Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits can be considered one of the marks of modern society. Mankind's relationship with the primal forces of nature runs deep to the point that we often find ourselves craving the utility and warmth of a fire, despite our access to modern amenities.
We've put together a quick guide to help you make the best possible choice of fireplace or fire pit.
What Materials Should My Fireplace or Fire Pit Be Made of?
When choosing something as sturdy as a fireplace or fire pit, we tend to take their strength for granted. Given that most pits are made of some type of metal or stone, it's easy to assume that they are all within the same levels of resilience, but as we'll see in this section, some materials are better than others.
Steel fire pits have been growing in popularity recently. Metals are generally strong and can withstand heat for long periods of time, but steel holds a special place among them because of its light weight. Stainless steel fire pits are especially anti-corrosive and stain resistant, meaning in comparison to other metals, you'll be burdened with far less maintenance work.
If you're searching for a variety in style, steel-finishes offer a fair amount of versatility:
Rusted steel, for instance, tends to work extremely well if you're aiming for an aged look in your pit.
Steel can also be mixed with slate, tile, stone or other methods to create a stunning variety of looks.
Last but not least, the absolute best finish for your steel fire pit is powder-coated steel. This finish is created by melting powdered paint onto the steel. This process results in a coating that is resistant to both weather and chipping, so you won't need to worry about using implements or weather damage.
Cast iron pits are probably the most common among all the materials. Cast Iron is the cheapest, but also the heaviest metal used to cast fire pits or fireplaces, which can be an issue during transportation and installation. As resistant as cast iron already is, pits made of it are often finished in heat-resistant and weather-resistant paint, making them even more so.
Cast iron pits are often available in a variety of styles and with a variety of finishes, which can color them black, white or gray. Since cast iron is such a fantastic conductor of heat, you can expect to warm your deck or patio easily.
You can consider copper to be a high-end material for fireplaces and fire pits. It is highly corrosion and stain resistant and, thus, perfect for all types of weather. Because copper is so pliable, it lends itself to being styled in a variety of ways, not to mention being eye-candy once fires get started. Copper fire pits are great in modern-style gardens. You can match the copper fire pit with some copper pots for a cohesive industrial decor.
Copper is also very conductive, which means it will radiate heat to nearby individuals or even heat a small area of your deck or yard. The one major downside to copper is its tendency to form a patina when it sits outdoors for extended periods of time. A patina is a green or brown film, which is produced by a reaction between oxygen and copper over time. This reaction is why the statue of liberty appears green when it is in fact copper colored.
Preventing or solving patina can be pretty simple. Using a cleanser, lemon wedges or salt and vinegar, followed by a thorough rinse, can keep your copper it's original beautiful sheen.
Like stone, concrete can be very attractive in fireplaces and fire pits. When your fireplace is being cast, concrete has almost limitless style options and plain gray concrete can do very well in a modern decor. Concrete is a natural insulator, so unless you have a very open design, you can expect restrained heat distribution around your fireplace.
While concrete does not corrode, it does tend to become soot-stained over long periods of time. A simple way to prevent this can be treating your concrete with a sealant following setup and after cleaning.
Stone fireplaces and pits can be extremely picturesque. There is a wide variety of stones that can be used in a pit, so you'll never be starved for options. Stone is perfect for creating a traditional or farmhouse feel in your garden.
Stone pits are similar in weight to metal ones, so you'd be better off leaving them in one place. Unlike metal pits, stone pits will never rust or form a patina, but stone can crack over time, especially if exposed to cycles of freezing and thawing.
Stone isn't a very good conductor of heat naturally, so you're likely to appreciate an open design more if you're hoping to have a cozy experience.
What Outdoor Fireplace or Fire Pit Design Should I Go For?
There are a few common fireplace and fire pit designs that are worth a brief introduction in this guide.
Fire Pit Table
The fire pit table is not named for ironic purposes. Typically, these designs feature a central fire pit surrounded by a flat "tabletop" surface. Some designs facilitate tabletop usage while the fire is burning, but in some cases, lighting a fire means no tabletop use due to the temperature.
This fire pit table will be best if you are planning to locate your source of fire in the middle of a seating arrangement. The tabletop will be handy to put some snacks or drinks on while you are seating around the fire pit with your friends.
