What to Know When Picking an Outdoor Fire Feature
You want a fire feature that works well with your outdoor space and your lifestyle, so here’s what to consider when it comes to budget, style, maintenance, and other important factors.
Outdoor fire features have become increasingly popular in enhancing outdoor living spaces. The romantic ambiance they provide and the warmth they give off during cold weather make fire pits and outdoor fireplaces perfect for hosting guests.
Deciding which fire feature best suits one’s home and lifestyle is a common dilemma for many homeowners when planning their outdoor living space. Should it be a fire pit or an outdoor fireplace? Is gas or wood-burning a better choice? This guide will assist you in weighing your options and selecting the ideal fire feature for your needs.
When considering a particular fire feature, it’s important to ensure that you are not restricted by any property limitations, such as building codes, fire regulations or homeowners association rules. For example, in wooded neighborhoods, it’s common for HOAs to prohibit open fires, making wood-burning fire pits unsuitable.
Furthermore, some fire regulations and building codes forbid open fires within a certain distance of structures that are flammable, like homes, outbuildings, or fences. This can pose a challenge for backyard spaces with limited room for a wood-burning fire pit.
Wood-burning fireplace building codes also usually mandate that chimney heights extend 2 feet above any roofline within a specific distance. While this doesn’t limit the feature itself, installing a tall wood-burning fireplace may be too costly for some homeowners.
For those with property constraints, gas fire features are a viable option. Since they provide a controlled burn without airborne ash and embers, gas fire features offer greater placement flexibility than their wood-burning equivalents. They can be located closer to the house; contained in other elements, like tables, fountains, and outdoor kitchens; and positioned under outdoor structures, like pavilions and pergolas.
When choosing a fire feature for your outdoor living space, your budget is an important factor to consider — sometimes the most important factor. While prices may vary depending on the quality and design, outdoor fireplaces cost more than fire pits. You can expect to pay anywhere between $1,500 to $6,500 for a fire pit, while a reputable contractor will charge between $10,000 to $25,000 for an outdoor fireplace.
If you opt for a gas feature, you should also budget an additional $3,500 to $10,000. The burner system and decorative elements such as logs, lava rocks, and fire glass may cost between $1,500 and $6,000, while installation of a permitted gas line may cost between $2,000 and $4,000. These costs will vary depending on the type and size of the gas feature you choose.
When planning your outdoor living space, it’s important to consider how you’ll use a fire feature. If you’re after a laid-back ambiance that evokes a classic campfire experience, a wood-burning fire pit is your best option. It’s ideal for nights spent telling stories and roasting marshmallows for s’mores.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to create a more refined and sophisticated atmosphere, a fireplace may be a better choice. Fireplaces are typically bigger and have a more impressive appearance than fire pits, making them an excellent choice for a formal setting.
In terms of convenience, gas fire features are tough to beat. With gas features, you won’t have to worry about purchasing, chopping, stacking or seasoning any wood, and there will be no need to clean up any wood ashes. You can easily light a fire in under 10 seconds, which makes them an ideal option for both spontaneous nightcaps and planned occasions with friends.
When selecting a fire feature, it’s crucial to think about how many people you want to gather around it. For outdoor fireplaces, typical seating arrangements usually cater to five or six individuals. Consequently, homeowners who prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings tend to favor fireplaces.
Residential fire pits can comfortably accommodate around six to ten people. If you plan on hosting groups larger than that, bigger fire pits may be a better option, as they can accommodate even more people.
The experience of a crackling wood fire offers an enchanting ambiance with its unique scent and sound that cannot be matched by any gas feature. Moreover, the warm and rich glow from a wood-burning fire creates a more comfortable ambiance than the brighter and more sterile flames produced by gas features. If you are looking for elegance, it’s best to opt for a wood-burning fireplace instead of a fire pit.
Despite the charm of a wood-burning fire, the smoke and lingering smell that can stick to clothing and skin are potential drawbacks. In such cases, gas features might be a more suitable option to consider.
When it comes to generating heat, wood-burning fire features tend to provide more warmth compared to gas options. Although some gas burners can produce an equivalent amount of British thermal units (BTUs) as wood-burning models, many localities impose regulations on their use. Thus, if heat output is a major factor in your decision, a wood-burning fire feature is the better choice.
Moreover, unlike fireplaces that emit very directed warmth, fire pits distribute heat in all directions, creating a much warmer outdoor area. Fire pits also usually come with individual chairs, making it easier for someone feeling chilled to move in closer. It can be challenging to do the same with the sofas that are commonly used with traditional fireplaces.
While all fire features require some maintenance, gas features are generally the most low-maintenance option. Wood-burning features require a consistent supply of properly seasoned wood, and it’s important to remove ashes before use to ensure proper oxygen flow and a strong fire.