Fireplace or Firepit: A Burning Question for Homeowners

Posted on Posted in EG Services

Outdoor living space installations are on a rise in the St. Louis, MO and Edwardsville, IL areas, people are wanting to spend more time at home with their friends and families and are wanting an extension of their home to do so. What better place to extend to than outdoors? Backyards with luxury features such as pools, spas, hot tubs, and outdoor kitchens are enough to make your home the most popular in the neighborhood, but a fire feature will not only draw them in even more but will also extend the seasonal use of your outdoor oasis. Fire features can also be great as standalone features in your outdoor space. Perfect on a paver or flagstone patio for a simple and functional entertaining space. Fire features provide warmth and light and are naturally alluring to those gathered there by providing a relaxing focal point in your space. Additionally, if you’re thinking of more than one outdoor element, having a mixture of the elements such as water and fire (i.e. firepit and pool or hot tub, etc.) can provide the perfect atmosphere.

Mixture of the Elements in this Outdoor Oasis

One of the most common questions that we’re asked when designing an outdoor space is, which feature should we include: a fireplace or a firepit? The answer isn’t necessarily an easy one and there isn’t a one-size fits all answer but the things you need to consider the most are the design and look you’re going for, the experience that you’d like with the fire feature, and mostly, how do you plan on using it. Read on to find out which would be perfect for your outdoor living space! And remember, it’s just about impossible to feel stressed out when you’re sitting around a fire!

Fireplace vs. Firepit

Fireplace

A fireplace provides a beautiful focal point for any outdoor living space with aesthetic value whether or not it’s in use. A custom fireplace from Envisioning Green can be designed almost any way you want, as long as it includes these basics – a firebox and a chimney (which provides proper smoke ventilation). There are many features that can be added to a fireplace including woodboxes, custom mantel and hearth, an outdoor television mounted on the chimney, and much more. The possibilities are (almost) endless! The addition of woodboxes allows for much more convenience for a wood burning fireplace. When you’re ready to start a fire, you’ve already got your supplies!

When considering a fireplace, you’ll want to scale the size of it to fit your backyard. For the most part, you won’t want some grandiose fireplace in a small back yard that will overpower everything else you have there. However, like we said before, there is no one-size fits all answer and an oversized fireplace may be exactly what you want/

Another thing to consider with a fireplace are the code considerations for your city. While codes vary from place to place and this may not apply to you, it’s best to be informed on the possibility. Wood burning fireplaces have the possibility to create a lot of smoke. While this will go through the chimney, many building codes require that the chimney height must be 2 feet taller than any structures immediately next to it (i.e. a house, pavilion, etc.). Wood burning not your forte? For gas fireplaces, there may not be as many chimney codes but since they require a gas line, often permits must be pulled for that. These are all things that a professional landscaping company should handle for you and our team at Envisioning Green works hard to stay up to date on codes and maintain a good relationship with various inspectors, cities, and municipalities.

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Summary of Pros & Cons

This list may be of pros for some homeowners and cons for others. It all depends on what you require of your outdoor living space and what exactly you’re looking to get out of your fire feature.

  • Provides an intimate gathering setting
  • Seats approximately 4 to 6 people in the immediate proximity of the hearth (more if you are spread out in the living area
  • You can sit in front of it and not around it
  • Can obstruct property views – This can be a pro or a con depending on what views your obstructing (potential for added privacy)
  • Multiple fuel possibilities: Wood, Gas, Gas Assist, Propane
  • Typically costs more than a firepit
  • Can require building permits and inspections depending on the area
  • Smoke is directed up and through the chimney
  • Provides a focal point for your outdoor living space whether lit or not
  • It can be placed under a pavilion to provide for even more year-round use and protection from the elements

Firepit

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Break out the marshmallows, the firepit was meant for gathering. While a fireplace can also be for gathering, there is just something about having your friends and family surrounding a fire on all sides. With a custom firepit from Envisioning Green, you can keep it classic with a round and wood burning firepit, go a little more contemporary with a square or rectangle firepit that runs on gas and has fire glass instead of wood, and a combination of everything in between. There are also a variety of materials that your firepit can be made of including man made blocks and natural stone veneer for a variety of looks.

A firepit can be located almost anywhere since there is no chimney regulations. The only hindrance to this may be if it’s a gas firepit and the cost of installing a gas line. It can also be designed as part of a patio that has other features such as an outdoor kitchen or pizza oven. Additionally, the size of a firepit can be just about any size (width/depth) and there are some options as far as height goes depending on what your plan is for the feature. If you’re planning to just put your feet up, it can be about 12-14 inches high. If you’re wanting to sit on the edge, 18 to 20 inches high is better. Firepits will also not overwhelm your space as they are so low to the ground, so you can make them just about any size you want without them being too much.

However, just like a gas fireplace, a gas firepit will more than likely require a permit for the gas line to be run. To reiterate, these are all things that a professional landscaping company should handle for you and our team at Envisioning Green works hard to stay up to date on codes and maintain a good relationship with various inspectors, cities, and municipalities.

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Summary of Pros & Cons

  • More space for people to gather at one time while still being close to the fire
  • Doesn’t block views as it’s lower to the ground (can be a pro or a con, can see everything but can also mean less privacy)
  • Can be more interactive
  • Can incorporate built-in seating if you’d like
  • Typically, less expensive than a fireplace
  • Embers may scatter on a wood burning firepit because it doesn’t block the wind
  • Seating opportunities on all sides
  • Can use Wood, Gas, Gas Assist, or Propane
  • Won’t block wind

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Gas vs. Wood

As if there weren’t enough choices to make when putting in your outdoor fire feature, you will also need to decide which is better for you, gas or wood. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference (well, that and fuel availability) and the decision is solely up to you. We’re just here to give you some facts and experience to make that decision easier.

