Outdoor Fireplace vs. Fire Pit: Find Your Ideal Solution
Incorporating a fire element into your outdoor living space will provide unbeatable ambiance and enjoyment.
Whether your idea of the perfect night is roasting marshmallows with the kids or snuggling fireside with your sweetheart, an outdoor fire feature is sure to bring your entire patio space together.
While both fireplaces and fire pits add appeal to outdoor living areas, they are actually two completely different structures. They not only provide uniquely different experiences, they also vary significantly in cost, size, and required resources.
So how are you to decide which is the better fit for your space?
In this post, we will help you determine the right fire feature and fuel source option for your outdoor space, as well as walk you through how to budget and plan for the perfect fire feature for your home.
Be sure to use our FREE Cost Estimator to help determine what type of fire feature is right for you.
Outdoor Fire Pit vs. Fireplace
The first decision when planning for the addition of a fire feature is whether to go with a fire pit or fireplace. To make that decision, some important things to consider are:
What to consider about a Fire Pit
A fire pit is suitable for you and your guests to gather around it, creating an experience that is both intimate as well as interactive – think s’mores!
This situation is especially great for families with children or people who like to entertain, and who want to spend a lot of time around the fire enjoying each other’s company.
While no chimney is necessary, fire pits can produce a lot of smoke. They are generally installed as a permanent patio feature, and location is very important to ensure that the smoke is directed where you want it to go. Working with a landscape designer/architect to ensure your fire pit is positioned in the right place is a good idea.
Fire pits are very easy to use, and can fit any look or feel you like to work seamlessly with an existing patio or furniture. They have the added bonus of generally being less expensive than a fireplace.
What to consider about a Fireplace
A fireplace is designed so that you and your guests will primarily sit in front of it as opposed to around it. This creates a more sophisticated ambiance as well as warmth.
There are many options for fireplace design, and they can make an elegant architectural statement as well as serve as a focal point in your yard or outdoor space. They can have a small footprint, fitting well into both large and smaller patio designs.
The smoke must be directed up and out of a chimney, though can be used even in inclement weather when incorporated into a covered patio design, such as with a pavilion or pergola. Your fireplace can even be designed with a television mounted to it to combine ambiance with entertainment.
Given the design options as well as need for ventilation and smoke management, a fireplace tends to be more expensive than a fire pit.
Wood Burning Fire Pit vs. Gas Fire Pits
With fireplaces, fuel options are pretty straight forward: most require wood. However, a fire pit does allow for options when it comes to fuel source.
What to Consider about a Gas Fire Pit:
There are several important considerations when deciding which type of fuel source to use with your fire pit.
First, consider fuel availability. If you are interested in installing a gas fire pit, it’s important to know if you have the capability to connect to the natural gas line of your home. If not, do you have an appropriate storage option to house a large propane tank that must remain accessible for gas deliveries?
Next, consider convenience. Gas is very convenient to use. Simply toggle an on/off switch and enjoy the warmth. There is no ash to sweep up or dispose of, and no wood to store. Gas fire pits are also smoke free, which is particularly desirable if you have allergies or respiratory concerns, or if you simply do not wish to smell like a campfire. Gas heat is also fuel efficient and warm, though possibly not as warm as a wood burning fireplace. In the past couple of years a less-smoke wood burning insert has also become available. It is not smoke free, but the insert does have a considerably less smoke.
With any fire element inside or outside your home, it is crucial to consider safety. With gas, the possibility of leaks is rare, but must be considered. Professional installation is the best option to ensure your safety from leaks.
The initial cost and installation for a gas fire pit can take up to 50% longer than wood. This initial outlay of time is offset by the time saved in the long run from chopping, buying, or storing wood, as well as the time needed to start the fire. With gas, simply turn the switch and you’re ready to go!
What to Consider about a Wood Fire Pit
A wood fire pit can be a great way to use your outdoor space. If you live in a wooded area, chopping your own wood is great exercise and can be a fun family activity. While lighting a wood fire may take a bit more time to start a gas fire, this can also be enjoyable for those looking to get the most out of their outdoor space and feel closer to nature while still close to home.
Wood burning fire pits are less expensive than those that burn gas because you do not have to run a fuel line or install a propane tank, though that time is offset by time needed to obtain, store, and use wood.
While it's best to determine which type of fire pit or fireplace you want to install at the beginning of the project, it’s important to keep in mind that most fire pits and fireplaces can be converted from wood to gas by installing an insert- a gas insert is an upgrade of $2800 to $6000 depending on how far the gas line needs to be run and how much stonework needs to be taken apart and rebuilt.
Financial Requirement for an Outdoor Fire Pit vs. Fireplace
As with any home improvement, cost is an important factor. Fire pits are less expensive than fireplaces in many ways. They involve less expensive materials, and less structural design and labor costs.
Fireplaces, though, will generally increase the resale value of your home more than a fire pit, though both will add value, as will the patio itself.
Spacing Requirement for an Outdoor Fire Pit vs. Fireplace
While the financial costs are an important consideration to make when deciding between a fire pit and a fireplace, it is also important to consider the physical space needed.
While a fire pit itself is small, installing one requires that you take into consideration the wider space around it so that you have adequate seating available to enjoy it.
Because fireplaces require less seating, they require less area to enjoy their benefits, though they do require planning in terms of chimney placement.
The distance away from the house is an important consideration, as well. Because of this, fire pits can be added anywhere on the patio, though fireplaces are typically located along the perimeter.
Other Options for Adding Heat/Warmth to a Patio
In some circumstance a fire pit or fireplace may not be in the cards. Whether the cost is prohibitive or there just isn’t enough space, there are still options for warming the patio and extending the outdoor living season by several weeks.
Gas/Electric Patio Heaters:
These are convenient to place, use, and store. Turn on or off with the flick of a switch and enjoy the ability to control the temperature of your outdoor living space. Heaters are energy efficient, relatively inexpensive to purchase and to use, and are available in gas or electric versions.
An infrared heater projects heat directly to the object below the heater, as opposed to the air below or around the heater. This results in a more direct, controlled source of warmth.
Fire tables are similar to a fire pit, but provide a more high end luxury feel. Great for entertaining, a fire table also allows for easy on and off use, and is energy efficient.
There is much to consider when choosing a fire element for your patio. Both fire pits and fireplaces offer ambiance and warmth. Both offer opportunities for you and your guests to gather together and enjoy spending time outdoors, even when the weather is chilly.
Either way, you can’t go wrong with choosing a fire element to your patio. Either option will enhance the value of your home while providing opportunities for your friends and family to come together and enjoy time outdoors.
Given the safety concerns of installing a fire element properly as well as the design concerns to ensure seamless integration into your space, working with a landscape designer to custom design and install either option is strongly recommended.
Determine what’s in your budget, click below to help determine what type of fire feature is right for you.