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Last updated: 20 March 2024

Are Chimineas Bad for the Environment?

Are chimineas worth it?

Chimineas, fire pits and other outdoor wood-burning devices have become popular for creating a cosy atmosphere in gardens and patios. However, their environmental impact is a growing concern. 

Traditionally made from clay, it is now available in metal forms. They are used for outdoor heating and cooking. While they add ambience and warmth to outdoor spaces, there is growing concern about their environmental footprint, particularly regarding air pollution and particulate matter emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), chimineas can emit harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter (PM2.5), contributing to air pollution and climate change.

The Canadian Lung Association highlights that wood smoke from chimineas may stay closer to the ground due to their low chimney stacks, posing problems for neighbours and worsening local air quality. 

However, it's not all bad news. Some argue that chimineas can be part of an eco-friendly lifestyle. They are often touted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to gas and electric heaters because they do not rely on fossil fuels. Moreover, certain models are made from 100% recyclable materials, offering a sustainable option that reduces the reliance on non-renewable resources​.

This article dives into the environmental impact of chimineas, supported by the latest statistics, facts, and trends, to offer a comprehensive view.

What do we mean by chimineas exactly?

Understanding the essence and variety of chimineas is crucial to appreciating their role in outdoor living spaces. Originating from Mexico over 400 years ago, chimineas were primarily used for heating and cooking, an evolved tradition. 

Today, they are available in materials ranging from traditional clay to modern cast iron and steel, each offering distinct durability and aesthetic appeal advantages. Cast iron versions, in particular, are lauded for their energy efficiency, as they retain heat exceptionally well, enhancing their utility as outdoor heaters. 

Moreover, chimineas can be fueled by eco-friendly options such as recycled materials, making them a sustainable choice for outdoor heating. 

Environmental impact of chimineas

As we delve deeper into the environmental implications of chimineas, it's important to recognise their significant impact on air quality and climate change. Burning wood in these outdoor fireplaces releases particulate matter and dioxins, which harm human health and the environment. 

Specifically, wood smoke contains toxins that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating the effects of climate change. Moreover, the British Heart Foundation has raised concerns about releasing particulate matter (PM2.5) from open fires and wood burners, including chimineas, a significant source of air pollution.

In the UK, domestic burning of coal and wood, often in chimineas, accounts for a substantial portion of PM2.5 background levels, highlighting the need for awareness and action in choosing more sustainable outdoor heating options. 

Interestingly, there's a debate on the precise impact of chimineas on the environment, with some studies suggesting an overestimation of their contribution to particulate matter emissions. 

However, it's not all doom and gloom. They can be used environmentally friendlier by opting for eco-friendly fuels. For instance, CoCoCabana Grillbrisketts, made from coconut husk, offer a sustainable alternative to traditional charcoal, significantly reducing the environmental footprint of outdoor fires.

What is so bad about chimineas for the environment

When we consider the environmental drawbacks of chimineas, several factors stand out, particularly their impact on air quality and the health risks they pose. The combustion process releases carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. 

For Instance, wet wood, which has a moisture content of at least 20%, exacerbates this issue, as it releases more PM into the atmosphere than dry wood. 

Moreover, wood smoke contains particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), and other toxic substances. These emissions can degrade air quality, leading to respiratory issues and exacerbating conditions such as asthma. 

Here is a data table summarising the potential emissions from a single chiminea usage based on estimates from various sources:

PollutantEmissions (grams)
PM2.510 - 20
CO50 - 100
NOx1 - 3
VOCs5 - 15
PAHs0.1 - 0.5

What is the impact of chimineas?

Total impact per year: 

The cumulative emissions from chimineas across the globe have a substantial impact on air quality and contribute to climate change. According to the EPA, the annual carbon dioxide emissions from chimineas worldwide are estimated to be 2.5 million metric tons.

Impact per day

The daily impact can vary depending on the amount of wood burned, the type of wood, and weather conditions. For example, a study found that a single beach fire ring (similar to a chiminea) can emit particulate emissions equivalent to the secondhand smoke from 800 cigarettes per minute. 

Impact per usage

Each time it is used, it releases a plume of smoke containing various pollutants. The amount of emissions per usage depends on factors like the duration of burning, the type and moisture content of the wood, and the efficiency of the chiminea design. Dry, seasoned wood and efficient chiminea designs can help reduce emissions per usage, but they still contribute to air pollution.

The impact of chimineas on air quality

Exploring the impact of chimineas on air quality reveals a complex picture where the type of fuel used and the design of the chiminea play crucial roles. For instance, opting for dry and clean wood fuels can significantly reduce the emission of harmful particulate matter (PM 2.5) compared to wet wood burning. 

Furthermore, the enclosed design of chimineas helps to contain flames and reduce the risk of stray embers, making them produce less smoke and emissions compared to open fire pits. However, it's essential to be mindful of the legal landscape, such as the Clear Air Act of 1993, which mandates smoke control areas where emitting smoke from a chimney can lead to fines.

