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Outdoor Heating Buying Guide

People gathered around a fire pit.

Get cozy outdoors with the perfect heating system for your backyard living space. From basic wood-burning fire pits to elaborate outdoor fireplaces, you can keep your family warm outdoors all year. They're also great for roasting marshmallows. S'mores, anyone?

Fire Pits

Fire Pit & Accessories

There are many options for an outdoor fire pit from tabletop designs to fire bowls. You can build your own fire pit with concrete blocks and a fire pit bowl, or you can explore premade versions.

Consider the size fire pit you need. Smaller fire pits start at about 25 inches in diameter, while larger versions are as big as 45 inches. Also consider if you want your fire pit to be portable or if you want to build a stone surround to keep it in place, as this will affect the type of fire pit you'll buy.

Some manufacturers also offer gas-powered fire pits, which offer the romance of an outdoor fire with the ease of propane. Many of these fire pits come with matchless ignitions, which can make them safer for families.

One of the drawbacks of a fire pit is that it can be messier and smokier than alternative sources of outdoor heating, like chimineas or patio heaters. Also, the fire is less contained in a fire pit, which means you must be vigilant to watch for ashes and sparks.

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Chimineas have become increasingly popular in recent years. They were originally developed by Mexican tribesmen to heat their homes and cook food. The chiminea was designed to keep rain and dew off the fire and to maximize heating potential with minimal wood for fuel.

The rustic look and efficient, safe design make a chiminea an excellent choice for your backyard heating system. A well-designed chiminea will draw air into the fire and direct smoke upward away from people sitting on your patio. Cleanup is minimal as well, since the fire burns hot and leaves only a small amount of ash. Additionally, chimineas enclose the fire, keeping it safer for families.

While chimineas are extremely efficient, they were designed to be used in Mexico, where temperatures never drop too low. Chimineas produce radiant heat, which is sufficient for warmth in milder climates.

Watch out for cracking, flakes in the glaze and crumbling clay in chimineas, particularly after a sudden downpour of rain.

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Outdoor Fireplaces

Outdoor Fireplace

An outdoor fireplace can combine the potential for higher heat output of a fire pit with the tidiness and safety of a chiminea. Because the outdoor fireplace is a self-contained unit, it's safer for families with children than an open fire pit.

You can use wood to fuel your outdoor fireplace, or investigate alternative sources of fuel like propane. There are also many different styles available from sleek and modern to embossed models with an old-world feel. Outdoor fireplaces are generally more expensive than a fire pit or chiminea; however, they can heat a larger area and provide a cozy environment for outdoor entertaining. Keep in mind that an outdoor fireplace will be heavier than a chiminea or fire pit. It's not a good choice for families who want to relocate their outdoor heating system easily.

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Patio Heaters

Patio Heater

Patio heaters may not provide the mystique of a fire pit, chiminea or outdoor fireplace, but they pack a larger punch in terms of heat output. You can extend your use of your outdoor living space for a few months by investing in the right patio heater.

There are both gas and electric models available, and they warm the space around them using radiant heat. Most models can heat from 6 to 20 feet in diameter.

When choosing your patio heater, consider the size and model you need to suit your purposes. Full-size models sit on the ground, but there are ceiling and wall-mount versions as well as tabletop models available. Even larger-sized patio heaters are portable, and many even have wheels for mobility providing ease of use for a family that might need to relocate the heating system.

Patio heaters are energy-efficient and safe for your family. Most models have a built-in anti-tilt switch, that automatically shuts off the heater if tilted over.

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Follow manufacturer’s instructions for all outdoor heating systems. Allow the proper clearance for combustibles and flammable materials to prevent fires and protect children from hot surfaces.