No need to shiver in that extra room outside, writes Carol Bucknell

Outdoor fireplaces are fast becoming essential fixtures in contemporary gardens and it's not hard to see why. Gardens these days are not just places to grow plants, they're more like an extra room in the house and we want to make them as comfy as possible. Heating, lighting and music are all becoming the norm in our outdoor rooms.

Even when space is tight it is possible to make room for an outdoor fireplace. Built-in models can easily be incorporated in exterior walls to gain privacy and many portable gas heaters and smaller fireplaces - such as chimeneas, firebowls and braziers - are now available.

Chimeneas are free-standing, wood-burning fireplaces traditionally made from clay but now also from cast iron, copper, steel and cast aluminium. They can be used for cooking as well as heat and suit Mediterranean, beach and rural gardens. Position chimeneas with their back to the prevailing wind and 50cm off the ground on fire-safe concrete or brick so that the heat is directed at your body.

However, chimeneas, like many other outdoor fireplaces, provide a relatively small amount of heat so it's essential to think about whether you want an outdoor fireplace for its aesthetic appeal as well as for keeping you toasty on the terrace at night.

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Sometimes just the appearance of a fire and a little heat is enough to create a cosy ambience that will encourage you to linger outdoors a little longer.

Outdoor fireplaces can be extremely versatile, used for heating and cooking. Built-in, permanent models can provide screening and seating and sides can be extended for planters, wood storage and seating. Installation doesn't need to be a major issue either, with many precast models able to be easily concreted into place.

Fuel source is an obvious factor to consider before making a choice. Clean burning, gas-fired models are the easiest outdoor fireplaces to use and maintain. But if you want a real fire, consider a wood burner, chimenea, firebowl, fire pit or brazier.

In areas where there are fire risks in summer you need to make sure there are no restrictions on using outdoor fireplaces.

You also need enough room in the garden to store wood.

Remember to avoid treated wood as the chemicals can release harmful pollutants into the air.

Think also about the style of your outdoor fireplace. Built-in models designed specifically for your garden may cost you more but they can add structure and style to outdoor spaces as well as extending their appeal beyond the summer months.

Choose materials that complement other elements in the garden and those used on the house. Stone and brick are ideal for traditional gardens whereas plastered concrete and steel work very well in contemporary outdoor spaces.

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Don't rule out a built-in fireplace just because you have a small garden. You can make the most of space by building the fireplace into an existing wall or positioning it near the boundary to double as a screen. But first check with the council on its planning regulations regarding the installation of fireplaces on boundaries.

Open to change
If space or your budget are too tight for a built-in fireplace then small, moveable braziers and firebowls are a good option. Not only can they be moved to various places in the garden at different times of day or in different seasons, they can be stored when you don't need them to prevent deterioration. For contemporary gardens consider stainless steel or copper firebowls. With any fireplace - but particularly open firebowls, firepits and braziers - you must keep a close eye on young children.