YearPM2.5 Emissions from Residential Wood Burning (Tonnes)PM2.5 Emissions from All Sources (Tonnes)Percentage Contribution
202010,000100,00010%
202112,000105,00011.4%
202215,000110,00013.6%

Do chimineas emit toxic pollutants?

The traditional burning of wood in chimineas is not without its dangers. Carbon monoxide (CO), a harmful gas produced during incomplete combustion, is particularly concerning. Known as the 'silent killer,' CO is odourless, colourless, and tasteless, making it hard to detect without proper equipment.

In the EU, residential wood burning is the major source of primary PM2.5, contributing 56% of total emissions and other pollutants like black carbon(46%) and carcinogenic PAH (71%) compounds.

To mitigate the environmental impact of chimineas, it is recommended that seasoned woods not have more than 20 per cent moisture. Replacing older wood-burning stoves with eco-labelled or pellet equivalents can significantly reduce pollution by up to 90%. 

Are chimineas biodegradable?

When we dive into the materials chimineas are made from, it's heartening to discover that traditional chimineas are crafted from clay, which stands out for its biodegradable nature. This aspect of clay chimineas aligns with eco-conscious living and adds a layer of sustainability to our garden aesthetics, offering warmth and charm without compromising our environmental values. 

On the other hand, their counterpart metal chimineas, made from cast iron, steel, or aluminium, are not biodegradable. However, they offer longevity and can be recycled, making them a sustainable option if adequately disposed of. 

Looking at the table below, you can see each property choice and its line of environmental impact. 

MaterialBiodegradabilityEnvironmental ImpactMaintenanceFuel Options
ClayHighLowHighWood, Eco-friendly Fuels
Cast IronNon-biodegradable (Recyclable)ModerateModerateWood, Charcoal, Eco-friendly Fuels
Steel/AluminumNon-biodegradable (Recyclable)ModerateLowWood, Charcoal, Bioethanol

Are chimineas sustainable?

In our quest to embrace outdoor heating solutions that are kind to our planet, we've discovered that chimineas can be a sustainable choice when paired with the right fuel. Specialised chiminea fuels, derived from 100% recycled materials, present an eco-friendly alternative. Ensuring that our cosy gatherings leave a minimal environmental footprint.

Bioethanol emerges as a champion in eco-friendly fuels, boasting emission-free combustion without releasing toxic gases, carcinogenic substances, or other harmful emissions. Plants used for bioethanol production can be replanted annually, making it a perpetually renewable resource. 

However, it's crucial to weigh the sustainability of different heating options. Electric fireplaces, for example, are considered eco-friendly when powered by renewable energy sources like solar panels. On the other hand, gas fireplaces are less sustainable than their electric or bioethanol counterparts. This is due to their reliance on fossil fuels, boasting up to 90% efficiency, and superior heating capabilities. 

Can chimineas be recycled?

Exploring the recyclability of chimineas reveals a multifaceted approach that emphasises sustainability and creative repurposing. Chimineas, crafted from metal, clay, and cast iron, follow distinct recycling processes. 

Specifically, steel chimineas stand out for their environmental friendliness, as steel is 100% recyclable. Recycling clay chimineas is challenging due to the firing process they undergo, which changes their chemical composition. This makes them non-recyclable in the traditional sense of cooking.

However, broken clay chimineas can be crushed and used as drainage material in plant pots. They can also serve as a base for new paving projects. This approach mitigates waste and encourages a circular economy. In this economy, materials are reused and repurposed, reducing the environmental footprint of outdoor heating solutions.

Environmental impact compared to everyday things

Outdoor heaters offer a cosy atmosphere and a heat source for gatherings. However, it's important to consider their environmental impact, particularly concerning CO2 emissions ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 kg per hour of use.

To put the CO2 emissions from chimineas into perspective, let's compare their CO2 emissions to those of commonly used items and activities:

  • Wood-Burning Stoves: Like chimineas, wood-burning stoves release 0.5 - 4.5 kg CO2 (per hour) and particulate matter. However, modern stoves designed to meet Ecodesign Regulations are more efficient and produce fewer emissions.
  • Residential Heating: Central heating systems, especially those using fossil fuels, can have significant 2.7 - 6.3 tons CO2 (annual) emissions. The efficiency of the system and the type of fuel used (natural gas, oil, electricity) play a crucial role in its environmental impact.
  • Vehicles: The average passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 annually. This is a substantial amount compared to the occasional use of a chiminea.
  • Air Travel: A single long-haul flight emit 3 - 4 tons of CO2 (per flight). This is a significant contribution to an individual's carbon footprint. This has exceeded the emissions from using a chiminea over an entire season.
  • Electricity: This produces an average emissions of 0.9 - 2.5 kg CO2 per kWh depending on the energy source. However, renewable sources can offer much lower emissions. 

Comparing chiminea usage to these everyday items, it is evident that it contributes a considerable amount of CO2, especially over extended periods.

Are they alternatives to chimineas?

Exploring alternatives to chimineas, we've found several options that cater to different preferences and environmental considerations.

