The heart sinks at having to ditch the flip flops as we cruise into autumn. Although we often get an Indian summer with golden days, night can be nippier. Patio heaters, outdoor chimineas and fires are the ideal way to extend the evenings all year round, eking out just a few more weeks of seasonal pleasure hanging out under the stars.
HEATERS AND THE ENVIRONMENT – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Firstly, gas heaters are a waste of energy, literally, and they’re ugly. Because hot air rises, nearly all of the warmth they produce (together with some environmentally harmful gas bi-products) floats up into the atmosphere. Their heat output is only around 15-20kWh, which compares poorly with an electric quartz-halogen infrared patio heater, a much better bet.
Sussex-based SunSwitch infrared heaters, which I have often used in courtyard gardens, draw only about a tenth of the energy used by a gas patio heater, so CO2 emissions are correspondingly much lower. They specialise in the supply and install of economical quartz halogen infrared patio heaters which don’t work by heating the air; the radiant warmth is directed only where it is required and it cannot blow away. Bonus!
They are 93% efficient at converting electrical power into heat, and for Sussex residents, being a largely coastal county, the best option is their Varma Seaside 2kw Heater, starting at £342 delivered, as its slick stainless steel enclosure and protective Robax glass front can withstand erosive salty environments.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
For me, nothing beats the primitive thrill of a real flame fire. In our increasingly built-up environments, it’s an excuse to connect with the elements again and go all caveman, or woman. Man’s earliest fire use dates back some 1.8 million years, so it’s deeply ingrained in our evolutionary psyche. The central focal point of any outdoor space, a hearty fire is undeniably mesmerising, and what better way to turn up the heat than with stylish burners and chimineas?
Firepits UK supply both traditional and contemporary metal, giant bowls for chucking your logs into and watching the unkempt blaze. My favourites are the Drumkit Collection, perfect for sitting around in a circle and the Classic collection, which is exactly that, clean lines, no frills.
For the designer fire look, go for the sleek, shiny (grade 316) steel round firepit. These guys are the UK’S leading supplier of the Bohemian style Indian fire bowls, sold by many garden centres across the country. The antique fire bowls have an inherent character and metal patination, giving your feature-fire and patio instant boho-chic.
WHILST WE’RE ALL FIRED UP
Chimineas are another convenient option for containing fire and generate heat through a terracotta or cast iron container. The Barn in Sussex have a large showroom and selection and my contemporary choices are the Girse range, with prices from around £2450, in particular the 195cm tall Duo Exclusive Outdoor Fireplace and Barbeque Type 1.
With Scandi-cool styling and handy log storage built in, it adds a bold statement to any outdoor living space. As the metal heats up, the heat will remain long after the last logs have finished burning, but remember the cast iron gets extremely hot, so don’t touch! The Barn also stocks the sassy Italian brand AK47, and their seductive range of firepits are sleek and unique.
I love the Zen outdoor fire with its off-centre bowl set in a circle of random stones contained in the metal circle. Also the Ercole with concrete surround seat for perching with a glass of Italian chic statement pieces. Bellissimo!
BUILDING YOUR HEAT…..
A built-in vertical fireplace or firewall feature can be designed and built to your specifications if you brief your builder well. Making an architectural statement with a permanent structure means your fire is ever ready for that spontaneous alfresco get-together with friends.
Sussex specialists in this field are Alfresco Fires, based near Horsham. Owned by Kiwi Aaron Gaul, (those Kiwis know a thing or two about fires and barbies!) he has some 15 years’ experience building bespoke outdoor fireplaces, and they have a style or suggestion to suit all types of location and property.
Ventilation is key at the top to draw the smoke upwards and away from your seating area, and heat-resistant renders are vital. These can be tinted or even painted afterwards if you want a dark brown Moroccan look or perhaps a chic grey edgy urban look to your firewall.
Table-top or counter-top freestanding fires are popular, but I wouldn’t recommend a gel-fire. They produce little or no heat, and the chemicals in the synthetic gels can produce harmful emissions for the environment.
RAKING OVER THE HOT COALS…
Using coal or charcoal creates fewer flames and instead produces a steady, intense heat which lasts longer. Osowarm in West Sussex showcase a great Danish brand called Morso. Their lifestyle range, called Morso Living, includes the cute and compact Morso Forno Terra set.
Available with a small outdoor table on wheels, it can be wheeled around, even when in use. How clever is that? With a nifty, removable top or chimney for cleaning out the ash, it’s a great outdoor oven too used for all barbeque foods and even for baking bread.
Their chiminea, called the Kamino, is one of the most elegant shapes there are, and is available with or without a stand. Danish design at its seductive best. Their eco-credentials are impressive at their manufacturing HQ. Their strapline is even ‘Buy it for its looks – love it for its soul‘. How very Danish!
