image credit: architectureau.com
A fire feature can make a beautiful addition to your hardscape design. With its fascinating flames, an outdoor fireplace or a firepit can dress up a dreary backyard and help to make it feel like the ultimate outdoor area.
Aside from the beauty it provides, an outdoor fire feature also brings functionality and value to your property, especially if you love entertaining guests outdoors, relaxing on cold evenings, or simply making s'mores over the open flame.
Setting up an out-of-doors fire feature may be challenging if you don't know the basics of building one. In this comprehensive guide, we'll help you select the best type of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits so you can enjoy the great outdoors while staying warm and cozy all year round.
We'll also walk you through the regulations and construction standards when building outdoor fireplaces or firepits. Read on to discover the benefits of incorporating a fire feature and learn everything you need to know to help you select the best option for your family's needs and home style.
Choosing between a fireplace and a fire pit
So, the burning question is: would you prefer a fire pit or a fireplace?
Fireplaces are box-shaped and have a chimney. It can be constructed from a wide variety of building materials. You can build it directly or order it pre-made and have it installed on site. This is perfect for permanently warming up your outdoor living area.
Fire pits, on the other hand, are bowls that contain the fire. It’s great for toasting marshmallows or simply huddling around the fire. It can be sunken or free-standing.
Whichever you choose, we recommend that you include a cosy seating near or around the fire.
What are the different types of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits?
While fireplaces and fire pits are technically different based on their build and structure, their types don't vary that much. Below are the various types of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits you can commonly find in Australia:
Wood-Burning – This is ideal for getting that smokey, crackling, or roaring fire, which gives you that 'camping' atmosphere. Wood-burning fire pits are essentially a replica of a campfire, but the fire is contained in a limited space.
Portable – These are standalone fireplaces and fire pits that allow you to move the heat from one place to another. Some of these portable fire pits and fireplaces have wheels. They are also usually lightweight and are easy to store. Overall, this type is less costly than built-ins.
Propane-Burning – This type burns hotter than wood-burning fireplaces or fire pits, making it ideal for heating up big outdoor spaces. What's more, unlike wood-burning types, you don't need to clean up embers or ashes after using a propane-burning fireplace or fire pit.
Ethanol-Burning – This is an eco-friendly option because ethanol (a.k.a. bioethanol) is a renewable plant-derived biofuel. This biofuel usually comes from harvesting crops like rice, corn, and sugar cane. It's smokeless, odourless, and doesn't release harmful toxins. However, it produces less heat than wood-burning fireplaces and fire pits, so it's ideal to use during summer nights.
Electric – While electric fireplaces are common indoors, there are some electric fireplaces that are rated for outdoor use as well. These outdoor electric fireplaces have weatherproof casing, which protects them from outside elements. However, outdoor electric fire pits are not a thing since a fire pit has an open or exposed design.
What materials can I choose from for an outdoor fireplace or fire pit?
You must choose durable materials when building a fire pit or a fireplace as you'll be setting them up outdoors where elements like ice, dirt, or rain can damage them. The specific materials will depend on your design preferences and the style of your house. Here are some of the most common materials you can use for your outdoor fire feature:
Brick – Whether you own a traditional, country-style property or a modern one, brick can beautifully integrate with different types of architecture. The material is suitable to use for the whole fireplace, even for the chimneypiece and hearth.
Stone – Like brick, a stone fireplace or fire pit can integrate well with both modern and rustic-style homes. When using stones, you can opt for natural stones or man-made ones. Natural stones usually have a rugged look, which gives a 'spontaneous architectural' feel. On the other hand, artificial stones or faux stones replicate the look of natural stone but come in more standard sizes. This makes them easier to install than natural stone.
Image credit: Designscapes Colorado
Stucco – Made from hardened sand, cement, and lime, stucco is popular in outdoor fireplaces and pits because it is highly durable and requires little maintenance. Like bricks and stones, it's ideal for both contemporary and traditional-style homes.
Image credit: Burntech.com
Concrete – A concrete fire pit or fireplace is ideal for modern-style homes. The material can withstand harsh climates and weather conditions. Since it's highly durable, it won't need regular upkeep.
Image credit: Brent Humphreys
Cast Iron and Steel – Because of its high carbon content, cast iron is completely sturdy and is not easily prone to rusting even when exposed to moisture. This material also radiates heat evenly. Steel, on the other hand, may not be as durable as cast iron, but it's more lightweight and is less expensive. Both cast iron and steel fireplaces and pits quickly get hot, so you should avoid touching them during and after usage.
Image credit: Wrought Studio
Fuel for your fireplaces and fire pits
Of course, the type of fuel you need for your outdoor fireplaces and fire pits depend on the kind of fire feature you want installed. Gas, wood, and biofuel are the most commonly used types of fuels in Australia.
