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Issue Date: June 2007 Issue

Outdoor fireplaces are hot

But apparently not in Solon, where residents will vote this November on whether to permit built-in outdoor fireplaces.

If the ordinance fails, Solonites will have to tear down their existing chimneys. Even if it passes, they may be forced to make expensive changes.

The issue became a wildfire in Solon when a resident complained about a 14-foot fireplace built next door. Since the zoning and building code doesn’t specifically mention fireplaces, they’re technically illegal.

It may be a first, according to Deidra Darsa, public and media relations manager of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association in Arlington, Va. She’s never heard of a city outlawing the building of outdoor fireplaces or even a city limiting the height of such a structure.

Taller fireplaces are actually safer and more neighbor-friendly, Darsa says. To reduce the risk of a loose spark escaping and to help draw smoke up and away from neighbors, outdoor fireplaces should be 2 feet higher than the highest point within 10 feet, including the home’s roof.

But what if you live in another burb and like to cozy around your backyard blaze?

Fireplaces aren’t specifically mentioned in Westlake’s building code, says Don Grayem, the city’s director of inspections and chief building official. But don’t call Smokey the Bear (or Bob the Builder) just yet. Outdoor fireplaces simply must meet the existing code for any new construction in Westlake.

In Macedonia, where there’s also a lot of new construction, the trend is toward portable fireplaces, like chimeneas, says Capt. Dan Gagliardi of the fire department. He often enjoys a backyard fire, too. (In 2006, the fire department had only one open-burning complaint that warranted a written report.)

Homeowners should burn only seasoned hardwood (no twigs, leaves and yard debris). And though the state relaxed the law requiring people to keep marshmallows handy, claiming the fire is for cooking purposes only, we won’t let down our standards. How else would we make our s’mores?

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