Let's consider some alternatives: 

  • Fire Pits: SA's popular alternative, fire pits are open, which allows for a 360-degree radius of heat. They can be wood-burning or gas-fueled and come in various styles, including bowl, table, and hanging designs.
  • Smokeless Fire Pits: These are designed to reduce the smoke produced. They often have a double-wall design that increases airflow and combustion, thus minimising smoke.
  • Patio Heaters: Electric patio heaters are a good option for those who prefer not to burn fuel. Powered by electricity or gas, they provide heat without open flames or smoke. These electric heat pumps and infrared heaters present a clean, efficient outdoor heating source without the emissions associated with wood burning. It can be free-standing or mounted.
  • Bioethanol Fire Pits: These eco-friendly options burn bioethanol, a plant-based fuel. They produce minimal emissions, making them suitable for indoor and outdoor use.
  • Outdoor Fireplaces: Similar to an indoor fireplace, these structures can be made from stone, brick, or other fire-resistant materials. They often have a larger firebox and a chimney to direct smoke upwards.
  • Solar Heaters: These eco-friendly heaters use solar energy to provide warmth. They are less common but offer a sustainable heating solution.
  • Pellet Stoves: While typically used indoors, pellet stoves can also be used outside. They burn compressed wood or biomass pellets and are known for their efficiency.

These alternatives can be better depending on the specific needs, such as space, ease of use, safety, and environmental impact.

Is it better than alternatives?

Whether chimineas are better than their alternatives depends on the context:

  • For Smaller Spaces: Chimineas are better suited due to their contained design and directed smoke.
  • Safety: Chimineas have a controlled burn, which makes them safer than open fire pits. The design directs smoke upwards, away from guests.
  • Fire pits may be preferable for larger gatherings as they provide heat from all sides.
  • For Environmental Concerns: Bioethanol fire pits are a more eco-friendly option, producing almost zero toxic emissions.
  • For Ease of Maintenance: Steel chimineas are easier to maintain than clay or cast iron.
  • Cooking: Some chimineas are suitable for cooking, especially cast iron models, which can withstand higher temperatures and allow the use of grills

Chimineas have charm and functionality, but alternatives may offer advantages such as easier maintenance, better heat distribution, or less environmental impact.

FeatureChimineaFire PitPatio HeaterBioethanol Fire Pit
Heat DistributionFrontal360°DirectionalDirectional
Smoke ProductionLessMoreNoneMinimal
MaintenanceModerateEasyEasyEasy
Environmental ImpactModerateHighLowVery Low
SafetyHigherModerateHighHigh
PortabilityLowHighHighHigh
Fuel TypeWoodWoodGas/ElectricBioethanol
Indoor UseNoNoYesYes

Statistics and facts about chimineas

They are integral to creating a cosy atmosphere in outdoor spaces, especially during the colder months. Let's look at some statistics and facts based on available data:

According to an industry report, the global fire pits market, which includes chimineas, was valued at £4.9 billion in 2022. It is expected to grow to about £8.2 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.6%. 

North America's demand for fire pits, including chimineas, is estimated to reach £16,800.3 million by the end of 2034. 

The classic fire pit segment dominated the market with a share of around 40.0% in 2022, emphasising the widespread usage of traditional fire pits, including chimineas.

Homes with outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and free-standing chiminea fireplaces have been observed to sell 2.8 days more quickly than comparable homes without an outside fire. 

Key market players in the fire pits industry, including those manufacturing chimineas, include Yaheetech.shop, KingSo, PALOFORM, Solo Stove (Solo Brands), and Tropitone Furniture Co., Inc.

Regional preference: 

  1. North America: Steel and cast iron are highly popular in North America, particularly in the United States and Canada. The Freeport Park Amabel Steel Wood Burning Chiminea is a top pick for its cleaner burn and attractive design.
    1. Europe: Europeans tend to prefer traditional clay and modern steel. Conventional clay models are famous for their aesthetic appeal. Like the La Hacienda Venezuela clay chiminea, they add rustic charm to the garden. However, steel chimineas are chosen for their durability in regions with more variable weather. An example is the Atkin and Thyme Primo wood-burning chiminea, known for its modern design.
      1. Asia: In Asia, the preference leans towards innovative and versatile designs. While traditional materials like clay are still in use, there's a growing interest in metal chimineas. These offer multifunctionality, such as those used for heating and cooking.
        1. Australia: Australians favour cast iron and steel for their robustness and ability to handle the country's often harsh outdoor conditions. The preference for metal chimineas also stems from their low maintenance and the contemporary aesthetic they provide.
          1. South America: In South America, clay remain highly popular, reflecting the region's cultural heritage and preference for traditional designs. These chimineas are valued for their natural look, ability to radiate heat efficiently, and the cosy ambience they create. 

            Ensuring regular maintenance is crucial for the longevity of a chiminea. Choosing suitable material based on personal needs ensures the chiminea meets individual preferences.

            Opting for high-quality options from reputable sellers can significantly enhance the chiminea experience, making outdoor gatherings more enjoyable and safe.

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