Each one requires a specific installation to support the burning conditions. This is a matter of personal preference (to how much warmth your outdoor space needs). However, the homeowner must consider the council’s opinions. In some states, the council suggests the type of fireplace which suits the home better.
Wood is a lovely fuel. Homeowners can’t resist the crackle from the burning wood, as well as its flickering orange glow. It’s the one that produces the highest heat output. However, it takes a long time before it produces a flame and may produce an irritable amount of smoke. It can also be messy.
Image credit: Eric Sanman from Pexels
You need to follow a lot of strict requirements of the fuel supply and ventilation before building gas fireplaces. That turns off most of the homeowners, but if the council requires it for your home, you need to comply.
Biofuel such as ethanol has the lowest heat output of all the three fuel choices.
How does an outdoor fireplace or a fire pit work, and how easily can one be installed?
Each outdoor fireplace or fire pit works differently based on their types and what fuel they use.
If you're using a wood-burning fireplace, you should create a fire bed, place your fire lighters (colourless and glossless paper or dry kindling wood), then light a fire. It should take about 10-15 minutes for flames to pop up and for heat to disperse.
Propane fireplaces are much easier to use as you can turn them on and off through a switch. You don't need to kindle anything to start a fire. Also, adjusting the flame's intensity is as easy as 1-2-3 by turning a knob on the fire feature.
For ethanol fire pits and fireplaces, pour bioethanol fuel into the burner and use a lighter to ignite those mesmerizing orange-yellow flames. The fuel is set to burn for around 4-5 hours. You can extinguish it by starving the flame of oxygen and closing the lid of the fire pit.
Installing a fireplace or a fire pit is easy when you engage an expert builder to design and construct the fire feature. If you have an existing patio, creating a new fireplace won't take long. On average, some builders-slash-designers take around 5-15 days to finish a fireplace project.
A fire pit is easier to install and can be built within 1 or 2 days. However, building the patio along with the fireplace itself would take a few months. The exact duration depends on how much work you want done on your hardscaping.
What is the heat output of a fireplace vs. a fire pit?
On average, an outdoor fireplace produces around 40,000-150,000 BTUs. If the firebox of the fireplace is larger than usual, these numbers can increase. The exact number will also depend on the fuel used. For example, gas fireplaces can produce around 8,000-60,000 BTUs, while wood-burning models can heat up to 20,000-40,000 BTUs.
Since the flame is not contained in a fire pit, the air can move the heat out of the space. However, a fire pit can still produce around 30,000-100,000 BTUs on average, which is quite close to a fireplace's typical heat output.
Pricing guide: fireplaces vs. firepits
The average outdoor fireplace cost is around $200-$3,500. Building the chimney and the fireplace itself may add around $1,000-$3,000 to your final bill. The exact price of the unit and the installation depends on the type and size of the feature. Check the table below to see the average cost of a fireplace depending on the types or model. Note that this doesn't include the installation fees.
Meanwhile, the average outdoor fire pit cost is $700. The labour cost usually runs from $55 per hour to roughly $340. The exact amount depends on the size and type of fire pit and even your home's location. See the table below for the typical cost of a fire pit depending on its type or material.
Fire Pit Type
Brick Paver or Fire Brick
Stone or Field Stone
In between making it permanent and portable
Installing a permanent source of heat requires a lot of commitment. You will enjoy the outdoors for a long period of time. This option also offers more material choices. Use that advantage to build a stunning architectural feature. Let it be the focal point of your outdoor living space.
On the other hand, a portable one allows you to move the fire around your property. You can hide movable fire pits and fireplaces during summer when it’s not needed.
Finding the best location
Think about the location of permanent fireplaces and fire pits thoroughly. You don’t want to regret this decision in the future. Changing it will be costly.
First, identify whether you want a free-standing or an attached structure within your outdoor living area. Then, decide on how you want to do your seating.
The go-to method is to station a couch or a group of chairs near the heat source. It’s flexible, you can change the layout every season or for a specific occasion. You can also design a built-in seating. Some designers extend the hearth of the fireplace to create a ledge that you can sit on. Some build seats around the fire pit just so you can feel the heat. If you’re planning to have built-in seating in the fireplace, make sure that it will work when the fireplace is not in use.
Is building an outdoor fireplace a part of a bigger home renovation project? Check out our guide to outdoor home renovations here.
Start planning before it gets cold
Upscale your current outdoor living with the addition of fireplaces and fire pits. It’ll be a fun experience to gather around the fire on a winter’s day while toasting marshmallows and drinking a warm beverage. We can help you start planning your dream project so you can enjoy a warmer and cozier alfresco in the winter.
Call Superdraft on 1300 936 740 to discuss your project or get a free quote.