looking custom built fireplaces around the world that will be in this price range.

The great thing with a Flare Fire is you can purchase the firebox and chimney on their own and pay a stone mason to make it look custom.

This solution enables you to get the job done cheaper and still have an engineer’s report for local body permitting.

3. “How might the characteristics of my property impact on my outdoor fireplace?”

  • What is your predominant wind direction?
  • How big is your space?
  • How close is your property boundary?
  • What will your neighbours think?
  • What about truck or crane access for lifting in your outdoor fireplace?

In New Zealand our predominant wind is from the west. In this case you would ideally have the back of your outdoor fireplace facing west’ish. If your predominant wind comes from roughly behind your fire, that’s ideal! What you want to avoid is the wind predominantly passing along the face of the fire, effectively drawing smoke out of the firebox.

When deciding where to place your outdoor fireplace it’s a balance of where is your view, where is the predominant wind and what would look best on your site.

If the wind is going to be an issue, consider plantings or a low fence placed to block the wind.

I talk below about boundary issues, but basically, if you are looking to place your outdoor fireplace be on your neighbours boundary, you will need to talk to them.

Access is another consideration. Can you get a truck to the site or might you need a crane. If it’s a new build, at what stage should you install the outdoor fireplace before access might become an issue?

4. “Might I want to cook on my outdoor fireplace now or later?”

At first glance, the consideration of whether or not you can cook on your outdoor fireplace may seem lower on the list of what’s important. However, one of the best bits of advice we can give is to seriously consider the potential of cooking on your outdoor fireplace.

Many people want an outdoor fireplace for the ambience, then spend so much time in front of their outdoor fireplace they find themselves wanting to entertain and cook up a good steak.

Even if you don’t plan on cooking on your outdoor fireplace, being able to do so leaves the option open.

5. “What permission do I need for the installation of my outdoor fireplace?”

Local government / local councils law a different between countries, states, regions and cities. For example, in New Zealand you only need a permit if the fireplace is being included in a building plan. In this instance we provide a PS1 that you can submit to the council with your plans.

This PS1 is also used in Australia and may also be acceptable in other countries. The main thing is our fires are designed for Wellington NZ which is a high earthquake and high wind region. If our fires can survive a lifetime there, they can survive anywhere.

The other consideration in New Zealand is proximity to boundary. This changes throughout the country, but generally you need to aim to be about 1.5 meters from your boundary. Please consider what the rules are in your region and contact your local authority. If you are on your neighbours boundary you can approach them for consent. In New Zealand you can formalise this with a resource consent.

Fire ban seasons can be an issue as well. In NZ you can apply to your local body for a permit to run your fire.

When it comes to clean air rules, as long as you can cook on your outdoor fireplace it as a wood fired BBQ, which are not banned anywhere, that we know of.

So, after considering your why, have a look around and see what outdoor fireplace option is best suited to you. Please feel free to jump on the phone with us at any time to help get more clarity.

Frequently Asked Questions Before You Buy Your Outdoor Fireplace

Q: “What material makes the best firebox for an outdoor fireplace? Steel, concrete or stone?“
Q: “What makes the best fuel for an outdoor fireplace? Gas or wood?“
Q: “Which is better, an outdoor fireplace with a cooking surface, or without?“
Q: “What warranty can I expect for my outdoor fireplace?“
Q: “What engineering is required for my outdoor fireplace?“
Q: “Which type of build is best for my outdoor fireplace: Modular or custom built?“
Q: “Which factors have a major impact on the cost of an outdoor fire?“
Q: “Which is better: An open fire or an outdoor fireplace?“

Q: “What material makes the best firebox for an outdoor fireplace? Steel, concrete or stone?“

Many outdoor fireplaces come with a steel firebox. The main advantage of steel is that you get a complete ‘unit’ that can be fitted to a custom designed outdoor space. This is perfect for those looking to create a custom outdoor fireplace without having to pay for a full custom built solution. The steel firebox will come with specifications that can be provided to your architect or builder who can then design a ‘hole’ in which to place the firebox, to suit your house.

Because a steel firebox is a ‘unit’ it can come either gas or wood fired. Some steel fireboxes also come with self-lighting features, making for simple starting of your wood burning outdoor fireplace.

The main downsides to a steel firebox is the cost and warranty. They can be quite an expensive solution, especially when you factor in the architectural and or build cost for the ‘hole’ and surround for the firebox. Being steel, the outdoor fireplace will have a limited warranty, and this is worth investigating before purchasing. Warranties on a steel outdoor firebox can often be less than three years.

Q: “What makes the best fuel for an outdoor fireplace? Gas or wood?“

Gas outdoor fireplaces can quickly create a big yellow flame that looks great. They are easy to start, quick to use and save countless hours chopping firewood or money to buy the wood you would otherwise need. The real problem with a gas outdoor fireplace is that they generate very low kilowatt output.

Gas can be tuned like a BBQ to create a blue flame, with lots of heat to cook, or a big yellow flame with little heat for ambience. The ambience is not fully delivered upon however with the lack of heat, and so you will notice people do not gather around a gas outdoor fireplace, instead they are usually utilised for their appearance.

There are times when this makes complete sense and some outdoor design makes space for the utilisation of flame, not for its warmth or the creation of a space to gather, but simply the creation of light and the impression of warmth.

Q: “Which is better, an outdoor fireplace with a cooking surface, or without?“

At first glance, the consideration of whether or not you can cook on your outdoor fireplace may seem down on the list of what’s important. However one of the best bits of advice we can give in this comprehensive guide is to give the potential of cooking on your outdoor fireplace due consideration.

