Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor fireplace lighting fire LED veneer
Lighting was added to the hearth and inside the storage voids.

Killin’ Time

The other day, I had to drop my car at the tire shop and because I had a few minutes to spare, I walked across the busy street to some stores.  As always, I was drawn to one of my favorite stores, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and I found myself standing in the outdoor lighting aisle.  If I go to Lowe’s, I almost always want to at least walk down some of my favorite aisles to see if there is anything new on the shelf. This day was no exception.

I should back up a bit and say that whenever I build any type of structure in a backyard, whether it is an outdoor fireplace or outdoor kitchen, I always look for ways to spice up the final look.  One of the things that I have written on in the past is my love for outdoor lighting.  It just makes a backyard, and specifically, outdoor structures, come alive at night.  The shadows created and the way things look in the dark with some light are just awesome.

Outdoor fireplace lighting fire LED veneer
Lighting was added above the firebox.

So, back to Lowe’s and the outdoor lighting aisle…  In the past, if I needed lighting, I have just gone to the store and picked up what I needed to complete the lighting project.  I have never shared with my audience how inexpensive it really is to add this great feature to your DIY outdoor fireplace or outdoor kitchen.  Well, wait no more.  Here we go.

Outdoor fireplace lighting fire LED veneer
This DIYer added lighting to the hearth and the sides of the fireplace.

Outdoor Lighting Components Explained

With most outdoor lighting, there are three main components involved.  They are a power source, otherwise known as a power transformer, wire, and the lights.  The transformer is a heavy cube that plugs into an outlet.  Many of these transformers will turn on at dusk with photo eye technology and you simply tell it through a setting, how long you want the lights to stay on from that point.  Pretty cool!

Outdoor fireplace lighting fire LED veneer
Four lights were added to this curved hearth.

The neat part is the lights will come on automatically and shut off automatically; no work for you. They come in different wattage’s starting from around 60W to several hundred watts.  For powering a structure, the smallest will be completely sufficient, especially if you’re using LEDs.  A 60W transformer will sell for around $50.

The wire will hook into the transformer with screws and the wire will snake through your structure’s block work.  We’ll get into the install in a different post.  The wire will transfer (Direct Current – DC) low voltage as the transformer’s output to the lights, so it won’t shock you any more than holding on to a flashlight battery.  It’s nothing like the power from an outlet in your house.  A 50’ length of this outdoor lighting wire will cost around $20.

LED Lighting Is awesome

Lastly, the lights.  Today’s technology has put LED lighting at the forefront for efficiency, longevity, and amazing power savings.  LED stands for light emitting diode.  An LED is a small electronic component (diode) that will glow when power is applied.  No more changing incandescent bulbs, right?  Can I get an amen on that one?

Outdoor fireplace lighting fire LED veneer catalina
This Catalina fireplace had lighting added to the hearth for a great look.

LED lighting fixtures are sold individually, and they can run anywhere from a few dollars on clearance to around $20 for each fixture.  I add at least two LED fixtures to any structure, so it is aesthetically pleasing. Two is really all you need for a structure width of only six to eight feet.  The LED fixtures will have power cord on them.  This cord will connect to the wire and the connectors will pierce the wire to be powered.  The best part is that each LED is around 2W to 4W so you could hook up to 30 of these 2W LEDs to a 60W transformer.  Do you see the math? This is turning into an electronics training course now.

Outdoor kitchen with lighting refrigerator and bar
This DIY Tucson Grill design had lighting added around it for a finished look.

How Cheap is It Really?

If you were to add two LED lighting fixtures to a fireplace, you would be able to spend as little as $110.  Now that’s a bargain when you consider the look you’ll achieve.  I hope this post helped you understand how simple outdoor lighting is and how inexpensive the components are.  It’s really not that complicated.

Check out Backyard Flare, LLC to learn more about building your own DIY outdoor fireplace or outdoor kitchen and peruse our gallery for great ideas in design.  See what other homeowners have done.

If you have any questions about anything, please let me know.  I am always excited to hear from a fellow DIYer, or someone wanting to learn more about how to beautify their backyard space.  I can be reached at dan@backyardflare.com and as I always say, “Happy Building”.

Dan

 

Hanging a Fireplace Mantel

Hanging a Fireplace Mantel

You have probably seen a lot of fireplaces built without mantels and with a clean front face to them above the firebox.  Inversely, lots of fireplaces have been built with shelves, commonly referred to as a mantel, above the firebox.  Either look is cool but I’ve always thought the mantel addition to the front of an outdoor fireplace was a neat touch.  Hanging a fireplace mantel can be difficult depending on the type of material used.  The most widely used mantel material is wood so we’ll cover that in this post.

