Fire is an essential element that provides heat for warmth and cooking. Fire also possesses an entertainment value, which, played with safely, can fascinate for hours—think bonfire. Imagine the fun of roasting marshmallows and drinking cider on a crisp, fall evening where fire is the feature—the center, core, heart of the gathering.
Historically, using fire inside the home within a centrally located fireplace has allowed homeowners and guests to keep warm on wintry days. Today, an indoor fireplace is still a popular source of heat and often offers a distinct aesthetic appeal to its partakers. Because of its all-around appeal and function inside the home, fire often finds its way into outdoor spaces as homeowners decide to extend similar considerations outside the home.
When homeowners integrate a fire feature into their outdoor space, they find the benefits extremely satisfying. Indeed, an outdoor firepit or other type of fire feature offers lighting, warmth, and entertainment and allows homeowners to really use and enjoy their outdoor spaces in multiple seasons—particularly the fall, and throughout the year.
Once homeowners decide to add a fire element to their outdoor spaces, they must consider the many options. Tim Henion of Sun Mountain Stoneworks notes that two of the most popular options are firepits, also called fire bowls, and fireplaces. Henion is a fan of the authentic outdoor experience and says that a fire feature enhances “the whole experience of being outside” in nature. Firepits can be portable or built-in to some sort of hardscape. Although firepits come in a variety of sizes and shapes, for built-in firepits, homeowners often opt for a circular configuration, as opposed to square, in order to accommodate more people around the fire.
Kenny Lowry of Southern Grace explains that his business makes custom firepits and fire fountains. Although he started with simple water fountains, he began making designs that integrate both fire and water into the same element. Although these two elements do not typically coexist, Lowry has crafted a design in which they do. Lowry says, “We’re coming up with our own designs, our own styles of firepits and fire fountains.” Clients are drawn to such a feature due to the combination of heat from the firepit along with the soothing aesthetics of a fountain, he notes.
While firepits and fireplaces are popular choices, other options for outdoor fire include tiki torches, fire walls and linear fireplaces. Tiki torches are a simple, inexpensive way to add ambiance to an outdoor area. Fire walls are literally walls of fire which resemble fireplaces but are open to the air and do not have a chimney. Fire walls can add an aesthetic quality to patio areas, and they emit more heat than traditional firepits and fireplaces. Lowry notes that he’s also seen a trend toward incorporating outdoor linear fireplaces. These use a long, horizontal element that produces a short flame that radiates heat with a clean, sleek and modern appearance.
For modest budgets, homeowners might consider a DIY firepit kit or a portable firepit. Often, these types of firepits are constructed of metal and can be purchased directly from a local home improvement store or online. Depending on the specifications, prices can range from under $100 and go up from there.
Larger budgets garner more choices, of course, and for more expansive projects, a hardscape with a built-in firepit, fire feature, or even a fireplace are all popular options. The hardscape is a complete outdoor area of man-made materials, like concrete and stone, often in the form of a patio. As an extension of the house and the space inside the house, a hardscape should replicate the aura of the entire home landscape.
Intent, budget, space and safety are all things to consider when choosing to add fire to your outdoor space. There are two options for fueling the fire: gas or wood. Henion says that about half of his clients choose gas while the other half chooses wood-burning fire. In making this decision, homeowners should think about how they plan to use the space. For example, if you want to provide heat for outdoor gatherings and evoke an authentic camp-like experience, you may want to choose wood-burning, as this is a warmer source than fire fueled by gas. If you’re looking for ambiance, aesthetics and ease of use, a gas-burning feature may be the most desirable.
When homeowners consider their intentions for their space, they can make the best decision on fuel source.
Budget is also a factor that has a big influence on your plans. According to Henion, professionally installed, built-in firepits range from $2,000 on up. The lower end of the budget will provide the most basic set-up, and costs increase with add-ons and other features. Choice of materials can affect this too. Henion says this choice “defines the character of the whole project.” He says, “You can build the exact same project with two different types of stone and you get a completely different feeling walking up and looking at it.” He notes that the look of dry-stacked stone is quite popular with his clients—a look he says elevates the feel of the whole project.
Where to place the firepit is also a big decision. Henion says that he will not place a wood-burning firepit closer than 40 feet to the house, but that there is more flexibility with gas fire features. It’s equally important to consider the way the house is oriented so that when installing a firepit or other fire feature with landscaping, the homeowner gets the best experience possible. By choosing placement wisely, a homeowner can ensure safety and maximize usability of the space.
A suggested safety measure when starting, stoking and maintaining a fire is to keep some source of water close by, whether a hose or bucket of water. If there is an emergency, it’s important to be able to extinguish the fire. Gas-burning fire features require an emergency gas shut-off.
Ultimately, by keeping intent, budget, space and safety in mind, homeowners can make the right choices for their fiery design.
Planning and Design
Homeowners must have a plan for their project. Henion says, “Usually a customer has a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for,” and when he considers their idea, he is then able to “build into their space their vision.” Obviously, there are DIY options for firepits, but a professional can help with everything from planning and design to execution and completion. Once a homeowner decides to hire a professional, the professional can help guide the homeowner through the entire process.
Many designers consider form and function to be top priorities in the design process, and a fire feature is no exception. Not only does planning for the fire feature occur, but planning for the entire outdoor area surrounding the fire feature is critical as well. Henion says, “If people decide they want to do a firepit or fire feature, you have to have something to go with it…a walkway or patio or sitting wall.” Indeed, a hardscape can add an expressive component to the fire feature, but it is the fire feature that “caps it off and makes it feel complete,” he says. Professionals can also help plan for furnishings for this space, such as tables, chairs, and benches, to ensure that the area is comfortable and functional.
Outdoor living spaces with a firepit or other sort of fire feature is a hot trend that’s probably here to stay. Lowry says that fire has even become a “decorator’s element” in the sense that it is not just used for heat anymore. While fire is enthralling to watch and a great enhancement to any outdoor space, it must be handled with care. Gathering all the necessary information is the most important tool when choosing to add a fire feature to an outdoor space. Knowing your options and consulting someone fluent in design ideas will help you begin on the right track. Because there are so many positive reasons to incorporate this fierce element, choosing to utilize fire in some way, shape, and form in an outdoor space is almost second nature.