Adding a Backyard Fireplace or Fire Pit. Which Option is Right for You?

In the realm of outdoor ambiance, fire features reign supreme, with built-in fire pits and outdoor fireplaces becoming increasingly popular as focal points in backyard design; while fire pits offer communal warmth and versatility, fireplaces provide grandeur and smoke control, each presenting unique considerations in terms of space, cost, and maintenance, ultimately tailored to fulfill your outdoor living aspirations.

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There has always been something enjoyable about the ambiance of sitting near a fire. It’s an interactive feature in your backyard, providing heat, light, and atmosphere. With people spending more time at home, we have seen an explosion in interest in built-in fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. If you are like a lot of families, you might be trying to decide which one is right for you.

A built in fire pit is the glamorous relative of the old-fashioned campfire. Instead of creating a bare, burned spot in your yard from a campfire, the fire pit is constructed of cinder block and covered with a stone veneer, complementing your existing hardscape. The Complete Backyard builds all fire pits and fireplaces to the International Building Code (IBC).

Fire pits can be designed to be wood burning or with a gas insert. The Complete Backyard has a proprietary system of vents and inserts we use whenever we build a new fire pit. The vents draw air into the fire to ensure a steady burn and the inserts not only provide a beautiful custom look, they make cleanup much easier.

Another advantage of fire pits is the shape. Although most people envision a circular or square fire pit area, in truth, they can be any custom shape a homeowner desires. This allows greater customization, which can be especially important if your lot is an irregular shape.

One thing to keep in mind with a fire pit versus a fireplace is that fire pits take up more room. A fire pit is 360 degrees and must have room to sit and walk all the way around it. A fireplace, on the other hand, is flat. If space is at a premium, and you don’t want your entire patio area to be a fire pit, a fireplace might make more sense.

Outdoor Fireplaces

An outdoor fireplace is a much more significant investment in resources than a fire pit. There is significantly more material in a fireplace than in a fire pit which leads to a corresponding increase in the time it takes to build. Fireplaces must also be built to a very strict code to ensure safety.

Homeowners may choose to build an outdoor fireplace for a variety of reasons. Often when the property owner wants to hang an outdoor TV, mounting it over the fireplace is a common request, much like inside the house. Another reason to construct an outdoor fireplace is to screen a view. Since the fireplace is taller and wider than a fire pit, it can create a stunning focal point and distract from an unpleasant site at the same time. Fireplaces have an advantage over a fire pit in that the smoke is directed up a chimney, minimizing wood smoke drifting about the conversation area.

Just like with fire pits, an outdoor fireplace can be either wood or gas burning. With a wood burning fireplace, wood storage can be incorporated into the design, keeping a steady supply of wood close at hand. With a fire pit, the wood might not be stored in as convenient an area.

A fireplace designed inside a cabana increases the amount of time the homeowner will be able to enjoy the feature. Rainy weather will not prevent the use and enjoyment of fireplace incorporated into a shingled structure.

If you already have an existing outdoor structure such as an arbor or a cabana and would like to extend the use of it, it may be possible to add in an outdoor fireplace.

Fire Pit or Fireplace?

There are several advantages of a fire pit over an outdoor fireplace. Because a fire pit is open on all sides, they are more communal than an outdoor fireplace. Family and guests can sit around the fire pit and face each other for friendly conversation. A fireplace, on the other hand, is referred to as “frontal,” meaning guests can only sit on one side of the structure, not facing other guests.

Because of the extra material and labor which goes into building an outdoor fireplace, the fireplace costs significantly more money to construct. While an average fire pit built by The Complete Backyard costs between $2,000-$2,500, an outdoor fireplace can cost upwards of $18,000.

Wood vs Gas

A gas fire pit or fireplace has glass or stone medium in the central area for gas to filter through and provide the “dancing” flames. Gas fires (either natural gas or propane) can be fueled from a gas line from the house (if available) or a concealed propane tank. Gas is easy to use, turning on and off with a simple switch. Gas does not leave hot coals which need to be cooled before being disposed. Gas is also smoke free, unlike a wood fire.

Wood fire features are less expensive than a comparable gas feature since gas lines don’t need to be trenched and run. Some people prefer the look, feel, and smell of an actual wood fire. A crackling wood fire adds to a rustic ambiance. Others like the clean burning convenience of a gas fire. Gas fires requires less maintenance, but are more costly to install.

Need Help Deciding?

Would you like to talk the to the experts and see which fire feature is right for your backyard? Our outdoor design team is looking forward to helping you create the backyard of your dreams.  Contact us today for a free design consultation.

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