Pleasant Landscapes Newsletter - October 2010
Outdoor Fireplaces for Fall Festivities
An outdoor fireplace can be a nice addition to your outdoor living space. It is very versatile and useful when entertaining especially when the cool evening breezes start coming into Charleston. The fireplace itself is usually built as a work of art as well as for functionality. You should enjoy looking at it as much as using it. Fireplaces are usually divided into two different categories. One being wood burning and the other would run off gas. Gas fireplaces often make it very convenient to light and use. In certain parts of the Low country natural gas is available. Natural gas is lighter than air and is a cleaner burning fuel. It is also piped directly into the home and runs off a meter. The benefit of this is that you never run out of gas. The alternative to natural gas is LP (liquid petroleum or propane) is usually stored in containers that range from 10 lbs up to 500 lbs. When building an LP fire pit, one needs to realize that LP is heavier than air and has the potential of filling the fire pit with gas and causing an explosion or flare up when ignited. With LP gas fireplaces they usually consist of a fire ring, a metal plate for the fire ring to sit on, an air mixer valve (which helps burn the LP cleaner by mixing air with it), and vents on the bottom to allow clean air in and or the heavier gases out.
They also have a small layer of lava rock or glass beads are used to cover the fire ring from view. Either one of these types of gas fireplaces will allow for easier cleaning of the unit. A porous bottom pit is made with either sand or gravel or if built in an area that doesn't drain well- use of a drainage pipe is placed to allow the flushing of sediments and debri to come out of the fire pit. Automatic or manual gas igniters can easily start these fires and stop them for hassle free use. Gas fire pits have the ability to burn water soaked wood chips which gives a more authentic smell and taste to foods prepared on it. The smoke that comes off these wood soaked chips may help suppress mosquitoes and nats. If you don't want smoke just discontinue the use of the chips.
The alternative to a gas fire pit is to construct a wood fire pit. When building a wood fire pit there are several things one must take into account during the construction phase. When burning real wood in the fireplace you may see much higher temperatures produced. These higher temperatures require the interior of the fire pit to be lined with a special heat tolerant fire brick. A fire proofing agent is mixed in with the mortar to prevent cracking of the concrete when under high temperatures. I have seen many wood fireplaces that were improperly constructed crack and crumble under the intense heat. In many cities wood fireplaces are also required to have a spark arrester (which is a fine screen that will go over it) to prevent an ember from flying up and starting a fire. These embers have been known to travel far distances and starting fires. Wood fireplaces are also inconvenient when it comes to starting the fire as well as trying to extinguish the fire at the end. We often construct these fireplaces with a drain pipe that will flush out the ash and soot. This helps reduce cleaning over a period of time. Rainwater itself will often provide enough water to keep the fire pit moderately clean.
After constructing the fire pit of your choice and beginning to use the pit you will find many activities that work well with it. First, you will find you enjoy the ambient lighting produced in your outdoor living area. Families often enjoy after dinner treats like cooking Smoars over the fire. It also provides a nice area to warm up after an autumn or springtime swim in the pool. Some fire pits can put out as much as 450 btu's. You can also prepare various types of meals that are especially enjoyable during the fall. Oyster roasts are very popular in the coastal areas of South Carolina. You can also get an iron kettle on a tripod and make soups and shrimp boils. Depending on the shape of the pit you can also smoke meats and foods and in some cases a pig. The ability to cook large meals on your fire pit adds a great .atmosphere for entertaining large groups. As day light saving time slowly erodes our daylight hours the added light is a nice bonus.