What Now

So let’s assume you are done with your fireplace rough build, finished to a bare cinder block front face.  You now have a drab gray block wall and you want to know how to hang the large four foot wide, railroad smelling, piece of dark beautiful wood as a mantel. That sure is a descriptive mouthful, but there is a bit of worry in the planning.  The last thing you want is for the mantel to come down or appear to sag at all in the life of your fireplace.

We have an installation method for your heavy wood fireplace mantel, using pieces of steel.  Have you ever paid attention the hinge side of a door in your house?  If not, open one up.  Look at the hinge and see how the edge of the door has been cut out in the shape of the hinge.  This allows the hinge to be recessed into the door, allowing the smaller gaps when the door is closed.

Get Some Supplies

Wood DIY fireplace mantel
Large wooden mantel ready for install.

You can use that same technique when hanging a wood mantel to the front surface of the fireplace.  You will need at least two or three pieces of 1/8” thick steel.  These pieces of steel will be about 2”-3” wide and about 10”-12” long, depending on the size of your mantel obviously.  You can use a chisel and hammer or a router and cutting bit for a faster method.  Cut out the back of the wood from the top, equal to the width of the metal.  As an example, if you have an 8” tall railroad tie, you will probably want to cut out at least 5”-6” down, assuming your piece of metal was about 10” long.

Wood mantel with metal brackets
Metal brackets added to the back of the wood mantel.

This metal will be bolted to the wood with some pretty gnarly screws or bolts.  Using a heavy threaded bolt will insure a good bite into the wood.  You will drill holes in the metal and put a couple of bolts in the wood, per piece of metal.  The metal will be pretty flush with the back of the wood and the head of the bolt may be a bit further out.  No biggie.

Your mantel can now be held up by your favorite helpers or suspended with vertical wood pieces.  Drill some more holes in the exposed section of metal above the wood and mark your holes on the cinder block.  Drill into the block and add lags.  These lags are like wall anchors in your drywall.  They will expand when a bolt is screwed into them.

At the End

DIY fireplace with wood mantel
Wood mantel was added to the front of the DIY fireplace.

Once the mantel is in place, it may have a slight front tilt, but that’s okay for water runoff.  You can shore up the underside of the wood with some shims to even it out if it is leaning too far forward.  The veneer will be applied to the structure and directly over the metal that is holding the mantel in place.  The mantel will appear to be floating and your guests will think you’re a genius for being able to complete such a feat.

We hope you can use this technique and that you’ll send us some pics of your install.  Hanging a fireplace mantel doesn’t have to be a hard task, so we hope you’ll try to DIY the job.  We’d love to see how it turned out for you and in your project so send pics.  If you have any questions about hanging fireplace mantels or anything else about your outdoor fireplace, let us know.  We can be reached at dan@backyardflare.com or at 520-269-9740.  Check out www.backyardflare.com for great DIY fireplace inspiration.  As always, happy building.

Great Ways to Finish Your Outdoor Fireplace

Great Ways to Finish Your Outdoor Fireplace

There are some great ways to finish your outdoor fireplace.  Basically, there are endless of ways to add the finishing touches which will make your outdoor fireplace a one of a kind.  Even if you build the basic rough structure that another person constructed, yours will look different.

If you pay attention to detail, your fireplace and backyard landscape can look like something in a magazine.  We will cover five of the big finishing touches and things you can do to give your fireplace the wow factor.

1. Low voltage lighting

Even when the fireplace is not being used, low voltage lighting is a great way to add a great night time visual aspect to it.  The lighting is powered by a transformer specifically designed for these types of lights.  By connecting the fireplace lights to landscape lighting in your yard, everything will be illuminated at the same time.

Lighting adds a great look to any fireplace
2. Natural stone seating surface

By using a natural stone material for the seating, you will have a very durable, and inexpensive surface.  There are a couple widely used stone options, such as flagstone and bluestone.  Both can be purchased at landscape supply retailers and you will have tons of colors and patterns to choose from.  Cutting the stone is as simple as using a diamond blade for a smooth edge or a chisel and hammer for a rough rustic edge.

Natural stone was used for the seating surface, shelves, and top.
3. Stacked Stone Veneer

Stacked stone is a great way to finished the vertical surfaces of the fireplace, but it can be somewhat expensive as compared to other finish options.  This type of material is purchased in arrangements that will fit together seamlessly.  The stone is real and engineered during the cut process, meaning that it will be very easy to install.  Cutting this stone will take a bit more time and patience as it is sometimes brittle.

