Outdoor fireplaces are hot. A 2005 survey taken by the Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association revealed that Americans spent nearly $150 billion on home remodeling of which one-third of that amount went towards adding outdoor living areas to their landscape design. Further, 67 percent of those surveyed who intended to build outdoor living areas also planned to install outdoor fireplaces or fire pits. The American Society of Landscape Architects confirms this trend: Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces top its list of biggest trends in landscape design for 2007.
Outdoor Fireplaces: Design Considerations
If you’re dreaming of what an outdoor fireplace or fire pit would look like in your back yard, consider the following design issues:
- Break up your landscape design into “rooms” or “zones.” Just as in a house, the “living room” is the central gathering spot and therefore perfect for outdoor fireplaces. In fact, the outdoor fire element serves as an “anchor” for an outdoor living room.
- Consider the views from the house. Where are your focal points? Are there privacy issues?
- At the same time, consider the view from the yard—do you want to take advantage of a view to a bayou, water way or greenbelt?
- Keep in mind that large structures, like outdoor fireplaces, alter the flow of traffic, so design accordingly.
- Work within your overall landscape design. For instance, if you’ve chosen a Mediterranean landscape design or modern landscape design, two very distinctive residential garden styles, you will want the outdoor fire element to be of the same design and of like material.
- Determine the direction of the prevailing wind when deciding where to set this large permanent structure. If needed, you might be able to use the height of a tall fireplace to help screen the winds.
- Integrate with other hardscapes. Outdoor fireplaces play off nicely against luxury swimming pools; each increases the dramatic effect of the other. Also landscape lighting can ratchet up the “wow” factor of your outdoor fire element. Jeff Halper, landscape design specialist at Exterior Worlds, says, “Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are all about ambiance. For example, right now we’re working on a dining area that is situated in front of an outdoor fireplace. We’re in the process of training a tree limb to grow over the dining table. When it gets big enough, we’re going to wire a chandelier to hang from it.”
Outdoor Fireplaces: Don’t Zone Out
While they vary from city to city, most zoning regulations restrict how closely you can construct an outdoor fireplace to all existing buildings. Most regulate side and rear property line setbacks as well. You will also want to check to see if there are rules regarding slope setbacks and height restrictions. A landscape architect or landscape designer will help you navigate through the zoning issues and will design an outdoor fireplace or fire pit especially fitted for your residential property.
Outdoor Fireplaces: Safety First
Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces enhance any landscape design—but only if they are used properly and safely. Safety tips include:
- Always have fire extinguishers on hand.
- Keep all outdoor furniture safely away from any fire source.
- Fire screens are important accessories for outdoor fireplaces. They keep logs from rolling out of the fire and limit air-borne soot and cinders from flying about.
- If using a fire pit, follow the manufacturer’s directions and obey all city regulations.
- For wood-burning fireplaces, it is a good idea to schedule regular professional chimney cleaning. One rule of thumb is to base the maintenance on the amount of wood you burn. Assuming you have no problem with birds’ nest and other debris, you should get your chimney cleaned after burning two cords of wood—however long that takes.
- The #1 safety rule? Use your common sense.
Outdoor Fireplaces: A Lovely Garden Element
“Outdoor fireplaces, wherever they are—as a stand-alone, part of a outdoor kitchen or in a gazebo—are beautiful architectural elements,” says Halper. “And they quickly become the central place where everyone gathers. Everyone wants to have one, especially in winter in this part of the country. They are a luxury that is perfect for the Houston climate.”
Since 1987, Exterior Worlds has been specializing in landscape design for the Memorial Villages (Piney Point Village, Hunter Creek Village, Bunker Hill Village, Hedwig Village), Tanglewood, River Oaks, West University and the greater Hou area. Call them at 713-827-2255 to discuss installing an outdoor fireplace or fire pit in your landscape.