Chimeneas Buyer's Guide
- Lifestyle chimenea on patio
What is a Chimenea?
Chimeneas (also spelled chimineas) get their name from the delightful Spanish word for a chimney. The classic version is made from terra cotta and features a little chimney and pot-bellied fire pit perched on a stand. Often they are painted or molded with Spanish motifs, flowers or some unique hand-crafted design.
As much a decoration as a fire feature, chimeneas come in so many beautiful styles that you'll find it hard to pick your favorite! Full of warmth and character, they are also incredibly easy to set up and operate.
Ready to find one for your own backyard? Here are some tips on what materials to look for, what styles are available, and how to care for your chimenea. And, we'll also throw in some fun history on these charming fire features, because why not!
Common Styles of Chimeneas
- Garden chimenea
Traditional chimeneas have a round body to house the fire and a half-circle opening on the front to load the wood. They are topped with a short, vertical chimney and usually supported by a metal stand. Originally, they were made with clay, although modern chimeneas are often made with more durable materials.
Chimeneas are a staple of southwestern or Mexican style and the designs range from minimalistic to elaborate. Decorations are either molded or carved into the clay or metal. Desert or Spanish motifs are the most common designs, but you can find a wide variety of artistic patterns.
- Mistral outdoor firehouse chimenea
Metal versions, such as cast-iron or steel, also come in a range of styles. Many are inspired by the older clay models, but there is still a lot of variety. There are even some modern versions with angular lines instead of the traditional round body and chimney. Some metal models also feature metal mesh panels or sides to give a 360-degree view of the fire.
- Uniflame large black Belmont outdoor firehouse chimenea
The appeal of a free-standing, front-loading outdoor fireplace has created a whole category of fire features similar to chimeneas. One of the most common is the "firehouse," a free-standing fire feature shaped like a massive lantern. The walls of firehouses are often made of metal mesh, and the top protects the fire from rain.
What materials are used to make chimineas?
As mentioned earlier, traditional chimeneas were made from fired clay called terra cotta. Unfortunately, terra cotta is not the most durable material, and these chimeneas are prone to cracking.
- Clay chimenea firepot
Some modern chimeneas are still made from fired clay. Usually, this clay is mixed with a coarse material called grog to make the clay more resilient to heat. Far more durable options include the popular cast iron and steel models. You can also find chimeneas made from other metals like cast aluminum and copper.
Chimeneas are such a beautiful statement piece that some people choose to display them inside. This is a great option for showcasing antique clay models that might be damaged by the elements. (Note: Indoor chimeneas are only for show - don't ever light them inside!)
Historical Origins of Chimeneas
- Aerial view of a city in Spain
The history of chimeneas spans over 400 years. This classic Mexican staple of heating and cooking traces its origin back to Spain. (Although to be fair, some claim the Mayans were the first to use these designs.) The fired-clay chimeneas were used inside the hut or home for food preparation and warmth. Usually, the chimeneas sat in the center of the home so that the smoke would escape through the hole in the middle of the hut roof.
If used outside, the narrow chimney and rounded sides shielded the fire from wind and rain. One of the benefits was that the shape helped make the fire more efficient, so less fuel was required.
How are chimineas used?
- Family roasting hot dogs around firehouse chimenea
Today, most chimeneas are used for decoration and entertainment. They are meant for patios and other outdoor spaces and are not considered safe for use indoors. Although chimeneas are sought out for their aesthetic value, they do provide heat! Some can reach very hot temperatures depending on the amount of fuel used. This makes chimeneas a great option for someone who is looking for a charming way to add some extra warmth.
Most are no longer designed for cooking, but you may find some models with a removable cooking tray or platform that can be placed over the fire. Always take special care to avoid burns if using a cooking platform.
How are chimeneas regulated?
Most fire codes allow for chimeneas, but you must follow basic safety regulations. The following are five common restrictions you can follow but always check with your local authorities to make sure you know the specific standards for your area.
- Firefighter helmet
- The chimenea must be at least 15 feet away from any combustible structures like houses, sheds, or fences.
- The chimenea must be at least 20 feet from the boundary of your property line.
- Chimeneas are not allowed near apartment buildings or multi-family residential properties.
- They are not allowed on balconies.
- The total fuel area must not exceed three feet in diameter and two feet in height. (Most chimeneas are smaller than this.)
Again, these are only examples of typical regulations. Locations that prohibit wood-burning appliances may not allow chimeneas at all. Contact your local fire department or look up your region's codes on a government website to find more information.
