Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits

For thousands of years people have gathered around the fire.  There’s something in all of us that is attracted to the warmth of a fire on cool evenings and the relaxing atmosphere that the soft light of a fireplace or fire pit can add to any outdoor setting.    In fact, one of our most important trade associations, the “American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)” has published findings pointing to fire pits or outdoor fireplaces as the #1 design feature requested by clients today, in the planning and design of their outdoor environment.

An outdoor fireplace will increase the value of your home and significantly increase the amount of time you can enjoy the great outdoors.  Your fire feature will extend the days into the evenings and lengthen the seasons, as you will be able to enjoy the weeks and months of early spring… and well into the fall.

Here are few thoughts and considerations that will help you determine what kind of fire feature is in your future;

Finding the Best Location for Your Element of Fire

Your new outdoor fireplace will quickly become the perfect space for friends and family to gather for a fireside chat or where the kids can toast marshmallows and make s’mores until bed time.  So consider the location and space you will need to accommodate not only the outdoor fireplace or fire pit but also comfortable outdoor seating in the area.

Let’s also consider the actual location in your yard.  Here are several considerations;

  • Find out if there are any zoning laws or ordinances that must be observed
  • Make sure the fire is far enough away from any structures
  • Consider the setting and view from your location options
  • Think about proximity from your outdoor kitchen, dining area, patios, pool house or spa

Zoning requirements can vary from city to city, so we must be mindful of guidelines that restrict how close we can build an outdoor fireplace to your home and some municipalities often have rear and side line setback restrictions as well.  These guidelines can also change depending on whether you are fueling the fire with wood or gas.

Size and Proportions for Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits

The size and scale of your fire feature should be suitable for the location you have chosen.  Space considerations will often dictate the dimensions of this portion of your landscape design.   We also like to consider the proportions of an outdoor fireplace design relative to size of your yard and the other elements in your landscape design.  If you have a limited space, your situation might be perfect for a small natural stone fireplace in an intimate setting.  In more expansive projects the outdoor fireplace itself can have extended hearths that can seat several people.  We often extend or incorporate other landscape design elements like, pergolas, patios, outdoor dining areas or use the outdoor fireplace as a key feature in your new “outdoor living room”.

Materials Options for the Outdoor Fireplace

The materials that can be utilized to create your outdoor fireplace or fire pit is a long list that includes a variety of colors, textures and finishes. Some of the choices include natural stone, brick, river rock, flagstone, manufactured masonry products or masonry construction with stucco or clad stone fascia. Consulting with your landscape architect about which materials will withstand the elements your outdoor fireplace will be exposed to and suit your design scheme is essential to the look and feel of your finished project.

Deciding Between a Wood Burning or Gas Fire Feature

One important decision is to determine whether you would like to burn wood logs or if you prefer faux logs or stone with a gas flame for your outdoor fireplace.  You may love the aroma and ambiance of the wood burning fire, but before you get too far along, remember local construction and building code requirements can differ from town to town.  Some communities can even prohibit an outdoor fireplace that is going to be “fueled” by wood.  Other municipalities may regulate burning wood flames near wooded areas, slopes or other situations.   Wood burning fire pits or fireplaces create a lot of smoke, so you will want to consider the actual location you are planning and your property’s prevailing wind direction and conditions.

Natural or propane gas, on the other hand, is somewhat easier to control, considered “cleaner” and requires less ventilation and draft to burn correctly.  For many homeowners, the decision between a gas and wood burning outdoor fireplace comes down to town ordinances and the amount of space available to accommodate this luxurious yet family-friendly feature.

Whether you chose an outdoor fireplace or a fire pit the positive aspects of having a fire feature in your landscape will be obvious; extended seasons of outdoor time, a comfortable and relaxing place to entertain and an increase in your property’s value.