Whether you imagine cuddling up under a blanket with a loved one while listening to the hiss and crackle of a wood fire, or you wish for a centerpiece for your nighttime parties, a fire feature is a wonderful addition to many outdoor spaces. In fact, on a cold evening, there are few things better than a roaring fire.
A fire feature, however, is unlike most other outdoor amenities. There are many factors that affect safety and your enjoyment of it. You need to discuss prevailing wind direction, location, design style, size, and space requirements with a landscape design professional. They will help you plan the perfect outdoor fireplace for your backyard by informing you of the practical and aesthetic considerations involved.
Ask Yourself “Why”
Why do you want a fire feature, how do you plan to use it, how frequently, and with whom? All of this will help you determine some of the critical details of your fire feature from its principal function in your outdoor environment to how it relates to other features in the landscape.
Function Before Form
Before getting into a deep discussion about size and style, think about the primary function of your fire feature. Do you need it to generate heat and the experience of a real fire, or are you purely interested in the visual effect?
- Gas Fire: Gas fires don’t put out as much heat as wood fires, but they still give you the magical, visual effect. This makes them an exceptional choice for smaller spaces where you want to avoid the potential nuisance of smoke or sparks, and where heat is not a priority.
- Wood Fire: A wood-burning fire is all about the heat. If the firebox and chimney are constructed properly, a fireplace radiates heat toward you. A fire pit, on the other hand, generates heat in a diffusive ring, which is ideal for large groups. In both cases, you get to enjoy the sound and scent of fire alongside the heat, which you lose with gas.
Think about how your fire feature will relate to your whole outdoor environment. Should it be a massive stone fireplace, the focal point of an outdoor living room? or a simple fire pit at your poolside lounging area? If you have ample space, you might envision something like a simple fire ring in a clearing away from the main activity areas. Siting your outdoor fire feature correctly is a critical step in the design process, which is why it’s essential to talk through everything with your landscape designer so they can create the results you want.
Size and Style
Once you know your “why,” start getting into the specifics of your fire feature. A well-designed outdoor fire feature fits the size and scale of your area. The good news is that you have many options when it comes to size and style.
A masonry fireplace can be built as a stand-alone feature in your landscape—essentially a stone wall that acts as a privacy screen—or it can be built as part of a patio or covered structure such as a pavilion or pergola. In most cases, it’s a work of art and an intriguing focal point in your expansive landscape.
However, if that doesn’t work for you, a masonry fireplace can also be worked into your property. It can be integrated into a retaining wall or built into a porch attached to the main house. There are even applications where a fireplace can be built against an exterior wall of a house and facing outward on an adjacent patio (see Bullock residence photo).
Propane-Fueled Fire Tables or Fire Rings
If your backyard can’t accommodate a magnificent hearth and chimney, you might consider a propane-fueled tabletop fire or fire ring instead. These features are ideal for more intimate sitting areas and smaller yards. Some are even portable, providing the ultimate in flexibility, while others can be sized and styled to exactly fit your space.
For especially tight spaces, there’s the chimenea: a small ceramic stove, usually gourd-shaped and made of colorfully painted clay. A chimenea makes a charming addition to a small courtyard or private patio, producing a lot of heat. The fuel traditionally burned in a chimenea is mesquite wood which offers up a wonderfully rich scent as it burns.
In the end, your landscape designer can help you decide the best option for you based on your situation and budget. They’ll take into consideration the size of your overall environment, so you don’t end up with a tiny chimenea being swallowed up in a 1,000-sqft backyard.
The Ideal Outdoor Fire Feature
There are many viable options for installing a fire feature in your backyard. A landscape architect will listen to all of your concerns and help you choose the appropriate size, type, location, and features to help you create the experience you’ve always wanted. The end goal should be to design a beautiful scene that gives you another reason to be outside and enjoying your yard.
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.