Summer’s in the rear view mirror now, but there’s still plenty of fine weather ahead of us. Autumn is a golden season here on the East End. For my money, it’s the best season of the year. The summer crowds are gone, but the weather is still mild, with many warm days under blue skies and without summer’s heat and humidity. It’s a great time to enjoy your deck or patio—just relaxing, barbecuing and dining with family or entertaining friends, by day or after the sun goes down. As the weather cools, adding a source of heat to your outdoor living space can extend the time you can comfortably use it. Here are some ways to do it.
For occasional al fresco meals or evenings on the deck spending time with friends or family, a fire pit or chiminea can fill the bill. If you like to entertain and want to use your patio well into autumn as the air grows crisper, a patio heater—or several if you’ve got a big space—may better fill your needs.
Veteran beachgoers and campers all know about the homemade “burn barrel,” which is often half of an old metal drum that contains a campfire. Kids love to toast marshmallows over the fire. But there are lots of other better looking options for having an outdoor fire, whether you want to kick back and watch the flames at night, or warm up your patio space so you can enjoy it later into fall. The most basic kind of outdoor fireplace is a fire pit, which can be as simple as a wide, shallow, fireproof dish set on a metal stand about a foot high. Some fire dishes burn real wood, others have a stack of faux logs lit with a gas jet or fueled by natural gas or propane. Fire pits can be made of steel, copper, or cast stone, sometimes set within a decorative frame. Some of them come with screens to prevent embers from blowing around, and caps to cover the firepit when it’s not in use.
Fire pits can be made more permanent parts of the landscape, too, built of stone or brick in a part of the landscape farther from the house. They can be built into a patio either atop the ground or sunken, with surrounding seating making it an inviting hangout place to relax with friends or family. Add some landscape lighting along the way, and you’ve got a delightful nighttime getaway.
Another kind of outdoor heater, the charming chiminea, looks like a potbellied clay or metal oven with a tall neck. Some are modern-looking and made of steel. Some can convert to grills. The potbellied models fit comfortably into relaxed, informal settings. The sleeker metal types fit better into modern environments. Build a small campfire in your chiminea and enjoy.
If you’re more serious about making the most of your patio for as long as you can before the weather turns seriously chilly, a patio heater might be what you need. Patio heaters have safety features that fire pits and chimineas don’t. Instead of wood, they burn propane or natural gas, and most of them have a shutoff valve. Some are electric and need an outdoor outlet to operate. For a smaller space you can consider a wall-mounted electric heater. These units produce more concentrated infrared heat. Electric heaters produce no odor or open flame. Another benefit is that there’s not much maintenance needed—there is no tank to fill, no moving parts, though you do need an outdoor electrical outlet. They are available in a range of wattages, depending on the space you want to warm.
Outdoor heaters powered by propane or natural gas produce a good amount of heat as soon as you light them. You can find them in small tabletop units that warm a space around an outdoor table or seating area. Or you could place several of them around your patio to warm a large space.
Upright units, the type most often seen in outdoor areas of restaurants or bars, take several different forms. Most common are upright units that include a tall pole connecting the base to the heating unit above, which has a hat-shaped shield to reflect the heat downward. Other heaters are pyramid-shaped and are designed to produce heat over more of their surface area. Higher-end heaters include sleek, sophisticated designs with ceramic burners that are billed as high efficiency.
Whichever type of heater you choose, it is sure to extend your enjoyment of the East End outdoors well beyond the summer frenzy and into the mellower autumn days and nights.