Fire rings are extremely simple setups, usually made of foldable sections of steel or copper. These rings are extremely versatile, allowing you to adjust their position whenever you like. Assembly and disassembly are usually as simple as undoing one or two latches. Of course, as with all pits and places, you'll need to ensure that you are set up on a fire-proof base, preferably one made from stone or concrete.
Fire rings tend to have vibrant designs on the panels, so you'll have a variety of style options to choose from. For example, moonlight or nature-themed panels do well to create a rustic and woodsy atmosphere, while stainless steel enhances a modern, minimalistic look and looks good alongside tile or stone.
Fire columns are exactly what they sound like. Often, they are made from stone and are styled to separate their appearances from other forms of fire pit. Fire columns elevate your fire pit experience above ground level, relieving you of the need to set up a heavy stone or concrete base.
Stone fire columns look extremely good alongside gravel walkways or gardens. When used in groups, fire columns that flank pools and outdoor water features can be a sight to behold, especially on a clear night.
If what you're hoping for is something decorative that can take the chill off the evening, or facilitate a conversation or family gathering, then a Chimenea might be the best choice for you. Chimeneas are traditional mobile fireplaces, usually made from terracotta.
Chimeneas are normally shaped like a large flower vase, with a wide mouth on one side of its body and a narrow chimney above that. You will find highly decorated chimney styles that will match the boho style of your garden or sleek cast iron in black finish for minimalistic and modern gardens.
The design of chimeneas allows them to keep a fire burning, even when it's raining out and can be used in combination with pans, pots or grills with ease.
Chimeneas are relatively easy to maintain and set up in comparison to the more common fireplace designs. Consider purchasing one if you're new to fire pits or don't want to make a large-scale alteration to your home.
How do You Choose the Proper Location for a Fire Pit?
Before you take the final leap on your purchase, you need to double-check your local laws and community guidelines to ensure that your location of choice is compliant. Most communities have a minimum required distance of 10 feet from your home, wooden structures, awnings, trees and other yard fixtures.
Once you've found a level spot that's suitable for your fireplace or pit, ensure that your pit isn't set directly on top of your deck or grass. It's always best to place your pit on top of a stone slab that has enough extra surface area to provide a heat buffer between your grill and surrounding environment.
Finally, you should never keep a fireplace or fire pit in a covered porch or under an overhanging tree. This is especially true if you choose to burn wood as your fuel source. Embers escape from wood fires routinely and can easily land on a roof or ceiling. Gas as a fuel source is best if you are deadest on keeping your pit or fireplace near or in a covered area. Gas flames produce very few - if any - embers that could lead to a risk.
What Fuel Type Should You Choose for Your Fireplace?
Fuel type can add or detract a lot from your fireplace experience. Some enjoy the earthy aromas of burning wood, while others place more emphasis on the convenience of gas or coal stoves. Let's take a quick look at some of the pros and cons of each fuel type.
If you're considering using your fire pit for cooking, then wood-burning pits are an economically safe bet for you. The same goes for an outdoor fireplace that you'll frequently be using or for extended periods of time. Wood is simply the cheapest source of fuel available for your fire pit or fireplace and in many cases is readily available without much effort.
Wood does tend to create embers as it burns out and leaves behind a lot of soot and dust, which can become a fire hazard. You'll need to pay special attention to where you put your wood-burning fireplace or pit and clean it regularly to mitigate fire hazards.
Coals are often compatible with wood burning fire pits and vice versa. They are a cheap, long-lasting fuel source and can burn readily. Coals do not give off as much heat as burning wood, however, so if you were hoping to warm the area around your pit for social reasons, we recommend that you use a metal pit or fireplace so the heat can be radiated outward.
Gas fireplaces and fire pits offer the very highest level of convenience. Gas pits usually ignite at the touch of a button and are fully adjustable to suit your desired level of warmth or adequate amounts of heat for cooking.
In addition to this, they are unlikely to generate embers or rogue sparks, so there is less risk of an uncontrolled fire. Further, natural gas burns cleanly, meaning there will be little if any soot or residue that could become a fire hazard in the future and little cleaning required by you.
For all of this convenience, though, there is a hefty price tag. Natural gas is by far the most expensive of the fuel types, so you'll need to consider this when budgeting for your fire pit.