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How to stay safe outdoors while using space heaters and fire pits (plus other ways to stay warm)

How to stay safe outdoors while using space heaters and fire pits (plus other ways to stay warm)

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Keep your patio, balcony or backyard comfortable without creating a fire hazard.

If you’ve invested some time and energy into sprucing up your outdoor space, you might be looking for ways to extend your enjoyment of it. But as the weather gets colder, it’s likely that you’ll have to turn to space heaters, fire pits and other outdoor heaters to make sitting outside comfortable so you can continue to enjoy your outdoor space.

Outdoor heating products can be safe, as long as you follow the rules. That includes keeping your patio heater or fire pit away from buildings, bushes, trees and other objects they could set on fire, and ensuring that kids and pets keep their distance. Try these safety tips to make your evening around the campfire (or the patio heater) safe.

Fire pit safety

Who doesn’t love making s’mores around a crackling fire? Fire pits are fun, but you’ll need to be careful about how you use your pit or chimenea — here’s how.

Pick the perfect spot. This is the biggie — a fire pit can throw sparks and flame, which could put everything surrounding it at risk. Put brick, metal or stone beneath it, set up chairs at least 3 feet away from the pit, and keep at least 10 feet between your pit and houses. If your fire pit comes with a screen, use it to give you an extra layer of fire safety.

Watch the weather forecast. Strong gusts could send sparks flying, so skip the pit when it’s windy. If you live in a part of the country that’s prone to wildfires, avoid using a fire pit when the conditions are ripe for starting a wildfire.

Choose the right fuel. Propane or natural gas fire pits are easiest to turn on and off and result in fewer sparks. If you’re burning wood, avoid using pine, cedar or other soft woods that cause sparks, or leftover lumber from your building projects, which may have been treated with harmful chemicals.

Skip the fire enhancers. Using lighter fluid or gasoline may make the fire harder to control. Instead, look up safe ways to start your fire using kindling like paper.

Keep a hose (and other fire extinguishing options) handy. Any time you have an open flame, you’ll want to make it easy to put it out fast. Make sure your garden hose, fire extinguisher, fire blanket or even a bucket of water is right beside you.

Watch out for loose clothing. If you’re the person tending the fire, keep your hair tied back and wear tight-fitting clothing to ensure that a loose sleeve or lock of hair doesn’t catch fire.

Don’t leave the fire unattended. Never let the fire go without someone watching it—even if it seems to be dying out. Make sure to pour water or shovel dirt over the last embers, and turn over logs to make sure that no fire remains.

Patio heater safety

Patio heaters are a must-have accessory if you don’t have room to have an open fire. Whether you opt for a small tabletop option or a restaurant-style overhead propane heater, you’ll be able to take a little of the chill off — just follow these tips to stay safe.

Check out the safety features. Choose heating products that have been tested and approved by UL and CSA, and look for ones that feature tip-over switches and automatic shutoffs to help reduce the risk of a fire.

Pick a heater that’s outdoor rated. That means the heater’s components are built to withstand the temperature changes (and inevitable rain) that come when they’re outside.

Find a stable place to place your heater. It’s best to place a patio heater on level ground — ideally a patio or deck. Putting it on grass or dirt could make for an unstable surface that could result in it falling over.

Consider your fuel source. Most patio heaters either run on propane gas or electricity. Propane ones tend to provide stronger heat but are more expensive to run and require refilling propane tanks regularly. Electrical ones are easier to run but may not provide the power you need.

Don’t take them indoors. Most outdoor heaters (especially the propane ones) are not meant to be used indoors or under covered conditions. Using a propane heater inside could put you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, so keep it outside.

Alternative outdoor heating options

Looking for an alternative to a fire pit, chimenea or patio heater? Here are some other safe options you could consider if you’re planning to host an outdoor shindig that might get chilly.

Heated seats and seat cushions. Generally, these have been sold to help keep sports fans or hunters warm when they’re outdoors, but there’s nothing stopping you from using them to make a backyard get-together more comfortable.

Heated blankets or wraps. Electric blankets or shawls can be used for single guests (or a couple with a larger blanket) — look for ones that can use USB power, so you can use a USB cell phone charger for wireless warmth.

Hand warmers. Consider springing for reusable ones that can be boiled and “recharged” or are battery powered so you’ll always have them at the ready to share with guests.

(Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at www.realsimple.com.)

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