Stacked stone added to the fireplace hearth.
4 . Faux Veneer

Faux veneer is a fabulous way to add a cheaper finish to the outside of your fireplace than natural stone.  The great thing about faux veneer is that you can find virtually any texture, color, shape, and size imaginable.  The faux stone is basically a manmade product that is painted and finished to look just like a real material.  The faux stone is very easy to cut but it may take a bit of extra time fitting it together.  There is no “one way” to put it together most of the time, so using your Tetris skills will come in handy.  Faux veneer will usually require corner pieces that will give you a great finished look as the material wraps from one vertical surface to another.

faux veneer outdoor fireplace
DIY built fireplace with faux veneer.
5. Wrought iron accents

Wrought iron accents will add both a décor and some functionality to your fireplace.  First, add an elevated fire grate in your firebox.  This will both give you a great look, but it will aid in keeping your burning wood elevated for proper air flow.  Fireplace tools will give you the capability of working and stoking your fire as you need to.  Many tools sets will come with a holder as well keeping it nice and neat.

outdoor fireplace wrought iron
Adding wrought iron definitely adds character.

Well there you go, five considerations that if done right, will set your fireplace on a pedestal.  You don’t have to do them all to achieve a great look, but they certainly won’t hurt.

If you want to build your own outdoor fireplace, check out www.backyardflare.com for some great ideas and inspiration.  We are sure you will get a vision for how you can transform your backyard into a great destination.

Firebrick in Your Outdoor Fireplace

Firebrick Explained

Firebrick is fairly simple to explain.  There is no secret to it but there still seems to be a lot of questions about it.  It is a necessary material in your fireplace and it is both functional and great looking.

How many customers have I spoken to asking what type of firebrick to purchase?  Countless is the answer.  How many customers have I spoken to asking where to buy the brick?  Countless in the answer again.  How many customers have I spoken to asking what to use to adhere them on heir structures?  You guessed it…countless is the answer.

Firebrick, or refractory brick, is a ceramic material “brick” that is used to line the walls of an outdoor fireplace.  The main job of the firebrick is to insulate the fireplace from the heat produced and to give you a nice-looking firebox.

Firebrick Sizes

Firebrick will wear on the edges if not cared for before installation.

Most of your vendors will have two basic sizes, 4.5x9x2.5 (full) and a 4.5x9x1.25 (split).  Basically, the split is half the thickness of the full brick.  The brick is very smooth to the touch and somewhat light weight even though they are solid bricks.  They are machined very precise so they won’t vary very much on size.  Most of the time they resemble a piece of sandstone, in that they wear down easily if rubbed on a hard surface like a cinder block.

Most of your big box home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes will sell you firebrick but you’ll pay a premium as compared to the price you’ll pay at a small mom and pop masonry supply vendor.  Get on the computer and search for “masonry supply” in your town or area.  Call a few of them up and ask if they sell these specialized bricks and most of the time they’ll have a few pallets of them available at their yard.

Pallets of firebrick can be found at many masonry supply stores.

Purchasing

Your geographical area will dictate the price for these little bricks.  For instance, I can buy them here in Tucson, Arizona, for approximately $1.60 each, split or full.  A customer once called me and said that they couldn’t find them for under $4.00 each.  He was in the densely populated New England area so I got his zip code and did a few internet searches.  My search resulted in phone calls to a few mom and pop vendors and I found a vendor who carried the split firebricks for $1.30 each.

Liquid Nails – Fuze It is a great tool for adhering firebrick

The adhesion method I gravitate toward is high heat construction adhesive such as Fuze It by Liquid Nails.  It hasn’t failed me for years and I’ve built many structures using it.  This method is mainly for a firebrick install that does not have mortar gaps between them. Tight packing the bricks gives you a neat look to the firebox and it is less work as they are consistently the same size.

I hope this helps answer some of the firebrick questions.  Visit us at www.backyardflare.com for more information on firebrick and the uses on our fireplaces.  Thanks for reading.

Cinder Block Measurement Mystery

Cinderblock Construction

Building with cinder block is the most versatile way to construct both a functional structure and a structure with great strength and integrity.  Cinder block, otherwise known as a concrete masonry unit (CMU), can be purchased at most home improvement stores such as Home Depot and Lowes.  The prices for CMU at these big box home improvement stores are most of the time very comparable to local block vendors.

Close to Backyard Flare, LLC here in Tucson, Arizona, is a block manufacturer/vendor named AZ Block.  At the same location where they manufacture the block, you can enter the facility to buy direct instead of dealing with a middleman.  This at times can make the block more cost effective for the DIY builder.

Picture of 8x8x16 cinder blocks.
Common 8x8x16 cinder block with voids. Great block for fantastic strength and structural integrity.

The most common block used to build the fireplaces is referred to as a 8x8x16.  This is literally the size of the block in inches.  Now there is a small “but…”” involved though. The block is not exactly 8x8x16.  In fact, the block measures 7 5/8” x 7 5/8” x 15 5/8”.  Notice that 3/8” is subtracted from each measurement. This is comparable to a 2×4 piece of wood not actually measuring 2” x 4”.  They are actually 1 ½” x 3 ½”.

Continue reading “Cinder Block Measurement Mystery”