The reason for this is simple, by design an outdoor fireplace will either facilitate cooking or not. Whilst you can cook on a gas BBQ, you can’t cook on a gas outdoor fireplace. The big yellow flame and lack of fat collection just makes this impossible.

It’s great to see an increase in the number of steel fireboxes that now include some cooking options. Whilst a steel firebox limits the range of cooking styles that can be achieved, there are now a range of steel firebox options that facilitate basic outdoor cooking.

If you choose an outdoor fireplace solution with a block or masonry firebox, you can remove the limitations that come from the flu and grill design of a steel firebox. This then can enable proper wood fired pizza, meat smoking and more, depending on the options that come with your fire.

The last thing to consider here, is that many people want an outdoor fireplace for the ambience, then spend so much time in front of their outdoor fireplace they find themselves wanting to entertain and cook up a good steak.

It sounds simple, but we all need a reason to use our outdoor areas. We like to think that just being outside is reason enough, however having something to watch, something to do, something to experience…these are all motivators to use our outdoor spaces.

Many enjoy just the process of lighting and watching their fire, others couldn’t think of a better place to savour a fine wine or craft beer, families enjoy time without devices, just chatting and the best thing is you can cook and entertain for all your friends and family.

An outdoor fire is a simple thing that gives you reason to do very little and feel completely satisfied that you’ve spent the best part of your day doing it.

Q: “What warranty can I expect for my outdoor fireplace?“

We touched on this a bit earlier when discussing the limited warranty timeframes available on steel fireboxes. These are often just a year and almost always below three. When considering the level of investment, this is a key consideration. Some outdoor fireplaces are completely steel in design. The limiting factor however is always the firebox, as this is where cracking and deterioration is most likely to occur.

Custom built outdoor fireplaces may come with or without a warranty, depending on the stone mason. In this instance you want to choose a reputable supplier with a proven track record and excellent references.

Whilst remaining unbiased, it has to be mentioned that Flare outdoor Fireplaces come with a limited lifetime warranty.

Q: “What engineering is required for my outdoor fireplace?“

If your outdoor fireplace is to be included in the design of your house, it will most likely need to come with engineering drawings and specifications that can be approved.

A steel firebox will come with specifications defining clearances and the engineering required for the ‘hole’ in which it is to be placed. The fireplace ‘hole’ however will require its own engineering and design, approved to local building standards.

A custom built fire will unlikely come with any engineering drawings and will likely need to be a stand alone solution, kept away from permitted buildings.

Flare Fires, which are modular, come pre-engineered and with the specifications needed for local permitting body’s to authorise. These specifications are often used to place the Flare outdoor fireplace in an outdoor room, or through an outdoor roof.

Q: “Which type of build is best for my outdoor fireplace: Modular or custom built?“

When considering an outdoor fireplace you’ll want something that looks good and adds to the design, functionality and appeal of the area you have available.

One of the key considerations therefore is the footprint of the fire. The solution has to match your space well. Both a custom built outdoor fireplace and a modular outdoor fireplace can be sized to suit the scale of your site.

Another key consideration is obviously the physical appeal of the fire.

Custom built outdoor fireplaces, often made of natural stone, can look incredible. These can be designed to create a look you love and a size to suit your space.

Compared to a modular fire the main drawbacks are the time, engineering design and cooking options.

Building a custom outdoor fireplace can often take many weeks. A modular fire, like Flare Fires, are installed in just a few hours, allowing this to occur easily around other parts of the building project.

Flare outdoor fireplaces have considerable design merit so as to act as an outdoor centre piece. Flare Fires may not suit all tastes but the Flare range of outdoor fireplaces tend to provide options most love the look of.

The often lacking engineering design aspect of a custom built outdoor fireplace means that they have to be stand-alone units, separated from permitted buildings. Whereas an engineered product such as Flare Fires can be planned and permitted into building projects.

Many custom built outdoor fireplaces come with limited cooking options, where-as solutions created by dedicated outdoor fireplace companies like Flare Fires can incorporate many innovative and proven cooking options.

Probably the last consideration on the topic of custom built outdoor fireplaces is the cost. We have heard countless times, people comment on the cost of their custom outdoor fireplace when they compare it to the cost of a Flare outdoor fireplace.

Q: “Which factors have a major impact on the cost of an outdoor fire?“

Occasionally cost isn’t really a consideration, design and functionality is everything. But when cost does matter, there are a few factors to consider.

A. Consider making it stand alone – if you make the fire part of your house construction you will need to think about building permits, design, the cost of a firebox and the complication of building it into the structure. Keeping it stand alone removes most of those complications. With a Flare Fire this is made easier as our outdoor fireplaces are engineered and come with all the required manufacturing specifications.

B. Consider your property boundaries – if you place the fire on or near your boundary you may need to consult your neighbour and seek consent. Proximity to boundary considerations vary from council to council. Typically if you are over 1.5m away from a neighbours side boundary you will be fine, but it’s always best to check with your council. Seeking permission from your neighbour can add cost, not counting the inconvenience factor.

From our end, we work hard to keep our outdoor fires as cost effective as possible. This is something our increasing scale has helped us achieve. We are pleased to say that our outdoor fireplaces are often considerably cheaper than an outdoor table setting or a spa pool. Yes there are additional costs, such as freight and install, but the overall investment is still relatively low compared to other outdoor products.

Q: “Which is better: An open fire or an outdoor fireplace?“

In many parts of the world open fires are not allowed. Most rules globally require the outdoor fireplace to have a chimney and or allow for cooking. This is another reason to want to have the ability to cook on your outdoor fireplace, this way you can call it wood burning BBQ, braai, wood fired smoker or whatever you prefer.

“Great! I’m ready to buy my outdoor fireplace. What’s the next step?”

It’s time to take a look at the range of Flare Fires outdoor fireplaces:

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