Hot Debate: Outdoor Fireplace or Fire Pit?

Suzanne Oliver
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Photo by Deidra Walpole courtesy of GreenSceneLandscape.com

Photo by Deidra Walpole courtesy of GreenSceneLandscape.com

 

“An outdoor living room is high on everyone’s wish list,” says Scott Cohen, president and supervising designer of Green Scene Landscape. And a fire feature is top of mind when it comes to anchoring that outdoor room, he adds. (Cohen’s Los Angeles-based company specializes in backyard luxuries such as pools, spas, kitchens and, of course, fire features.)

The question of whether to opt for a fireplace or a fire pit comes up a lot in Cohen’s landscape design and construction firm. “It’s really a battle of the sexes,” he says. A woman, he explains, pictures herself lounging next to a romantic fireplace, sipping a glass of wine and planning her next vacation with her husband. While a man, he continues, instantly thinks of enjoying scotch and cigars around a fire pit with his buddies.

On the plus side, both structures provide a visual focal point while giving off warmth and light. A popular amenity, they also allow homeowners to use their back yards more often, not just in the spring and summer. Since the beginning of time, Cohen adds, man has sat around fires and swapped stories. The hypnotizing dance of the flames and the shared closeness sparks conversation and camaraderie. Perhaps most enticing, it puts people at ease. “You almost can’t be in hurry around a fire,” Cohen says with a laugh. Sitting around a fire “is a deep-seeded enjoyment that we all share.”

Scott Cohen, far left, is roasting marshmallows, a time-honored tradition.

Scott Cohen, far left, is roasting marshmallows, a time-honored tradition.

 

Lighting a fire is undoubtedly pleasant, but which structure, a fireplace or fire pit, is the best choice? Each one has its own list of benefits and limitations, as seen below.

Fireplace

  • Can only seat four to six people at a time, all facing the hearth.
  • Calls for couches, tables and chairs, which is an added cost.
  • Does a good job of blocking the wind.
  • Bigger structure blocks views. Can be a negative or a positive, depending on the view.
  • More privacy from neighbors.
  • More expensive. (Cohen quoted $4,000 to $24,000.)
  • Permits and inspections to consider.
  • Nothing anchors an outdoor room like a stone/brick fireplace.

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Fire pit

FireplaceBook

Also check out Cohen’s book “Outdoor Fireplaces & Fire Pits.”

  • Entertains more people at one time. Ten to 12 people can circle around, facing each other, which in turn encourages more conversation.
  • Easier to incorporate built-in seating.
  • There’s nothing to block the wind, which may scatter embers about.
  • Smaller structure doesn’t block views.
  • Less privacy.
  • Less expensive. (Cohen quotes $3,000-$6,000.)

More Considerations

  • Many communities either don’t allow or frown upon the burning of wood. Today’s trend is to use lava rock, fake logs or crushed, recycled glass.
  • Fire bowls made of precast concrete or hand-carved stone are all the rage. (Examples in the image above).
  • Fire pits don’t have to be just round; they can be any shape.

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All photos are courtesy of GreenSceneLandscape.com.

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