Fire Pit or Fireplace? Tips from Portland Landscaping Experts.

November 05, 2014

Outdoor Covered Structure with FireplaceFire pits and fireplaces can help create a charming outdoor living environment as well as add a unique selling point to any home. While increased home value is certainly a benefit of adding a fireplace or fire pit, most families will appreciate the crackling, flickering magic of gathering around a fire together even more. If you’ve dreamed of a built-in fire element in your Portland landscaping, your first major consideration is whether to choose a fire pit or a fireplace.

First, let’s get some basic definitions out of the way. Fire pits are rings built of stone or manufactured materials. They create a warm atmosphere reminiscent of camping trips. Some fire pits are portable as well, so they are the more flexible option. Fire pits create a social atmosphere perfect for groups of five or more. Fireplaces tend to face one direction; in this aspect they differ from the 360-degree access of fire pits. Fireplaces include a chimney, so they may be installed under a cover, for enjoyment even on rainy and windy days. Their more intimate design means that fireplaces create a more romantic, cozy feel, ideal for smaller groups of one to four people.

The following questions can help you decide between a fireplace or fire pit.

Choosing Between a Fire Pit and a Fire Place: Important Questions to Ask

  • Fire Pit with Seat WallHow many people would you like to accommodate? Their circular, freestanding design means that more people can enjoy fire pits. Let’s say you have a large backyard patio, and you want to allow twenty people to gather around the fire. In this case, a fire pit is definitely the way to go. Fireplaces face one side, so fewer people can simultaneously enjoy their warmth.
  • How much space do you have available away from a structure? Fireplaces are generally better in smaller spaces, as fire pits require more open space away from structures and fences. Fire pits cannot be placed underneath a patio cover, so if you’re hoping to enjoy fires throughout the Pacific Northwest rainy season, a covered fireplace is the best option.
  • What’s your budget? Typically, fireplaces cost about four to five times more than fire pits. Fire pits can range from $700 to $7,000 or more, while the charge for a fireplace could range between $6,000 and $40,000. Material choice will be the largest factor to consider in your overall budget. If we restrict the material to cultured stone, a fire pit might cost $3,000 while the price for a fireplace would be $12,000. Landscape East & West has extensive experience building at all of these price ranges, and we can suggest ways to cut costs while still accomplishing your goals.
  • What are your aesthetic goals? Do you have a specific style in mind? Material selection and overall design can help you meet your design targets. Fire pits can be as simple as a ring of stones with a gravel bottom; or they may be quite extravagant, with built-in seating, a veneered base, and include natural gas for fuel and faux logs. Our designers can work with your budget to help you achieve the look of your dreams.

Pool with Covered FireplaceAnother visual consideration is whether you have stunning views you’d like to enjoy from the fire area. A fireplace will tend to block out these views, while a fire pit can be low enough to the ground to allow breathtaking views to be enjoyed beyond the darting flames.

Once you’ve answered these questions for your family, you’re ready to think about some big-picture variables that factor into both fire pits and fireplaces: Material Choices, and Permitting/Inspection considerations.

Material Choices for Fire Pits & Fireplaces

Both fire pits and fireplaces can be finished with natural stone, manufactured stone including brick, and concrete or steel. Manufactured stones can look naturally consistent. For instance, long, thin manufactured stones for neat stacking are an excellent way to emphasize the architectural quality of your fire pit or fireplace. Here in the Pacific Northwest, our area’s volcanic history has gifted us with a wealth of locally available basalts, excellent natural stones for fire features. Indeed, because we have so much natural stone available locally, it’s not common to build fire pits and fireplaces with brick; however, that is always an alternative option for materials. Finally, for a finished look your Portland landscaping designer can incorporate concrete and/or steel. Portland Landscaping Outdoor Fireplace

You can also choose to burn logs or gas in your fire pit or fireplace. Gas is convenient—once it’s installed, a simple flip of the switch creates consistent fire. However, if you don’t already have gas lines available on your property, a log-fueled fire feature will be the less expensive option.

Permitting & Inspections

In many locations, fire pit and fireplace permits are affordable. They are an easy way to protect both the contractor and the homeowner. A third party will generally come in to ensure that the fire feature is safe; this is an important step to take if you plan on reselling. Probably the most important permitting concern is placement in relation to property lines. Ensure that your fire feature isn’t too close to the wrong property line—otherwise, you could be forced to pay a pretty penny to move it down the road.

Portland Landscaping Fire TableA cozy fire pit or fireplace is a natural draw for visitors and family members alike. As Portland landscape maintenance experts, we’ve seen time and time again how a fire feature can maximize enjoyment of an outdoor space. It’s natural for humans to gather around fires—after all, our ancestors spent generations doing so with their tribes. It’s no wonder, then, that fire features are a “wow” factor for selling your home. For increased home value and maximized enjoyment of your outdoor spaces, consider adding a fire pit or fireplace to your yard. And if you’re still not sure whether a fire pit or fireplace would be best, call us. We are happy to guide you through the process!

Nic NelsonNic Nelson is the Senior Landscape Design Sales Consultant at Landscape East & West. He has a B.A. in Landscape Architecture from University of Oregon and has been practicing landscape design and construction in the Portland area since 2007. He enjoys blending the artistic side of landscape and outdoor living space design with the opportunity to build things and problem solve through the construction process.