Don’t Get Burned: Expert Picks in Outdoor Fireplaces

Almost every wood-burning outdoor fireplace now includes a protective cover to contain embers. Meanwhile, three manufacturers are manipulating air flow so their fireplaces burn hotter and more consistently.

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Outdoor-fireplace regulations differ from municipality to municipality, but most municipalities now require wood-burning fireplaces to include a cover or spark-arrestor screen to prevent embers from escaping into the air. Furthermore, burn regulations can change from week to week based on air and drought conditions. What’s good news is that almost all wood-burning fireplaces that are on the market today include protective covers to ensure that no embers fly out of your fireplace.

We evaluated 90 wood-burning outdoor fireplaces, and 88 models include a cover or screen. Four years ago, covers and screens were included in slightly more than half of all wood-burning outdoor fireplaces, but you had to pay at least $30 to buy a cover or screen as an accessory for others. We haven’t noticed any increase in price in today’s models, even though they now include covers or screens.

BETTER FLOW. Wood-burning outdoor fireplaces typically include a grate that holds logs and allows air to circulate beneath the logs. This helps the fire to burn hotter and more consistently than if the logs sat directly on the fire bowl. In the past year, three manufacturers introduced air-flow innovations in models that don’t include grates.

Blue Rhino’s AirFlow technology, which is available in five wood-burning fireplaces that start at $150, uses a vent that pulls in air through the base of the fireplace’s bowl. The vent is similar to the vents that you see in a charcoal grill, and the science is the same. Fire requires oxygen to burn. Chris Hartley of Blue Rhino tells us that the increased flow of oxygen “promotes hotter fires” and helps the flame burn more efficiently (rather than sputtering) than what you’d generate from grated designs. The AirFlow fireplace that we evaluated seemed to generate more heat than do conventional wood-burning fireplaces.

CobraCo now has four models (starting at $175) that include risers instead of grates to support the logs. The risers elevate the logs 2–3 inches higher than do grates and provide extra room for air to circulate under a fire. The extra air flow helps the fire to burn hotter and more efficiently, says Deirdre Daily of Woodstream, which owns CobraCo.

Breeo Industries’ air-flow technology, which is available on three fireplaces that start at $200, provides two different areas for air to circulate. Air enters the fireplace through holes that are in the bottom of the fireplace and in the space that’s between the fireplace’s two steel outer walls. Heated oxygen is dispersed through a ring of small holes near the top of the fireplace, and it mixes with the smoke, which causes the gas vapor that’s in the smoke to burn.

Jonathan Miller, who is a co-founder of Breeo, says fireplaces that have the technology burn the same amount of wood as do conventional fireplaces, but the fire is hotter and produces 80 percent less smoke than other models do. “It’s based off the concept of a catalytic converter,” Miller says.

Based on our hands-on evaluations, we agree that the Breeo fireplaces that have the air-flow technology burn longer than is typical. We also found that the Breeo fireplaces produce less smoke than do all other fireplaces.

John Crouch of Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, which is a trade group, tells us that more manufacturers will introduce their own air-flow innovations in the next 2 years. We’re excited to hear about any developments that will allow us to sit around the fireplace and enjoy a fire for a longer time.

Brett Martin has written about home-improvement projects and products for 19 years and is a regular contributor to Consumers Digest. He’s written for Popular Mechanics, The Family Handyman and Masonry magazines.

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