Wouldn’t it be nice if, on a cold winter afternoon or a cool early-spring evening, you could gather with friends in your own back yard around a crackling fire? If that sounds like an ideal way to enjoy the outdoors, then a firepit can be your answer.
But what kind of firepit? How big should it be? How will you use it? Where will it fit in your backyard landscape? These are among the questions to consider when you begin to plan for that addition to your landscape design, says Gardens of Babylon landscape designer Mike Omar.
Gas or Wood Firepit?
“The first thing I ask a client is if they prefer a gas or wood-burning firepit, and I would say that 70 percent want gas now,” Omar says, noting that the advantage of gas is the immediate gratification of turning on the fire when you’re ready for it, and turning it off when you’re done with it – no after-fire cleanup involved. A wood-burning firepit requires more set-up time, using starter logs and adding wood as it burns to keep the fire going.
A custom designed gas firepit requires extra considerations, of course. The gas company taps into the home’s gas line to connect to a fireplace insert; the landscape building crew then builds a block or other veneer around the insert. “That, plus other considerations – if the insert uses lava rock or broken glass for the base of the fire, for example – that will drive how we want to design a firepit,” Omar says.
It’s important to consider how much time you plan to spend around the fire, as well, and at what temperature. A gas firepit will produce a cozy fire on a cool evening, but it won’t produce nearly as much heat as a woodburning firepit. “A gas firepit will be minimally warm, but if we get down to 18 degrees, a gas fire is not going to put out enough heat to stay cozy and warm for long.”
And if you’re planning to use the firepit for an occasional cookout, keep in mind that you can’t cook on a gas firepit, but you can cook over a wood fire, Omar says.
Consider Your Style
The style of a firepit or fireplace reflects your personality – in other words, the choices are endless! Round, square or rectangular, stone, brick or steel are all design and material options for this landscape feature.
“You will want it to be architecturally cohesive with the house or outdoor living space,” Omar believes. “The shape is an individual design decision.” In general, a square firepit is more in tune with a contemporary or modern design, he says. “In a more traditional design, it’s usually round, which has a little more movement to it.”
A custom, built-from-scratch stone firepit starts with a concrete base. “We go on the outside with cinder block, and veneer outside that is either brick or stone, with a cap on top of that. Inside is all fire brick,” Omar says.
Is Bigger Better?
The size of a firepit can be determined by the space available in your landscape and the crowd you expect to gather around it. A smaller option would most likely be a pit that’s 30 inches across, which would keep four or five people seated around it comfortably warm. A 48-inch firepit, which can accommodate a circle of eight to ten people, lends itself to entertaining larger crowds. Omar says.
You will also want to map out the seating around the fire. A designer can incorporate a seat wall three to four feet away from the firepit, leaving space for Adirondack chairs or other seating options. “Generally speaking, you need at least a four-foot radius around the whole firepit for seating,” Omar says. “With the firepit, by the time you add the seating around it, you generally need about 120 square feet of space.”
Size may also dictate placement in the landscape. The firepit can be part of the hardscape in a patio design, or farther away from the house. “It can be cool and natural out in the yard, maybe on a crushed stone base, with seating boulders,” for example. “You can create that space in a lot of different ways.”
To discuss ways to include a firepit or fireplace in your landscape design plans, book a consultation with a Gardens of Babylon landscape design team professional here.