Be cautious about lighting your chimenea on days with higher wildfire risk. Some regions designate "Red Flag" days because of hot, dry weather. Never light a fire on the Red Flag days, and also avoid using the chimenea on windy days.
Keep in mind that the chimney itself can be a fire hazard. Don't place the chimney close to overhanging trees or low roofs. Sparks could escape from the chimney and ignite anything that is too close.
Can I Put My Chiminea on a Wood Deck?
- Firehouse chimenea on pavers in the backyard
Stone or brick pavers make an ideal surface for your chimenea. However, wood decks are acceptable if you follow these safety precautions:
- Don't put the chimenea directly on the wood. Instead, build a platform out of pavers, slate, or other fireproofing material.
- Clean up your deck and sweep off dried leaves and sticks.
- Remove the ash from your chimenea when finished burning.
- Always fully extinguish the chimenea. (This goes for every situation, but is especially important on wood decks.)
Other Safety Tips
- Use a spark screen to contain embers and sparks and/or a chimney flue to direct the smoke into the air.
- Do not burn trash or debris.
- Never leave the fire unattended.
- Allow ashes to cool for at least 24 hours in a metal ash can with a tight-fitting metal lid.
- Be mindful of nearby neighbors.
- Do not burn treated lumber.
How should I build a fire inside my chimenea?
Once you have your chimenea set up in the right spot, it's time to start fire building! Here are a few tips for building and maintaining a fire inside your chimenea.
First, let's talk about arranging the wood. Start with kindling (smaller pieces of wood that light easily). You can move on to bigger pieces of wood when the fire gets going. There are a couple of common arrangements - the tee-pee style and the log cabin style.
The first is a tee-pee style where the sticks are arranged in a circle with their ends pointed up to the middle. Start with two or three pieces and arrange them in a basic tee-pee shape. You can add bits of tinder in the middle and light it. (Tinder is small, dry material that lights quickly like cotton balls or dry pine needles.) The idea is for the fire to burn from the base to the tips of your wood "tee-pee."
- Wood burning fire with logs in tee-pee style
Log Cabin Style
The second arrangement resembles a log cabin. Lay two pieces of wood parallel to each other. Stack two more parallel pieces on top in the opposite direction. This forms a square with the edges overlapping. Continue stacking a few more pieces in the same way. Add tinder to the center of the "log cabin" and light.
- Wood burning fire with logs in log cabin style
Fire building Tools and Accessories
Here are some tools and accessories that make building the fire safer and easier.
- Long, leather fire-proof gloves for safe handling
- Fire tongs for moving logs around
- Long-stemmed matches
- Poker for breaking down larger, burning logs
- Ash shovel and pan
- Fireplace and chimney cleaner
- Firewood rack
What other fuels can I use with my chimenea?
Wondering if you can use something besides wood? Although not as common, there are some other fuel options.
Charcoal and ethanol are acceptable fuels as long as you use them properly. Some models can be converted to burn gas using a match-lit circular gas burner or a rectangular gas burner. The burner sits in the base of the chimenea. This makes a great alternative for places with wood-burning restrictions.
Care and Maintenance
Take extra good care of clay models since they are prone to cracking. We recommend applying an acrylic finish or sealant to the outer surface and reapplying the sealant every 6 to 8 weeks. A protective cover that shields from rain will also help prolong your clay chimenea. During harsh weather, it's best to store the chimenea in a storage shed or covered area.
The more durable metal options are not as fragile, but you should still keep them dry and protect them from rust.
Cast iron models may require some assembly before use. It's easier to have two people for the assembly since some of the parts may be heavy.
How will my chimenea be shipped?
Chimeneas will only ship by small parcel if they are of the stamped steel variety that must be assembled on site. These can usually ship in a small and flat shipping carton. Cast iron, clay, or plate steel models will ship crated via LTL carrier for ultimate protection.
For LTL freight deliveries, the shipping company will arrange a date and time to accommodate your schedule. In most cases, you'll need a second person on hand to accept the delivery.
Just remember, no matter how your chimenea is shipped, you will want to carefully inspect it for damages or missing parts. Do not sign off on the delivery until you've completed this step. It's imperative that you report any defects right away for warranty purposes.
- Family roasting marshmallows around firehouse chimenea
Chimeneas bring instant charm to your outdoor space. Whether you opt for a traditional Mexican style or a more modern design, the result will be an artistic (and warm!) focal point.
Their design and operation are quite simple but make sure you follow all of the safety and maintenance requirements. You'll be enjoying your chimenea for years to come.
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