Should I Build a Fire Pit or a Fireplace?

I meet with a fair number of homeowners who say “I either want a firepit or a fireplace.” This uncertainty is actually a great place to start discussing how they’re going to use the space and how much they’d like to invest in the space, because an outdoor fireplace and a firepit are used very differently.

Fairfax Virginia fireplace

An outdoor fireplace is a sizable undertaking. Even the kits typically require a footer at frost depth, and a good mason is important for making the finished product look good. A fireplace tends to set up a more formal outdoor living or dining space, and you’re limited as to how many people can group around the firebox. Because of their size and mass, fireplaces are usually the dominant focal point of an outdoor space. However, their location next to the patio means that  you still have flexibility of layout and function on your patio.

Firepits are simpler to construct, making them less expensive than fireplaces. Firepits are also generally less formal than fireplaces. If you have visions of a garden dinner party on a summer’s evening in front of the fireplace, you probably have visions of incendiary marshmallows with the kids around a firepit.

Northern Virginia rectangular firepit with fire brick liner

MJ and I have a small portable firepit and we love it. However, it works for our small patio because it’s not built in. We  can drag it into the grass while we’re prepping and eating dinner, then shift the table to the grass and use the firepit when the sun goes down. A permanent, built in firepit means that that’s all you’re going to use that section of patio for. I think they’re great if you have the space, but if space or money (or both) are tight, a firepit may not be the best choice.

Space planning is a critical part of ensuring your northern Virginia landscape design performs as needed, especially when introducing large items like firepits and fireplaces. If you’re interested in learning the best way to introduce a fire feature into your landscape, contact me at 703-679-8550 to set up a meeting.

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