Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire PIts
Before you know it, the scorching hot days will be over, and fall will bring cooler nights for outdoor gatherings. If you’re thinking about upgrading a part of your home, turn to the backyard – adding an outdoor fireplace or fire pit to your space will allow you to make the most of your time at home. “Right now, homeowners are staying in their homes and making their living spaces more comfortable and inviting,” says Thomas Boyce of Boyce Design & Contracting in Duluth. “Fire pits and fireplaces are a great way to create a warm and inviting outdoor living space that can be enjoyed throughout the year.”
Pit or place?
If you want to add some fiery fun to your yard, your first decision will probably be whether to go with a fireplace or a fire pit. “A fireplace will become the main point of interest, while a fire pit can be used as an accent,” says Steve Brooker of Stone Design & Build in Cumming.
Those on a tighter budget may prefer a fire pit. You can pick up a portable, freestanding model at any hardware store for anywhere from $50 to $300. “You can get a great portable fire pit for any price point that can be used in season and moved where the activity best suits it,” says Brendan Smith of C & M Residential Services Inc. in Marietta. If you want something a little more permanent, go with a built-in pit, which will probably cost between $2,000 and $5,000. One of the drawbacks of fire pits is that there’s no smoke control (as with a campfire, it may seem to follow you!); however, the benefits are great. “Fire pits tend to create a natural, circular, conversational gathering spot, and the warmth tends to radiate a little more,” says Rick Kaldrovics of Outside Landscape Group LLC in Alpharetta. “A fire pit can also be converted into a perfect cocktail table; we make custom wood covers to create a year-round cocktail table when the fire pit’s not in use.”
A fireplace is a bit more of a commitment, cost-wise, but it can create a beautiful point of interest, either on a porch or patio or in the yard with seating grouped around it. “A fireplace is always a show stopper and a great focal point,” Kaldrovics says. “Its scale and architectural interest naturally invites you to the space.” Depending on size, location and materials, fireplaces usually range anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000. “Fireplaces can be installed on existing patios and structures, assuming that there’s sufficient support on the patio, deck or porch,” Boyce says. “Often, when building on a deck or porch, materials such as cultured stone and gas inserts are used to minimize the weight of the fireplace.” When it comes to installation time, you can start using your new fire feature pretty quickly. “Prefab units can be installed in a couple of days, and custom fireplaces will take anywhere from seven to 14 days,” says Kym Gatti of P.O.P.S. Landscaping in Marietta.
When it comes to choosing materials, you’re free to pick whatever you like, from stone to brick; however, most landscapers agree that choosing materials to match or complement the home is most common. “We try to tie the finishes to the home with accents of like materials, such as brick, stone, stucco or a combination, so that it connects architecturally in the space,” Kaldrovics says. Since most outdoor fireplaces are custom- made, you can also choose the shape and style you like, and you might want to include a mantel, a spot for outdoor artwork or even a space for a weatherproof flat-screen TV.
While you’re installing a fireplace or fire pit, don’t forget to include add-ons! Often, people incorporate a fire feature as part of an entire
outdoor room, complete with a grill or kitchen and plenty of seating. “Many people want covered seating areas and a place to store firewood, and we get asked to work in grills, sinks and even wine coolers,” says Scott Chatham of Chatham Landscape Services Inc. in Marietta. Water features are also a nice complement to fire, and in some cases, a fire pit can even become a water feature. “On fire pits, we often run electricity to the base, so that during the summer months, they can be filled with planted pots and even a small fountain,” Chatham says.
One of the great advantages to both fire pits and fireplaces? They provide maximum fun and enjoyment with very little work. There are just a few things to consider:
• Check the inside of the structure every so often for birds’ nests or other obstructions that may prevent it from drawing smoke properly. With fire pits, check to see that the drainage holes are open and clear.
• On a regular basis, remove ash and soot with a broom and shovel, and cool it in a metal bucket before disposal. If you use a metal flue, have a professional chimney sweep clean it annually.
• If you cook over or in the fire, be sure to keep it clean to avoid attracting insects and animals.
• 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. You can clean the structure with an occasional light pressure washing.
So are you ready to heat things up for fall? Get started right away, and you could be gathering your family around the fire in the matter of days!
“For either a fireplace or a fire pit, often homeowners will try to fit a unit into a small space, only to be disappointed later by how few people they can accommodate. Basically, be sure to allow plenty of space when planning.”
—Laura Guilmette, Unique Environmental Landscapes, Mableton
Of course, when you’re playing with fire, safety should always be at the top of your mind. Don’t throw trash into the fire, keep a close eye on children, and be sure that the fire is completely out and the ashes are cooled before you head inside for the night. Above all, never, ever leave the fire unattended!
For both types of fire features, you have the option of using vent-free gas logs in place of real wood; just be sure to discuss this with your contractor. Gas logs generally have the look of real wood and come in a variety of styles and sizes, and they’re easy to turn on or off when you want to use them
“Homeowners are now moving toward electronic ignitions for the safety features offered. They’re more expensive, but they have many safety features and can be set up on remote, wall switch and home automation systems.”
—Sara Ferguson, The Custom Fire Place, Snellville