I love spending long summer evenings outside, soaking up the warmth and the sound of crickets. But as days get shorter and cool weather creeps in, patios, porches, decks, and back yards all become less and less hospitable, forcing us back inside earlier and earlier until winter is upon us. One of my favorite ways to fend off the changing seasons – and squeak a little more joy out of the dregs of summer – is to warm up the night with an outdoor fireplace. Traditionally these are either big, involved, permanent installations or cheapie space heaters. But the growing popularity of biofuel fireplaces has made for outdoor fireplaces that are both beautiful and portable – not to mention much more affordable.
Using A Fire Element Outdoors
Adding any kind of heat source to an outdoor space – whether it’s a tiki torch or a full sized fire pit – is the best way to extend your outdoor season. As summer moves toward fall, outdoor spaces have less light and less heat. Contained flame provides both, to say nothing of that rustic, outdoorsy summer-camp ambiance. Even a relatively small flame can provide sufficient heat for an outdoor seating area; the closer to the seats, the better. Traditional fire pits provide a central point for gatherings even after the summer grill season has come to an end. But what if you could have a fireplace, say, in the middle of your outdoor dining set?
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Unfortunately, fire doesn’t play well with most building materials, which means outdoor fireplaces aren’t always so simple to achieve. No matter your setup, you need to ensure that any source of wood-burning fire is well-enclosed, well ventilated, and placed a safe distance from flammable materials – like your roof or siding. Large scale outdoor fireplaces are beautiful, certainly, but are necessarily a permanent installation. Between safety and construction, this means large, built-in outdoor fireplaces are really only ideal as part of a large and expansive outdoor renovation.
What Are Biofuel Fireplaces?
But while tossing a log on a large fire is the traditional choice, thankfully it isn’t the only one. Biofuel fireplaces are the modern version of an oil lamp: a small, contained fixture filled with a liquid fuel that can burn for several hours. But unlike oil lamps, biofuel fireplaces don’t have a wick, and so can produce larger and more intense flames. Because the liquid fuel is completely clean-burning, there’s no smell or smoke, soot, or other residue. They’re completely non-toxic and produce only negligible amounts of CO2 and water vapor when burned. That means you can use them indoors or out without ventilation. The result? A self-contained, freestanding source of flame without any expensive installation.
What Is Biofuel?
These portable fireplaces burn liquid ethanol made from agricultural products. The specific ingredients will vary a bit by brand, but can include sugar cane, corn, beets, and potatoes. Ethanol – or ethyl alcohol – is made from the fermentation of these products. The resulting clear liquid is then further refined to produce a fuel that is 100% clean burning. In practice, you simply pour a small amount of this liquid into the reservoir of a specially designed outdoor fireplace and ignite it with a long match or lighter. It will then burn for up to ten hours and produce enough heat to warm the surrounding area.
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Portable, Ash-Free Fireplaces
Unlike full-sized, built-in outdoor fireplaces, biofuel fireplaces come in a wide variety of sizes, from more traditional fire pits all the way down to small tabletop ornaments. Regardless of size, they’re freestanding and more or less portable. Because the fireplace itself is heat-proof, and the fuel reservoir relatively isolated inside of it, you can treat them just like a piece of furniture or other decor item. And while of course you should be aware of proximity to any flammable items, the risk is somewhat lower because the height of the flame is controlled by the nature of the fuel and contained by the design of the fireplace.
Add A Decorative Fire Element… Anywhere?
Biofuel fireplaces offer the light, warmth, and beauty of natural flame without the smoky smell, poor air quality, or stains. But because they do use a real, live flame, they also make excellent centerpieces. Their typically simple designs mean the flame itself is the focal point of these modern fireplaces. Some smaller outdoor fireplaces resemble decorative dishes filled with polished rocks, marbles, or shells which hide the fuel container and accentuate the flame. They’re small and light enough that you can place them almost anywhere, too: on a table, along a walkway, poolside, or otherwise. The larger the fixture, the more heat and light it produces, of course; but even smaller models are more than sufficient to warm up an early autumn evening. That means you can set it out, fill it, light it, and host a party even in cool weather.
If you’re looking for a way to extend your outdoor season without a big, expensive renovation, biofuel fireplaces are affordable to buy and maintain, easy to set up and take down, and give you all the warmth and beauty of a wood-burning firepit without the messy ash.