Hot trend: Outdoor fireplaces, fire pits rise in popularity
As Southern California recovers from scorching heat, some of us may find it hard to believe that fall is only a week away. Others, however, already have their sights set on building or sprucing up outdoor fireplaces/fire pits in anticipation of entertaining and cooler days ahead.
Not only can these additions transform your backyard from drab to fab, but with summer unofficially over, bargains may be available for the taking.
“People are fascinated with outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, and rightly so,” said Donald Miller, showroom manager of Ferguson Enterprises and Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in San Diego. “They provide a focal point for the outdoor space that you can easily design around. In the case of fire pits, they are surprisingly inexpensive in comparison to other parts of hardscape outdoors, where outdoor space can be so large and difficult to design,’’
Expansive areas once dominated by grass now feature fireplaces, fire pits and fire tables. All take the idea of a campfire to a new level. While wood-burning fixtures add the smell of the outdoors, many homeowners opt for newer gas versions that are easier on the environment and meet local air quality restrictions.
Fire pits increasingly have become an easy and affordable way to heat things up outside. These pits – actually they resemble boxes or oversized stainless steel bowls – seem to invite people to gather around them while adding an intriguing twist to outdoor lighting. And while fire elements are trending for backyards, they have also become popular additions to condominium complexes and other shared spaces.
“What we found is that fire features offer a third space for people,” said Duane Border, principal with Duane Border Design in downtown Los Angeles. “The first is home, the second is work and the third is the social space you find in multifamily projects. They let you get out of your smaller space so you can enjoy the outside. Just like moths, people are definitely drawn to a flame.’’
Most operate with cleaner-burning fuels, propane or natural gas.
“They don’t provide a lot of heat, but psychologically you feel warm,’’ said Border, who is also president of the American Society of Landscape Architects Southern California chapter. “It really is more about the ambience, the glow, that reason to be there. Water features have been a classic landscape feature for some time, but they look the best when they have the sun on them. At night, there’s not much interest in them. That’s where fire features come in,’’
The newer fire pits and fire tables are used more as pieces of furniture with the obvious built-in benefit. They also are relatively affordable options for those who don’t want to invest in more expensive alternatives such as outdoor fireplaces.
“Fire pits provide a focal point in the backyard design,” Miller said. “Lynx makes one that has a table around it, which makes it a perfect gathering place to entertain and gives you a place to set down your glass of wine. I have a fire pit in my backyard and find just watching the dancing flames very relaxing. It also is great when the kids have friends over and provides a great place to roast marshmallows and make s’mores.”
Movable fire pits, tops among outdoor “furniture” choices this season, range from portable tabletop gas versions about the size of a toaster to those equipped with their own tables and large enough to position chairs around. Fixed fire features – fireplaces or fire pits – can enhance backyard/patio designs, but they must meet specific fire district and city building codes.
Miller said he prefers devices using gas because they don’t leave you smelling like a bonfire and require minimal cleaning. Whichever option you choose, consider space and safety.
“Carefully measure the area,” he said. “These units (fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, etc.) take up a considerable amount of space. You want to ensure that your fire pit is in a very accessible area as it will probably be the most trafficked area of your backyard.”