27 April 2017

Outdoor Fireplaces

We talk to Gordon Subritzky, technical manager of The Fireplace, about the practicalities and aesthetics of installing a fireplace into an outdoor living area.


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One of the great pleasures of summer evenings is sitting outside and enjoying a glass of wine as the last rays of the sun disappear. When the leaves start to turn and the evenings feel a little cooler, this may seem a less inviting prospect, but with an outdoor fireplace, you can keep warm and still enjoy your terrace or courtyard for most of the year.

RW: What are the options when you’re considering an outdoor fireplace?

GS: There are several different choices if you want an outdoor fireplace. You can have a gas fire, a wood fire, or a fire pit, and what you choose really depends on your budget, why you want a fireplace and how often you plan to use it. A wood fire can include cooking facilities such as a barbecue grill and hotplate, a pizza oven and even a slow cooking pot.

If you’re after a fireplace primarily for the ambience and to create some warmth, then a gas fireplace is appropriate, but if you want it primarily for heating, then a wood-burning fire is a better option. A fire pit is compact, cheaper and generally quicker and easier to install.

RW: What is the first step in the process?

GS: We would recommend that you either speak to an expert, such as ourselves, or engage the services of an architect or designer. With a clever, well thought-out design, the costs can be kept down. I believe the advantages of using an architect or designer are underrated, because, at the end of the day, a good architect can provide a cost-effective design that gives you exactly what you want.

RW: Do I need a permit or a building consent from my local council to install an outdoor fireplace?

GS: In an urban area you can only have an outdoor fire for cooking and entertainment purposes. It is very important to talk to your local council and find out exactly what permits or building consents you will need for your particular circumstances. The council will need to see your plans before they can tell you whether or not you will require a building consent.

 Generally, however, a wood fire requires a building consent from the local council. The positioning of an outdoor fireplace in relation to the boundary is an important part of the consent process. Recently, we put in two wood fires for a client and we were permitted to build these close to the boundary because the nearest neighbour was 30 metres away.

The council will consider individual applications and can give exemptions in areas where your fire is not going to create a nuisance for neighbours. This means it can’t produce offensive smoke, ash or smells that travel to neighbouring properties. If the fireplace is going to be attached to the outside wall of your home, a building consent is essential.

A flueless gas fire can be installed without the same restrictions as a wood fire. Remember, however, a flueless gas fire cannot be installed in an enclosed area, for example, a covered courtyard or patio. Firepits are generally covered by the same restrictions as wood fires.

RW: What do I need to have a gas fire installed?

GS: A gas fire can be installed into a masonry, Hebel block, or wood-framed, fire-rated firebox. It can be connected to a mains gas source, if gas is piped to your outdoor area. If this is difficult or you don’t have mains gas to your property, you can use bottled gas, but we recommend you get good advice to be sure you buy appropriately sized bottles and that they are sited safely and conveniently. A gas fire must be installed by a registered gas fitter, who will know the regulations and will provide you with a signed ‘producer statement’ for your new outdoor fireplace.

RW: Who can install a wood fireplace?

GS: A registered solid fuel technician, as approved by the New Zealand Home Heating Association, is trained to install these fires and will provide you with a signed producer statement for compliance with your local council’s requirements, once the work is completed.

RW: What are the costs of the different fireplaces?

GS: Most outdoor fires, from the simple fire pit through to custom-built wood fires, range from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the type and the client’s expectations. Generally, a flueless gas fire will cost less than a wood fire.

RW: How much heat do outdoor fires produce?

GS: Wood fires produce radiant heat, which is the healthiest form of heating, and are warmer than gas fires. The amount of heat will depend partly on the size of the fireplace, but also where it is located and how sheltered the area is.

RW: What do you find most people want from an outdoor fire?

GS: Aesthetics is usually the first thing people think about, because they want an outdoor fireplace for the ambience it creates. But when a homeowner comes in and wants a wood fire, we know that heat is also important.

RW: Can homeowners install their own outdoor fireplaces?

GS: We do not recommend this for several reasons. To gain a code of compliance from the council, it is necessary to have a producer statement from a registered installer. And without that, you may find that your house isn’t covered by insurance in the event of a fire.

RW: Any tips you can offer?

GS: Come and talk to us at The Fireplace, before you begin. We can head you in the right direction before you spend money unnecessarily and we can help you chose a fireplace that’s best suited to your needs. Pre-planning saves costs in the long run.

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