When it comes to making the most of your backyard, few projects add more to your overall enjoyment of the space than the glow of a roaring fire. An outdoor fire hearkens back to some of humankind’s deepest desires: warmth, light and the protective circle of friends and family as they gather to share food and tell stories.
Your house is a far cry from your cave-dwelling ancestors’ place, though. These days there are hundreds of options for building a beautiful outdoor gathering space centered around an open flame.
The biggest question you’ll face? Whether you should build an outdoor fireplace or fire pit. Making this key decision will allow you to complete your design process and get your job started. Here’s what you should know about each option to make the right choice for your property.
Outdoor Fireplace or Fire Pit? Know Your Terms
Sometimes the terms “outdoor fireplace” and “fire pit” are used interchangeably, but they’re actually two different things.
An outdoor fireplace is a permanent structure that is modeled on a traditional indoor fireplace. It includes a firebox that is enclosed on three sides (two in the case of a double-sided fireplace) and a chimney to vent smoke and create a draft for efficient heating. An outdoor fireplace is a substantial structure that may or may incorporate into a wall or built as a freestanding unit.
A fire pit is can be a portable or freestanding structure, but it does not have a chimney and therefore, tends to have a much lower profile, typically rising only as high as a standard chair or coffee table. A fire pit is a walled container that is open at the top for access to the firewood. Smoke is released directly into the air.
Fire Pit Pros and Cons
When considering whether to build an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of each.
- A fire pit is smaller than a fireplace, so it’s often a good choice for a tight area or smaller property.
- A fire pit is less expensive to build than a fireplace, making it a good choice for a tighter budget. This is largely because it requires far fewer materials.
- A fire pit allows for 360-degree seating, which allows for more guests to gather around the fire and engage in face-to-face conversation over the flames.
- A fire pit allows easy access to the fire for fun party activities like roasting hot dogs or marshmallows.
- A fire pit can also be designed with a gas flame and surrounded by decorative rocks. This is a great option for neighborhoods that frown open wood burning.
- A fire pit provides a more casual, campfire-type look, which may not be appropriate for large estates or more formal architectural styles.
- The fully open flame of a fire pit may not be the safest choice for small children, who will need careful supervision as the maneuver around the area.
- A fire pit doesn’t always offer a place for wood storage and cannot be placed under any protective awnings, making it a difficult design choice if you have your heart set on a true outdoor room.
Fireplace Pros and Cons
An outdoor fireplace also comes with its own benefits and challenges.
- An outdoor fireplace provides a significant structural element that defines the space. This is the perfect way to anchor the focus of a full outdoor room design.
- Outdoor fireplaces provide privacy. Thanks to the height and width of their walls, you can use this design element to block unsightly views and create an oasis where you don’t have to worry about the neighbors’ prying eyes.
- An outdoor fireplace can be designed to include nooks and crannies for built-in storage and seating. This fully customizable option can make the most of your space, thanks in part to its height.
- Because they are so large, outdoor fireplaces can provide a useful windbreak to make being outdoors more comfortable, even when they’re not in use.
- An outdoor fireplace is a luxurious choice. There’s simply no better upgrade when it comes to making your property a show-stopper.
- An outdoor fireplace may limit your seating options. Because you can only arrange chairs around one side of it, and most people will want to face the flame, you’ll fit a semicircle of chairs at best, which cuts down on the number of people who can enjoy the space.
- Outdoor fireplaces are generally more expensive than their counterparts. Because they require careful designing and require more material to build, they quickly add up in your hardscaping bill.
- Outdoor fireplaces require permitting. Working with local HOAs and municipalities to get a larger structure approved can be time-consuming.
Popular Designs for Inspiration
If you’re still not sure which you prefer, it’s always a good idea to browse signs to get a feel for what you like. Here are some of our favorite trends:
- Combine a stone fireplace with a pergola or awning for the feeling of a completely sheltered outdoor room.
- Include built-in seating to soften an imposing stone fireplace.
- Consider a sunken fire pit to maximize seating and provide a sleek look.
- Build your fire pit for more than just conversation by placing it near your game lawn or play area.
Whether you ultimately choose an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, make sure you consult with a professional landscape designer to help you get the job done right!
Why Choose Parker Homescape?
We have transformed hundreds of landscapes in and around the Somerset, Hunterdon, Essex and Union County areas, including Short Hills, Warren and Basking Ridge since our founding in 2006. Unlike many of our competitors, we undertake only one client project at a time, ensuring that every deadline is met and that every detail is considered. Additionally, a lead foreman with over 30 years of experience oversees your project from start to finish. This approach makes us one of the most sought after landscape design companies in Central New Jersey, and translates into a seamless, stress-free experience for you and your family.
Whether creating an outdoor living space, installing custom landscape lighting or building a custom outdoor fireplace, we believe that each landscape project is unique. We proudly promise customized solutions, superior customer service and competitive pricing for each of our clients.