Just installed an alfresco area? Don’t abandon your pride and joy because the temperature has dropped — choose from one of these outdoor heating options and make use of your outdoor area all year round
Story: Rebecca Calvert
To create a romantic ambience, you can’t go past the glow of an outdoor fireplace. They can be built into an existing outdoor wall or from scratch as a free-standing fireplace. Either way, they’re a permanent fixture, so it’s important to consult a professional when choosing the best location in your yard.
An outdoor fireplace can be fuelled by either wood or gas. Gas fireplaces don’t require a vent and need little maintenance other than servicing by an authorised technician once a year. Wood fireplaces require a few accessories (such as a flue kit) and a vent and need to be cleaned after each use. Outdoor fireplaces don’t tend to release as much heat as some of the other options, but they’re aesthetically pleasing and will add value to your property.
Braziers & fire pits
Braziers date back to biblical times and can be used for both heating and cooking. Made from painted or powder-coated tempered steel, they sit on the ground in an ashtray and can be fuelled by wood or briquettes. Braziers look great, are inexpensive to buy and to run, are long-lasting, can be placed anywhere and the only accessory they require is an ashtray (which usually comes with the brazier). Emptying the ashtray is the only maintenance involved, though as braziers are usually positioned on the ground, they can be unsafe when children are around.
For ambience, the fire pit (typically crafted from steel or cast iron) is favoured by people with small spaces to heat. The fire pit becomes the focal point of any outdoor gathering space, warming those who gather around it. As with the brazier, keep children away and be careful to place on a non-flammable surface. Many fire pits come with an optional grill plate so you can cook a flame-grilled meal while keeping toasty-warm.
The word means “fireplace” in Spanish. Made from either clay or cast iron, the chiminea is one of the oldest heating chambers around, dating back to the ancient Mayans. Designed specifically for use with wood and coal, they not only put out a large amount of heat but will also provide your guests with a great conversation piece.
Best positioned with their back towards the breeze, chimineas need to be placed on a specially designed rack as the heat they produce will burn anything they sit on. Maintenance is low and the only cost involved, besides the start-up cost, is the relatively cheap fuel. Like braziers, they can be hazardous for children; otherwise, the only other factor to keep in mind is to ensure the inside of the chiminea never gets wet. Definitely a winner.
Gas patio heaters
Rather than try to warm the air, gas heaters produce radiant energy that’s absorbed by people and objects. This means energy is not wasted on empty spaces and moving air. The benefits of a gas heater over a fireplace are no soot, ash or smoke and they can be fixed or portable. They can be fuelled by either LPG (propane) in cylinders or connected to a natural gas supply if it’s available. However, they do emit carbon monoxide and the gas tanks can tend to run out at inconvenient moments.
The average gas heater, placed in a protected area, would give about a four-metre-diameter spread while in fully exposed conditions that would reduce to 2.5 metres.
The only real wear and tear item is usually the thermocouple, a safety device that monitors the pilot flame. It may need replacement every few years, depending on the amount of use the heater gets. Quite expensive but very effective.
Electric radiant heaters
Like gas heaters, electric radiant heaters also produce radiant energy; however, electrically powered heaters don’t emit the toxins and byproducts that are inevitable with gas heaters. High-quality electric radiant heaters require precise installation rather than simply plugging into a power point like an appliance, so you’ll need a licensed electrician to set up the units for you.
Electric heaters are not as powerful as gas heaters, so you’ll need more of them to heat a given space. Heat production is dependent on the area where the units are to be installed, but generally speaking they will heat 2.5-3 metres per unit. No maintenance is required other than the occasional wash (the units are waterproof). The units are pricey but considered the best outdoor heating option if you can afford them.