Update 12/2016: Eek! An extreme overnight temperature dip caused our fireplace finish to crack. We wouldn’t recommend this paint in extreme weather climates (ahem, Chicago!), but if a little chip here and there doesn’t bother you, it still may be worth the makeover. Fair warning. We’ve since had our fireplace powder coated to prevent future issues, and we keep it covered over the winter.
You’ve probably noticed our backyard fireplace in the background of our more recent patio projects (and if you follow us on Instagram stories, we’ve shared sneak peeks there, too!), but we wanted to use it for several weeks before I sat down to write about it. In case you missed our backyard renovation from the beginning, our fireplace journey wasn’t quick, but it was 100%, completely and totally worth it.
A few nights ago, Scott and I were eating dinner by our new-to-us fire, and we started talking about how this pit came to be. At the start of summer (while the back of our house was still being demo’ed), we were so sure that we were going to get a round pit, and it would likely sit closer to sidewalk surrounded by chairs. The idea would have worked, but I couldn’t shake the idea that we were wasting space with a floating fireplace. There’s got to be a different way to lay out the yard, I said. Do we really need a pit to circle around?
I have always loved Sarah’s backyard, and you can tell that the shape of our planter boxes was inspired by her, too! And so, as is typical as we begin any sort of renovation, we switched gears and fell down the Craigslist rabbit hole searching ‘Mid Century fireplace’ or ‘Malm fireplace’ or ‘Preway’ or, maybe not surprisingly, ‘cone fireplace.’ The rest is history, as we quickly found ours in Madison, Wisconsin for about $300 (way, way under the almost $1,000 price tags we were seeing). Although it’s a 2.5 hour drive from Chicago, Scott round-tripped it in an evening (the seller was very strict about his first come, first served! policy), and 5 hours later, we had ourselves a fireplace. We moved it around the yard to find the best spot, and we agreed it looked best along the perimeter. Suddenly, our whole backyard opened up, and the rest of the layout fell into place!
I’m happy to say that after a few weeks of heavy use, we love it. Although it’s traditionally meant to be used indoors with firewood, we had planned from the beginning to convert it for propane use. Because Chicago homes are so close together, this would eliminate the heavy bonfire scent (making for happier neighbors), and you can’t beat the ease of turning it on and off (meaning we use it that much more!). So today, I’m going to share how we took an already nice looking indoor-wood-burning-fireplace and turned it into the outdoor-propane-ready-fire-pit that’s the meanest, leanest thing in our yard.
WHAT WE DID:
First, we took the entire thing apart. The bowl of the fire pit had started to rust, and it was quickly spreading. Scott sprayed this penetrating catalyst onto the bowl, and with the help of a wire brush drill attachment, he was able to completely nix the rust – hooray! He thoroughly rinsed it with a hose and allowed it to dry.
Meanwhile, I used a solution of no-rinse TSP and water to remove grime from the fireplace surround, including the inside. Not only does TSP act as a powerful cleaner (always wear gloves!), but it’s a deglosser as well. In this case, the original powder coat finish was tough as nails, so although it didn’t dull, I still felt better knowing that it was clean and prepped for paint.
Because the fireplace would be reaching incredibly high temperatures (you know, fire and all!), we needed to use high heat paint. Although we toyed with the idea of an eye-popping copper finish, we knew that black would feel classic and slightly contemporary, and with all the work we’d be putting into this makeover, we didn’t want to regret our color choice a year or two down the road. So, black it was! Rustoleum offered up their high heat paints for us to try, and although covering anything this large requires a bit of a learning curve, we’re so happy with the results.
Here’s how the paint application breaks down:
- (Almost) everything received 2 thin coats of primer, including the inside and underside of the bowl. The inside of the surround and stacks were in perfect condition, so they were skipped altogether.
- High Heat matte black was used for the inside of the bowl only
- High Heat Ultra was used on the entire exterior, including the underside of the bowl and the stand
The exterior of the fireplace received a total of 5 coats. 5! To be honest, I was a little worried after the first few, because the finish wasn’t looking as perfect as I would have liked. I took a break and Scott took over, and after another 2-3 coats, it started to look so shiny and pretty! So my advice is this, when in doubt, keep adding coats. It gets better! I took the photo below after 2 coats, and you can see how uneven it still is. Tip: We followed the instructions on the can as closely as possible, which called for applying coats within minutes of each other.
After everything had dried but before putting it back together, we began prepping the fire bowl for the propane conversion. Because our plan is to keep the fireplace outside year round (and covering it in the winter or during especially bad summer storms), we first added drainage holes to prevent rainwater build up and future rust. This step drill bit was ah-mazing for drilling holes into metal:
Next, we used a large metal hole saw bit to give the flex line from our fire burner kit (more on that in a second) a place to exit. All of these holes were sprayed again with primer and flat black high heat paint to protect the raw edges:
With the fire bowl prep work done, we could move on to adding the fire kit! We chose this 18″ kit for its star shape, which supposedly gives off a more natural looking flame (as opposed to, say, a circular ring of fire). Although the kit has almost everything you need, we still needed to purchase a 1/2″ male gas line fitting and this regulator with a 3/8″ fitting to properly connect everything to our propane tank. Side note: We originally ordered the wrong parts and went on a wild goose chase before we found these. If you’ll be replicating this project with a propane tank, trust me that these are all you’ll need to complete the kit!
We set the fire ‘ring’ close to center in the bowl, and the flex line exited through the larger hole we made. Finally, we could put the surround back on (while also replacing the old rusted bolts with shiny new stainless ones) and add our rocks! We used these sleek black lava rocks and ended up needing three 20 lb. bags to fill the bowl nicely and strategically hide the fire kit:
To connect our kit to propane, Scott followed the instructions closely, but in our case, we also wanted to hide the tank far enough away from the fireplace. To do this, we used an 8′ long 1/2″ galvanized pipe and a 1/2″ 90-degree elbow to connect the kit behind the fireplace:
The pipe runs behind our planter box and comes out the other side, where it then hooks up to our propane tank! To turn on the fireplace, we open the propane tank and use a lighter near the lava rocks to ignite the flames. The flange and key (seen below) can be turned to change the intensity of the fire, although if it were up to me, we’d keep those flames on high, all the time. #alwayscold
We completed the project over the course of one weekend, although the longest part for us was painting. The shiny black finish is so good, and although the copper would have been stunning, this is a look we won’t be itching to change anytime soon!
To prevent too much rain or debris from getting into the fireplace (and to keep it outdoor friendly), we also picked up a galvanized steel rain cap and gave it the same high heat semi-gloss finish:
The weather is just starting to cool in Chicago, and we’ve been spending our evenings with a glass of wine (me), bourbon (him) and a nice fire. I can’t believe it, but we haven’t yet made a s’more – soon though!
I took this video the other night, because, well, CC! We’ll often turn the fire on just for her, and we’ll go back into the kitchen (with a clear shot of the yard, of course) to start dinner prep. She might love lounging next to the heat more than anyone, as evidenced here:
Has anyone else converted a wood burning fireplace to propane? We’d love to see your projects! In the meantime, I’ve gotta pick up some marshmallows and chocolate.