How to Warm Your Outdoor Space

outdoor heating

image: rick wenner

Louis Contino, president of Louis Contino Landscaping in Huntington, has been orchestrating landscape design and mason work for nearly 30 years. We sparked up a conversation about outdoor fire and heating units as well as how to set up a warm outdoor space for (almost) all seasons.

What are the benefits of outdoor fire pits and fireplaces?
A fire pit and fireplace allows you to put some kind of woof fire into the landscape, which will help radiate a certain amount of heat if you’re within range, usually about 2-4 feet. Also, if you don’t want the heat, like for summertime fire, just move back a bit and still get the beauty without the heat.

What are the pros and cons of fireplaces versus fire pits?
Fire pits are nice because they are far less expensive with a million different options and they can even be portable. So if you can’t figure out the exact spot for a fire unit—by the pool or house patio—it’s a nice option to have. They also tend to be more interactive, people gather around them and everyone can roast marshmallows. The fireplace is stationary and makes a much bolder statement. They’re usually about 8-feet tall with some exotic and interesting masonry work— it’s not just about fire, the masonry is a beautiful enhancement to the landscaping.

What kind of masonry and materials are involved?
Well let’s talk about safety when discussing materials because this is a common misconception. A lot of stone can burn and flake and explode and that’s dangerous. You want to make sure your contractor uses fireplace brick; it’s a special brick designed to handle the heat and goes in the interior. It’s not a great looking brick but it’s an important brick to have. Beyond that the materials are numerous. The old-school method (and the prettiest still to this day) is a traditional concrete block foundation finished with an attractive brick or stone (real or cultured). From a design standpoint, it must reflect the architecture of the house, especially with a big fireplace.

What is the best unit for creating outdoor heat?
It terms of functionality for real heat you have to use the outdoor heating gas units, like the ones you see at outdoor bars and events. They can be hooked-up to a gas line or portable, which is more common for residential use.

Are there other flexible heating options?
Chimeneas are great. They fall into the category of a portable fire pit basically. They have a lot of advantages—they are attractive, low cost, you can move them around and don’t need a contractor for installation. When choosing one, look at the fire ratings that they have, their heat resistance. And make sure it drains right, a lot of people leave them out over the winter and if it holds water it will crack.