published Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

5 tips for outdoor fireplace safety

Herman and Mary Shraber of 6447 Ware Branch Road have an outdoor fireplace that overlooks Chicamauga Lake .
Herman and Mary Shraber of 6447 Ware Branch Road have an outdoor fireplace that overlooks Chicamauga Lake .
Photo by Staff File Photo.

5 Tips

1 When building a gas fireplace, determine the BTU before installing the unit.

2 Be aware of, and abide by, all local safety codes if doing any of the work yourself.

3 Do not build a fire pit under a roof, even if the structure is open on three sides.

4 Do not build a wood-burning outdoor fireplace on or near a wooden deck.

5 Be certain embers are thoroughly extinguished before leaving the fire.

As the fall chill sets in and winter approaches, the idea of an outdoor fire pit becomes tempting. Gathering with friends and family to enjoy hot chocolate or whiskey in the bracing air and feel the warmth of the flames is a tempting enough prospect to get some gathering the bricks and sticks right away.

However, there is much that needs to be considered when building an outdoor fireplace, said Clay Dennis, owner of Southern Hearth & Patio on Lee Highway.

The first step, he said, is to determine whether you want a wood or a gas fire pit.

If gas is the choice, a gas line must be run no fewer than 18 inches below the ground. It is vital to determine the BTU, or British thermal unit, of the unit that will be used.

In layman's terms, BTU determines how large the flame is intended to be. If the gas line is too small, the flame will seem inadequate.

"The biggest mistake people make is they run a gas line without determining the BTU," Dennis said. "You can only move so much air through a straw."

Those wishing to do the work themselves must be certain to adhere to all local codes, particularly when installing a gas fire pit.

"When you're talking about fire," he said, "you really want to be confident that you know what you're doing."

In other words, prioritize safety over savings.

If building a wood fireplace, it is essential to build for easy cleanup and airflow at the base.

"All fire needs air," Dennis said.

There are multiple materials that can be used for a wood-burning fireplace, but the key is size and location.

Do not put a wood fireplace on a wooden deck, he said. The heat from the base could cause the deck to catch fire.

Another mistake is to build a fire pit under a covered deck. Fire produces carbon, and even a structure that's open on three sides can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Finally, he said, when the gathering is done, use plenty of water and turn the ashes to ensure the fire and all the embers are completely out.

"Left unattended, embers can stay hot enough to start a fire for up to 24 hours," he said.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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