Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits
Outdoor rooms are all the rage these days, especially in the South, where families can enjoy them throughout the entire year. “More and more homeowners are vacationing and entertaining in their own backyards,” says Rick Kaldrovics, owner of Outside Landscape Group LLC in Alpharetta. “They want to extend the entertaining season and create more ambiance to make their outdoor spaces special.”
Whether you’re looking to add a new element to neighborhood barbecues or seeking a warm spot for your family to gather during the cooler months, an outdoor fireplace or fire pit will be a part of your yard that you can enjoy for years to come.
Playing with Fire
In recent years, many Georgia homeowners have been looking for less maintenance and more enjoyment in their outdoor spaces. “Outdoor living spaces are very big,” says Mark Schisler, owner of Legacy Landscapes Inc. in Marietta. “One main reason people are asking for more hardscapes, including outdoor fireplaces, is that they are so easy to take care of.”
Most landscapers report that homeowners are choosing outdoor fireplaces and fire pits at about an equal rate these days. When choosing which is right for you, consider the following factors:
With the current economy, fire pits have become more popular than ever before. They can cost as little as $150 for a quality portable unit, or up to about $3,000 for a built-in brick or stone unit. While the price range for fireplaces varies greatly, they generally cost between $9,000 and $15,000. “Budget can certainly be the primary deciding factor; however, we work with the customer to determine what they are more likely to use and enjoy, and the space they have to work with,” says Michael Staley, president of C & M Residential Services Inc. in Marietta.
“A fireplace creates a large, impressive, architectural focal point, and can have the added benefit of providing screening and privacy from adjacent neighbors,” Kaldrovics says. It also brings a specific atmosphere to your space. “A fireplace and hearth can make an outdoor [space] really feel like a room,” says Tina Cook, designer and salesperson at Shady Grove Landscape Company in Lilburn.
On the other hand, some people prefer the openness of a fire pit. “Fire pits make exceptional gathering places, as their structural form provides an excellent spot for ‘roundtable’ discussions,” says Thomas Boyce, president of Innovative Outdoors LLC in Duluth. “A fire pit, by nature, has a more rustic nuance than a fireplace.” Many homeowners enjoy the campfire-like atmosphere that a fire pit offers, where they can roast marshmallows or sit in a circle around the flames.
Of course, depending on your yard and your family’s specific needs, there are some special considerations to keep in mind when deciding between a fireplace and a fire pit. For example, fireplaces tend to be safer than fire pits, especially if you have small children who will be playing in the outdoor area. “Fire pits have a higher risk of [accidental] fires from popping embers if natural wood is used, and you don’t have control of smoke movement,” says Ann Johnson, president of Johnson Design Group in Kennesaw.
You may be starting from scratch with an entire outdoor living space, or you may just want to add a new fireplace or fire pit as the cooler months approach. Of course, if you choose a portable fire pit, you can enjoy it almost immediately, whereas adding a custom built-in unit will take a little more consideration, but in most cases it can be installed into your existing structure.
“Fireplaces are often installed as additions to existing patios, porches and decks,” Boyce says. “Generally, custom masonry fireplaces require a solid concrete foundation to ensure stability.” Building on a second-story deck or porch will require a little more creativity. “Rather than using heavy concrete block and natural stone, we use lighter materials such as concrete boards, synthetic stone and gas inserts,” Boyce says. “This allows for the look of a custom masonry fireplace without all the added weight and expense of traditional materials.”
The construction of a masonry fireplace usually takes about a week, but may take longer with special add-ons such as seating or decorative mantels. Many homeowners are choosing to place fireplaces in a separate area of the yard as opposed to a patio connected to the house. When this is the case, the yard must be prepared, which may take some extra time. “The area for the fireplace needs to be graded, the foundation excavated and poured, the masonry core built, and the stone or brick veneer applied,” says Richard Marks, CEO of Outdoor Expressions LLC in Canton.
