Which Type of Fire Feature for Your Home
When it comes to creating a cozy and inviting outdoor space, few elements can match the warmth and allure of a crackling fire.
Fire features, such as fire pits, fire tables, fire bowls, and outdoor fireplaces, have become increasingly popular additions to outdoor living areas, providing both functionality and ambiance. Whether you're looking to roast marshmallows with loved ones, gather around for conversations on cool evenings, or simply enhance the aesthetic appeal of your backyard, there’s a fire feature that is perfect for your home and your needs.
Hold on…already running off to buy or build one? Where’s the fire? (See what we did there? Believe us. The opportunities for puns are endless.) In all seriousness, a little research before you decide can go a long way in helping you determine the best fit for you—after all, each type of fire feature offers unique characteristics, design options, and benefits.
This month, we’ll answer some of your burning questions (you knew that would happen, right?) about fire features, talk about different use cases, and offer some tips on setting one up.
Ready to get stoked about the options and find your perfect match? (We swear we’re done. That was it. We don’t want to be a liar, liar, pants on… OKAY. ENOUGH.) Read on to escape the cheesy puns, AND to learn more about the different types of residential fire features.
A traditional fire pit serves as both a lighting element and a gathering spot in your back yard. It also makes for a warm, inviting space on chilly evenings (and, for our warm-weather readers, creates a festive bonfire-like ambience even when the nighttime temperature is moderate). A fire pit is a great way to relax, unwind, hang out having great conversations.
Features: Fire pits are open-air fire features typically designed as a circular or square pit, often ringed with stone, metal, or brick. They offer a 360-degree view of the flames and are typically wood-burning, but depending on the build, you can also set them up to use fuels such as gel or propane. We love real wood fires in traditional pits, but remember to check with local air quality and fire restrictions before burning wood outdoors.
You can do an actual dug-out, in-ground pit and ring around it, or make your “pit” on top of a concrete pad and build up around it. Make it as simple as a hole in the ground surrounded by pavers, or build a flag stone structure and add built in seating. We’ve even seen one made out of an empty koi pond As long as the pit is not lined with anything combustible, old garden ponds work perfectly. Ensure that the pond has stone or concrete lining, not PVC, EPDM (a synthetic rubber), or other flammable pond liners, and you’ve got a great starting point.
If you’re seeking compact and/or portable options, or looking for something ready to use right away, free-standing fire bowls offer flexibility in design and placement, fitting well in smaller outdoor areas like balconies, decks, or patios where space may be limited (always remember to check your building or neighborhood/town’s burn regulations and follow any spacing or safety requirements).
The portability (of some models) of fire bowls make them great options if you are looking to bring it with you up to the cabin, to hang out by in the driveway for National Night Out, or to take tailgating or to other gatherings.
There are also several models of “smokeless” fire bowls on the market, such as Solo Stove, for example. These systems, which can burn wood, pellets, or charcoal, depending on the model, produce very little smoke because they use double walls to prevent heat from escaping and a secondary combustion system to burn wood or charcoal completely down to ash.
Features: Fire bowls are compact, bowl-shaped fire features typically made of materials like concrete, cast iron, or copper. They can be placed on a pedestal or directly on the ground and are fueled by wood or gas. Some fire bowls are tabletop models and can sit on top of an outdoor dining table or occasional table. (Small smokeless fire bowl models are especially popular for this.)
For many people, fire tables can be the best of all the worlds. Using (primarily) natural gas or propane for fuel, they do not give off smoke or excessive air pollution (however, they DO need ventilation. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions, use in a well-ventilated area, and keep away from flammable furnishings and décor). They are beautiful workhorses, combining the warmth of a fire with the convenience of a tabletop, providing a dual functionality that is ideal for outdoor dining spaces.
Similar to fire pits, fire tables can come in every size and shape imaginable and are made from myriad materials. Their distinguishing feature is, of course, their extra-wide ledge. Widths can vary from just wide enough for a beverage to deep enough to hold dining plates or to play a game of cards on. Many tables will also come with a topper that can be placed over the fire element (when not in use), converting the unit into a regular, full-sized table, as well. Many tables that use a propane tank (which can be hidden inside the unit, or sit outside of it), as opposed to connected to a natural gas line, are also portable/moveable, meaning if you decide to relocate your social gathering areas to the deck instead of the screen porch, you can bring your table with.
Fire tables typically come in four heights—occasional and chat heights (below the knee and above the knee, respectively); dining height (in the neighborhood of 29”); and pub height (36”-38”+). Whether you want to find a table to go with your existing seating, or buy a new table and appropriate seating together, there is an option for you.
Features: Fire tables combine the functionality of a fire pit with the addition of a tabletop surface surrounding the fire. They are often made of materials like stone, tile, or metal and can be fueled by propane or natural gas.
If space or cost is not a concern; if you live in a windy area; if you want a fixed, permanent feature; or if you don’t necessarily need your fire feature in the middle of your gathering, an outdoor fireplace might be the option for you.
While perhaps not quite the same “interactive” experience as sitting around a fire table or pit, a fireplace still gives you heat and ambiance and adds architectural interest. They are often built into a pavilion, meaning they’re sheltered from the elements, allowing you to use it more often. You can incorporate it into the overall design of an outdoor kitchen or living room, and the chimney and space above the fireplace can be used to mount a TV, truly completing the look and giving you indoor/outdoor living.
Features: Outdoor fireplaces are standalone structures designed to resemble traditional indoor fireplaces but specifically built for outdoor use. They are usually made of stone, brick, or concrete and can be wood-burning or gas-powered.