There is nothing like making a fire to create warmth and also to create a special ambiance to an outdoor setting.  Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits bring family and friend together to gather around the fire, not only to feel warm if it’s a bit cold out, but to share conversation. They give you something to focus on at night when everything else may be in the dark. They are interactive features that allow everyone to engage in a shared activity.

In contrast to water features, which are typically enjoyed during the day especially if it’s a pond, a fire pit or fireplace provides the element of fire, of heat, light and excitement. It can boost your energy or sooth your spirit depending on the mood of the fire.

 

Fireplaces are very common inside homes and are essential to many homes without central heating. A fireplace built outdoors is not quite the same as those built indoors and the main difference is the ability for the fire to draw sufficient flow of air to create a draft up through the flue which in turn, produces more heat from the wood being burned. But having a real warm fireplace is not always the main purpose of an outdoor fireplace. It may have more to do with how it looks during the day or simply the idea of what it would be like to experience those cozy evenings having perhaps an adult beverage in front of the fire with family and friends.

photo from diynetwork.com

Outdoor fireplaces also do another important thing: they extend the usability of your landscape to the evening hours. They get you outside where you can stay warm gazing at the stars or the moon or watch the smoke waft into the dark sky.

Fire pits are more casual versions of a formal fireplace and allow people to gather around campfire style. People generally sit around facing the fire and keep it going by adding wood and adjusting the logs while having conversation. If the fireplace or fire pit is gas, then the experience is a bit more passive.

Design considerations for all fire features.

Do you want the fire feature to produce sufficient heat? Or do you just want it for the ambiance? Answer these questions whether you are thinking of outdoor fireplaces or fire pits.

Outdoor fireplaces generally do not produce sufficient heat because the height of the fireplace is not tall enough to create the necessary draw of oxygen into the firebox to fuel the flame and burn with sufficient intensity. The logs can burn if enough kindling and so forth is used to start the fire, but the smoke may not make its way up the fuel with enough speed to draw the smoke up the flue. This is a factor of the volume inside the flue/chimney structure and the height. General rule of thumb, build an outdoor fireplace as high as you can without it looking out of place — at least 8 feet tall.

The alternative is to use gas logs which will get hot, but you don’t have the messiness of ashes, sparks and buying more firewood. The additional cost of installing the gas line may turn out to be worth it. Besides, you don’t always have to use the gas. You can use it to start the real wood logs and then turn it off, or back on to stoke the fire.

A hearth in front of a fireplace about seat height will allow easy fiddling with the fire. Adding an extended hearth along the flanks of the fireplace adds seating and also can give the fireplace a more anchored look since they are typically free standing when outdoors, they need to appear like they are in the right spot as there is no wall behind or to the sides. These side seatwalls help ground the fireplace. Adding side columns or shelves also help with a freestanding fireplace.

Fire pits can be built of masonry block, concrete paver type blocks, brick or any other non combustible material. They can also be actual pits, sunken into the ground below the grade of the surrounding patio. There are many portable styles that have the benefit of being moveable to various patio areas or stored away during the summer. Fixed built in fire pits while not in use at night may not look so keen taking up all the space on the patio.

A variation of the conventional round fire pit are fire tables, which are higher than regular fire pits and have a counter which surrounds the fire area. Fire tables are designed to be used with a propane tank hidden underneath and provide a cleaner burning setting that is not as hot allowing one to place beverages and items on the countertop so it can truly function as a table top.

 

Fire bowls are raised free standing types of fire pits that deviate from the concept of a pit. They are more designed as sculptural fire features and look great when viewed from a distance. Low profile concrete pots called Wok Bowls normally used as planters for plants can be used as fire bowls when fitted with a gas connection. They can be topped with fire glass for a contemporary colorful fire display when viewed up close.

Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits add to the coziness of any outdoor living space, provide warmth and ambiance. When combined with a water feature, they provide a balance to the natural element of water by adding the element of fire.