These days home owners are gravitating to their yards and that can be for any number of reasons or activities, from lounging to cooking, eating, and exercising just as they do indoors. Both an outdoor area’s functional and aesthetic characteristics matter nowadays to home owners, but they also count with renters. Extra features can set one listing apart from another in the increasingly crowded field of the sharing economy.
At the top of the list of areas where most want to spend time outside is by a fireplace or fire pit, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects’ 2018 survey (along with lighting and seating/dining areas). Matthew Goense, owner of the retail store, Kring’s Home and Heath, attributes increased interest to wanting to enjoy a healthier lifestyle outdoors. Each of the fire elements—fireplace, pit or table—also helps to extend use at night and into colder months of the year, making it a good return on your investment. (Same goes for lighting, along with its importance for safety.)
Certainly, it is easy to see how a fireplace, pit or table can enhance your lifestyle but these days the choices can be downright overwhelming. You might go with a tall statuesque stone fireplace, low-lying concrete fire pit or table-height metal fire table. To make your decision properly, you should factor in a community’s regulations—since many have rules about adding fire on a property. You should also consider options for the size of your site, the fire feature’s material, your budget, and whether you view a fireplace, pit or table as a permanent or temporary and portable part of your landscape since it can be designed either way.
Community regulations. It’s important to know that some communities no longer have “burn days” when home owners can ignite a fire in a fireplace or fire pit using logs. These burn codes have been initiated to reduce the harmful emissions that come from burning logs. Sacramento and Davis in northern California fall into this category, says resident and landscape designer Michael Glassman. Other communities and cities may permit lighting a log fire on certain days, just not all the time, he says. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a fire since fireplaces are increasingly designed to be hooked up to a gas line, says Glassman, co-author of The Garden Bible. At his own home, he has a fireplace in an outdoor dining courtyard where he and his wife eat and entertain frequently.
You also need to know your community’s rules regarding the height of your fireplace chimney. Some municipalities dictate that it must be a minimum of 2 feet higher than the highest point of any adjacent shade structure such as a loggia or pergola. Some towns require the fireplace to be set at a certain distance from a house—possibly 5 to 10 feet, so no flames or embers can cause danger to the home’s structure. This is the case where Julie Gurner, a real estate analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com, lives in Lancaster, Penn. There the feature must be 15 feet from many structures or 25 feet if the design features an open pit. “My advice is to always check with your city or community regulations before shopping for or installing any system,” she says. You usually don’t have to follow such guidelines with a fire pit since they’re considered portable even if some appear to be built in—at least they’re easy to remove.
Size of the feature. How tall, wide and deep either feature is can be a matter of aesthetics and proportions in the same way that the size of an indoor fireplace is usually based on the dimensions of the room including its length, width and height. “You want it to be in scale,” says Glassman. Outdoors, the height of trees and any structures such as a pergola might be a factor. That said, Glassman usually designs most fireplaces to average 6 feet high, 5 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep. The fire pit or table should also be in sync with the yard or deck size, but dimensions should also be dependent on how it’s used. If it’s for gathering chairs all around and cooking frequently, you may prefer a larger rectangular or circular design than if it’s just for one or two people to sit, talk and warm up. The average size Glassman specs is usually 4 feet in diameter.
Materials, prices, and where to buy. Today there’s an endless array of materials for fireplaces, from stone to concrete, brick, tile, cast aluminum and wood facsimiles being the most common. You have multiple options. At the high end, you can go the custom route, which may run anywhere from $10,000 or so on up to $25,000 or more depending on size, materials and intricacy of detailing. Or you can spend less and purchase a prefab design from brick-and-mortar stores or online resources. Glassman likes the designs available at American Fyre Designs, which come in five pieces that can be bolted together, and which generally average $5,000. The company’s designs are crafted from glass fiber reinforced concrete, so they wear well. Some of Glassman’s clients like to start with a prefab choice, then let him embellish it with interesting details such as mantels and hearths for a more personalized look. For those looking to pare costs more and for investors wanting a good return on investment, there are many handsome, sturdy choices available at such big-box stores as Lowe’s and Home Depot with prices under $3,000.
Fire pits range in price, too, and are generally less costly than many fireplaces and can also be designed to burn logs or hooked up to a gas line. American Frye’s fire pits average $3,600 to $4,100 and a fire table would be between $3,000 and $4,000 in most cases. Oriflamme Fire Tables, which offers numerous designs with high BTUs, have an average price range of between $1,500 and $3,000. Kring’s Hearth and Home sells a range with cast aluminum which doesn’t rust. This is the most popular, though also the most expensive at $2,000 or so, but the firm also retails them for as low as $300, says owner Matthew Goense. There are also designs now available from other manufacturers that fit into a wall to give a very contemporary vibe. And fire pits at big-box stores are even less—many are available for a few hundred dollars and some even for $50.
Extras. These days you can also add gas-fire bowls and urns that create a fire experience on a much smaller scale and can be placed in other parts of your site—by a pool or hot tub for a water and fire synergy, as well as on a deck or along a path.
A base and plantings. Other than not placing either feature directly on lawn, you have options for how to situate it, including atop a stone patio fashioned from slabs or gravel or atop brick pavers. To soften this hardscape feature, you may want to introduce plantings. Just be sure you don’t place greenery too close to endanger the plants and have embers singe them. Also, avoid placing cushions too close. “You want to respect the volatility of fire and damaging people, furnishings or plants,” Glassman says.
Insurance needs. Always check in advance that your home owner’s insurance permits one of these features. “In some areas of the country that are more likely to experience significant fires, the type of backyard fire pit you have may impact your insurance,” Gurner says. Also, ask if it makes a difference if the property is to be rented. Have all the answers in hand before you purchase to keep expenses down and incur less risk.