One advantage of installing a fireplace or fire pit is that the space they require doesn’t have to be too large. A fireplace may occupy a 4-by-8-foot space, while a fire pit typically has a radius of about 3 to 4 feet. However, keep in mind that you’ll want to include seating and space for mingling around the main attraction. You’ll probably be using your fireplace or fire pit as a gathering spot, and you need to allow room for your entire family or group of friends to be comfortable.
Fireplaces and fire pits can be designed to match your home and the rest of your outdoor living space. Stone or fabricated stone can be used to customize pre-fab fireplaces, and Belgard pavers, which are popular in hardscaping, are also becoming popular for fireplaces. “Most of our projects are constructed with the Belgard pavers, and they always have new products and colors coming out,” says Britany Miller, director of marketing and sales for Miller Landscape in Woodstock. Flagstone is also a widely used option. “Flagstone is very popular as well, although it is a little pricier,” Miller says. “A flagstone project with sealer on it looks unbeatably rich and classic.”
Make it Personal
An outdoor fireplace rarely stands alone, but instead is a focal point in an entire outdoor living space. “Typically, a fireplace sets a mood, just like in your living room,” says Adam Ardoin, owner of Landscape Studio Group. “The setup around an outdoor fireplace should be the same, with a goal of making the space as comfortable as possible. Items such as planters, rugs and even artwork are great additions.” Outdoor lighting, from gas lanterns to illuminated pathways and water features, add to the mood. “We often integrate seating walls into our fireplace designs, and we have also done built-in storage areas and firewood bins,” says Douglas Bork, landscape architect and project director for Outside Landscape Group LLC. If you want more flexible seating, outdoor furniture is another option.
Some fireplaces are even part of outdoor kitchens, which include ovens, grills and built-in seating. “Ideally, these are separate-use areas—one for entertaining and one for cooking,” Kaldrovics says. “However, a nice option is to build your fireplace with a built-in wood-burning grill. It can then serve two functions: cooking and ambiance.” These built-in grills, or pizza ovens, have become increasingly popular with homeowners.
The options for customizing your fireplace or fire pit are endless, but whatever you choose, you’re sure to enjoy curling up in front of the fire as winter approaches.
Box of Fire
“Many companies are using Isokern fireplaces, which are made of unique, Icelandic pumice and packed in a ready-to-assemble kit, along with mortar and firebrick, which the homeowner can choose. Once assembled, the fireplace can be completed with stone, brick, stucco, etc. Because Isokern fireplaces can be built-in or assembled as freestanding units, they often take less than a day to install.”
—Georgia Fishel, Marketing Services, Earthcore Industries LLC
If you’re concerned about installing a wood-burning fireplace close to your home, consider a vent-free fireplace with gas logs. “In the past, wood-burning fireplaces were the standard, but increasingly, we see vent-free fireplaces installed outdoors, particularly on porches and covered areas,” says Vince Sutton, general manager at Log Lighter Sales Inc. Some of the benefits are:
- Many vent-free gas logs have the look of real wood.
- They can be turned on and off whenever you decide to use them.
- Gas logs are available in a variety of styles and sizes for both outdoor fireplaces and fire pits.
- Although the material cost is the same, the labor is reduced, so you will save money.
While outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are relatively low maintenance, there are a few things to remember:
- Remove ash and soot with a broom and shovel on a regular basis, cooling it in a metal bucket before disposal.
- Examine the inside of the structure annually to check for birds’ nests and to make sure it is free from obstructions that may prevent if from properly drawing smoke.
- If you use the fireplace or fire pit for cooking, be sure to keep it clean to avoid attracting insects and animals.
- An occasional light pressure washing will keep the structure clean.
- Seal (or have a professional seal) the flat work with a good masonry sealant every few years to protect the stonework and help prevent oil and grease stains.
- If you use a metal flue, have a professional chimney sweep clean it annually.
- With fire pits, check to see that the drainage holes are open and clear.
Sources: Innovative Outdoors LLC, Legacy Landscapes Inc., Outside Landscape Group LLC