If Scandi is the way for you, check out the slightly crazy Red Hot Poker, designed by Harrie Leenders. The Takk poker is a modern high-tech aluminium poker in its most basic form; the branch. It’s a logical idea, inspired by nature. Takk means ‘thank you’ in Norwegian. And a ‘tak’ is a branch for the Dutch. A branch shaped poker called Takk? A nice way to say… thank you!
Enjoy your fire in whatever style you choose and read on for handy tips and ideas to enhance your love affair with fire…
TOP TEN TIPS
- Natural scents for the fire. Make your own or even forage for a natural item that you can burn in your chiminea or firepit to emit a wonderful fragrance. Thinly slice some apple or orange in rounds, place on ovenproof paper and dry in the oven on a low setting. Then you can burn them in your fire wood/coal mixture. They also make amazing natural firelighters.
- Alternatively, more musky and seductive smelling is to burn herbs. Dried sage is a not for everyone but I love its strength it clears any other odours from the air, especially cooking smells. Dried sage wands have been used by Native Americans for clearing out negative energy for thousands of years. Simply untie some strands and throw them in at intervals. Rosemary can also be burnt and is lighter and perhaps more aromatic.
- You can also buy pure fragrance oils in virtually any scent of your choice. Just put a few drops on your branches or logs but you must allow them to dry. Then burn as usual later on.
- Fire safety tips. Select a firm, level, immovable base for your product. If it’s going on your wooden deck, you need to put it on a cast iron or stone base to get it off the ground. Place it far enough away from the walls of your house in case of flame-drift and heat scorching. Ensure the area above your chiminea or burner is clear of overhanging tree limbs, foliage or awnings and fabric shades.
- Best to burn in a vertical chiminea are air dried or kiln dried mini logs. They need to be smaller than a conventional log, i.e. 9-14 inches max long, 4 inches diameter. If the mouth of the chiminea is wider, they can be a little bigger.
- Do not burn any pressure treated woods as they emit toxic gases when burnt, or any painted woods or varnished woods; they also will emit toxic smoke. Green (not air dried) or wet wood will just create smoke and little heat. Natural wood from a reputable, sustainable supplier is best but needs to be kiln dried with as little as 20% moisture left in it. Try logpile.co.uk for news on wood suppliers providing sustainable logs as a heating source. Also www.westsussex.gov.uk/woodlands to find out where to buy wood fuel locally sourced.
- Make your own eco logs, also known as briquettes. The Eko-Mania Heavy Duty Paper Log Maker is a great one. Making logs or bricks from all your household waste paper they are simple to operate and produce rectangular logs that burn well once fully dried out. Its free heat from unwanted newspapers, envelopes and junk mail! Only suitable for firepits and fire bowls though. Too big for a chiminea.
- Exotic woods. If you happen to know any joiners/carpenters, keep your eyes peeled for these beauties… Red Cedar and Pinion Pine both have a nice aroma and keeps the mosquitos away. Mesquite wood, known for its culinary wonder by discerning chefs and cooks, is THE wood for smoking meat and is an excellent cooking wood for those with grill chimineas/burners; but it burns very, very hot, so you need only use a few pieces at a time. Hickory and Juniper wood also flavour any grill-cooking wonderfully.
- Gas patio heaters and the environment are a big NO! In January 2008, Euro MPs tabled a motion to ban gas patio heaters as part of a drive to cut CO2 emissions as average emissions per gas patio heater are 35kg per annum. They’re noisy, they smell, and these massive, ugly metal mushrooms take up precious patio space. Without annual maintenance and cleaning, they look tatty very quickly. Typical fuel-efficiency of a gas patio heater is only around 65%. They produce very little short wavelength infrared heat, so you literally have to be sitting under or next to one to feel any benefit. Convinced yet?! Use the eco option.
- Baskets and bags for logs and kindling. There are infinite choices of products to carry your logs and kindling in, from simple wooden pallet boxes to recycled tyre tubs or enamel buckets. I’m loving this great looking waxy-coated bag from a divine stylish supplier Uashmama, a great company with an interesting story and maverick attitude. The bags are made in Italy of 100% natural fibre derived from trees, coloured only with vegetable dyes and they ship worldwide. The combination of tradition, craftsmanship and technology has ensured that the ‘magic’ formula, similar to a tanning of leather, results in an inherently beautiful and tough material. The Wood Bag in grey is my stylish fave.
SunSwitch Heaters – www.sunswitch.net
Firepits and fire bowls – FirePits UK www.firepitsuk
Chimeneas – The Barn www.thebarn.co.uk
Fireplaces – Alfresco Fires www.alfrescofires.co.uk
Chimeneas and charcoal fires – Osowarm www.osowarm.co.uk
Morso products – www.morsoliving.co.uk
Red Hot Poker – www.leenders.nl
Logs and wood info – www.logpile.co.uk and www.westsussex.gov.uk/woodlands
Make your own logs – www.paperlogmaker.co.uk
Log bags www.uashmama.nl
Bella Whiteley Interiors
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