As we said, fuel availability plays an important role in your decision. Do you have natural gas running to your home already? Do you live in the country with plenty of firewood at your disposal? On the contrary, if you live in the country or some area where there isn’t natural gas to your home, that obvious rules that out as an option. Propane (and propane tanks) are an option but do add an extra amount of work to when you have to change out a tank that takes away some of the convenience of a non-wood burning fire feature.

On to the convenience factor, if you want to come home after a long day and just “build” a fire to enjoy a glass of wine (or other beverage of choice) and unwind, then a gas fire feature is probably for you. Convenience is the biggest factor when it comes to a gas fire feature and is often the desire we hear the most when homeowners are deciding on a fuel type. We’ve also converted a lot of “real fire” believers into gas fire feature lovers because with the natural looking ceramic logs and the convenience of the gas, you can have the look of the “real” fire with all the ease. Want a more contemporary look? Like we said above, you can use the fire glass that comes in a vast array of colors for a beautiful look. Below is a picture of just how “real” a gas firepit with ceramic logs can look!

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For some, it’s not the same to sit around a fire without the smell of the wood burning. That’s one of the times when a wood burning fire feature would be the right choice. You will have a crackling fire that brings back all the nostalgia of nights around fires in the past (be it at camp, camping, bonfires, etc.) in a beautiful new space.

Let the options continue! Do you want a wood burning fire feature with some of the convenience of gas? A gas assist fire feature might be the right compromise! This is when you would put real fire wood in the fire feature, light the pilot light, and wait for the wood to light into a roaring fire.

Again, once the fuels (or lack thereof) have been established, the fire feature decision falls to personal preference. There is no wrong answer when it comes to personalizing your fire feature as long as it is best suited for you and the gatherings you will be having.

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Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Make Your Decision

  1. Does your property have a view you would like to take advantage of?
    • Yes – A fire pit may be your best bet. Since it’s low to the ground, it can be placed anywhere and not obstruct your view. A fireplace is still an option but will need to be placed accordingly to not block the view.
    • No – A fireplace could be your best option as it is tall and more of a focal point that will not be pulling away from the view. This doesn’t necessarily rule out a firepit but helps to know your options.
  2. Would you like to have a more intimate or interactive gathering in your outdoor space?
    • Intimate – A fireplace would probably be your best bet. This provides a more romantic feel and since there’s not as much room to sit around it, it’s better for small gatherings. A firepit can still be intimate but that isn’t what it’s known for.
    • Interactive – A firepit may be your best bet as there is plenty of room all around the sides of the feature for all your friends and family to sit. Since it’s low to the ground, you can also talk to each other over the fire while roasting marshmallows.
  3. Do you have a preference on built-in seating or additional furniture?
    • Built-in Seating – A firepit is your best bet for this option. With the possibility of a seating wall surrounding the feature, there’s plenty of room for everyone!
    • Additional Furniture – This could mean a fireplace OR a firepit are for you. With a comfy couch and chairs in front of a fireplace, you are all ready for your night with family and friends. A firepit can utilize Adirondack style chairs, swings, and many more options.
  4. Does smoke affect your ability to enjoy your fire feature?
    • Yes – A gas burning fireplace or firepit are most likely for you. This eliminates most of the smoke while still giving the ambiance and feel of a wood burning fire. Want to burn wood still? A fireplace is then the most beneficial choice for you as much of the smoke will be directed up and out the chimney.
    • No – Good news, the sky is the limit (although that probably doesn’t help your decision). You can have any fire feature and fuel that you’d like in your space.
  5. Does wind affect your ability to spend time in your yard?
    • Yes – With a fireplace being enclosed, it can shield your lighter from the wind making it easier to light. Also, since it is taller, it can also protect your party and its guests from the elements.
    • No – Again, you can have any fire feature that you’d like in your space, no limit here!
  6. What is the average number of people you will have at your gatherings?
    • 1-4 – Since we consider this a more intimate gathering, this might be a better job for a fireplace in your outdoor living space. There’s no issue with an intimate gathering around a firepit but it’s more natural with a fireplace.
    • 4 or more – When entertaining a group, the available seating area around a firepit is probably your best bet. While a fireplace is still possible to hold that many, you’ll be more comfortable around a firepit most of the time.

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In Conclusion

Keep in mind, this decision doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Oftentimes, homeowners will include a fireplace AND a firepit in their outdoor space. The fireplace is often used as an intimate space for adults to gather (often under a structure including an outdoor kitchen and table) and a firepit somewhere nearby for all the kids to hang out and interact at (or for more interactive adult parties as well). There is just a different vibe between a firepit and fireplace (of course they can be interchangeable with the right people) and you must decide which is right for you!

A fire feature will be a permanent fixture on your patio so make sure that this is the right choice for you and your family and friends. It will increase the usability of your outdoor living space and enhance the experience of spending time outside, no electronic devices required!

We’d love the opportunity to help you weigh the options on your outdoor living space. Envisioning Green’s team of designers have the knowledge and experience to back up your project and to not only help you pick the right elements but to help you lay them out for the most beautiful, functional, and cohesive backyard oasis. Our expertise will ensure that your space is installed correctly and professionally with quality materials.

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 If you’d like more inspiration and ideas about your outdoor living space, including fire features, check out our portfolio on our website, our Houzz account, or our Facebook page. If you’d like to set up an on-site consultation, call us in the office at 618-307-6677 or submit your information by clicking here.

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