All about indoor chimineas – The low-down

Here’s another of our ‘essential basics’ articles about chims, this time about indoor chimineas.

Can I use a chiminea indoors? It’s a question we’re often asked, and it’s a sensible one. With the cost of living crisis to deal with, including sky-high heating prices, plenty of people are desperate to find alternatives to gas fired heating, oil fired heating, and electricity.

While the simple answer is ‘no’, it isn’t an absolute no. It depends on the type of fuel you use and the kind of chiminea you choose. Read on to find out whether you can use a chiminea indoors and if so, how to do it safely.

About indoor chimineas – It’s a safety thing

Can you use a chimenea inside the house? The short answer is no. You should never, ever use a chiminea indoors to burn wood or charcoal. The fumes, which contain carbon monoxide, are lethally dangerous. You can’t smell, taste, feel or see the gas, which makes it particularly dangerous. Because you breathe it in without knowing you can slide into unconsciousness without warning, and potentially either end up with severe brain damage or never wake up at all.

Having said all that, and scared you half to death, you can burn a chiminea inside the house as long as you use either bioethanol burners, gel fuel, or candles to provide the heat and light. Just don’t forget that any open indoor fire, even a candle, should never be left alone because there’s always the chance you’ll set the house on fire. Just because the flame is smaller and the chiminea isn’t as hot as it gets outdoors, there’s still a fire risk. And children and pets can still get burned.

Bearing that in mind, let’s dive into the fine details of burning a chiminea indoors. Thanks to Pinterest for the image.

An indoor chiminea with venting

Can I use my clay chiminea indoors?

Yes, you can use your clay chiminea indoors as long as you steer clear of wood fuels. There’s one exception to the rule – if you’ve had a chiminea professionally fitted into your fireplace with proper ventilation, like you would for an ordinary wood burning stove, that’s fine.

Bioethanol burners are perfect for use in an indoor clay chiminea. You have to use a chiminea stand, of course, or you could damage or burn your carpets, rugs and flooring. And remember to site it somewhere it can’t scorch your walls, or doesn’t get in the way so a child, pet, or over-wined human can knock it over! Once it’s in place, leave it there. The more you move it, the more chance of breakage and accidents.

Indoor chimineas using candles, gel or biofuel should be set with a minimum of a meter of space all around them, simply because chimineas get hot. It’s wise to add a layer of sand or volcanic stones to the belly of the chiminea before adding the can of gel fuel, to protect the chim against thermal cracking through sudden changes in temperature.

So you can use gel fuel in an indoor clay chiminea. It’s a great choice, but what exactly is it? Gel fuel is a relatively new and innovative fuel used in fireplaces without vents. It’s made from isopropyl alcohol with a thickener added to turn it into a gel. It burns incredibly cleanly, leaving no smoke, ash or soot.

It makes a top choice for an indoor chiminea as well as in a covered area outdoors, say a gazebo, a lean-to, or car port-like structure where there isn’t enough ventilation to burn wood of charcoal. Gel fuel is also environmentally friendly, since it doesn’t give off any fumes or smoke. For the same reason there’s no need for ventilation. You can use it indoors perfectly safely and your indoor air quality won’t suffer. Best of all, you can recycle the container it comes in so there’s 100% no waste.

When you can’t resist the lovely, cosy ambiance of dancing flames, gel fuel is a top option for indoor light and heat. It’s easy to use as well. It doesn’t flare up when you light it. The height of the flame gradually increases, with no nasty shocks thanks to sudden strong, high flames. It’s also very easy to put out. Just use the lid of the tin the gel fuel comes in to snuff it out safely and fast.

You don’t have to use an entire can of gel fuel at once. You can keep re-lighting it until the fuel has gone. While the different brands come with different levels of performance, a good gel fuel gives you anything between 1700 – 2500 BTUs per hour, with a burn time of a total 2-3 hours. BTUs, by the way, are British Thermal Units, the unit used to measure thermal or heat energy. They measure the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree °F at sea level.

Gel fuel might pop like wood when it burns – a lovely sound – but you never get any flying sparks or blobs of fuel flying around. It’s very safe. The popping real fire sound is simply made by the organic additives in the fuel. Just remember to always follow the instructions on the gel fuel container. Shake it well before use. And don’t forget to remove the label from the packaging before lighting the fuel.

You might notice a subtle smell, or you might not. It depends how sensitive your sense of smell is. If so, the scent won’t harm you. Don’t take the fuel out of the container or mix anything else with it.

You can burn as many as three tins of gel fuel at once. But it’s sensible to light them one by one and see how you get on, rather than lighting all three at once and over-doing the heat!

Gel fuel burns with a comparable flame to a wood fire, with a realistic crackling sound. There’s no labour involved, no carting wood indoors. You don’t need any air vents so there’s no need to shell out on a costly venting system like you need for a wood burning stove. Gel fires are hugely flexible too, letting you start and stop fires instantly. And there’s no gas pipe to worry about.

One more safety tip about indoor chimineas: don’t throw paper or any other kind of waste on the fire. It might give off harmful chemicals.

Can I use a gas fired chiminea inside the house?

Gas fuelled chimineas are rare here in the UK, and those we see tend to be designed for outdoors. If you do own a propane fuelled chiminea, you’ll need to fit the same level of ventilation as you’d need for a regular wood burning stove.

Can I light candles inside my chiminea in the house?

Yes, and candles look stunning inside a clay chiminea indoors. Just take the same level of care you would with any candles, any sort of unprotected flame. A set of different sized candles looks really beautiful. It won’t give you much heat but it makes a gorgeous decorative item.

Now you know all about indoor chimineas. Whether you want to use a chiminea indoors for the lovely effect, for the flames and a bit of extra warmth, or as an emergency back-up heater, now you know how to do it safely.