As the temperature drops, outdoor fireplaces can be the key to enjoying year-round outdoor living at your home.
Cooler weather means it can be challenging to continue enjoying the outdoor living areas of our homes. These great outdoor living areas become unused spaces for a weeks or months each year (depending on where you live) as we retreat indoors.
What if, though, you could make them more useful year-round? What if your outdoor living areas could be fantastic in winter, as well as summer?
An outdoor fireplace is a great addition to an outdoor room or alfresco area. Not only does it provide heat and warmth that helps expand your use of your outdoor living area … it also creates a beautiful focal point.
Fires are a really primal thing for us. They are a symbol of gathering, of life, of protection. Campfire-side chats, toasting marshmallows and drinking hot chocolate (or something stronger), whilst enjoying an evening staring into the flickering, orange glow, can be an instant relaxer for most of us.
So, let’s look at the things to consider when planning an outdoor fireplace for your home …
The plinth seat extends around the fireplace as its hearth. Wood storage is done really well here, keeping things tidy and aesthetically pleasing. [Image Source: Gardenista]
This Morso Forno fireplace can sit on a tripod, on the ground, or on this stand. It looks like a little UFO doesn’t it? [Image Source: Cradle Mountain Fireplaces]
What does your Council allow?
Council rules vary, depending on where you live, for any fireplace – external or internal.
Mostly there are rules associated with ‘smoke nuisance’ to neighbours in urban and suburban areas. Gone are the days where you’d sweep all the leaves in the gutter and light them there! Or get a bonfire going in your garden to incinerate the rubbish! (Remember that?! or am I showing my age …)
There may also be requirements associated with its position – how far it can be from nearby vegetation, or buildings / other homes.
This may dictate the type of fireplace you can install, and the type of fuel you can use for it.
James Russell Architect’s Oxlade Drive House locates a fireplace in this screened outdoor room. The chimney extends above head height (when seated), and the fireplace is integrated with the BBQ and built from similar materials to seating and flooring. [Image Source: James Russell Architect]
Australian studio Architecture Architecture has renovated a Melbourne house, changing its south-facing position to maximise solar orientation and create a private internal courtyard. The original fireplace was exposed to create this outdoor fireplace, and seating plinths work both ways to create a great indoor-outdoor connection. [Image Source: Architecture and Design]
Fireplace or Firepit?
A fireplace is basically a box of some sort with a chimney. The ‘box’ can be fabricated from lots of materials, and either pre-made and installed, or built on site.
A fire-pit is either sunk in the ground, or sits as a free-standing, open bowl for containing the fire. They can integrate seating, or be a stand-alone fire source.
Fireplace in MAKE Architecture’s “House Reduction” Project [Image Source: Lunchbox Architect]
Off-the-shelf firepit setup is available from Estia Fireplaces [Image Source: estiadesign.com.au]
Permanent or portable?
There are so many options available now – in both fireplaces and firepits – that can be taken with you when you go.
Or better still – moved around to warm wherever the party is at.
If you use your outdoor area in lots of different ways, or want to completely pack away the fireplace in the warmer months, choosing a portable model is a great solution.
If you’re willing to commit to a built-in, permanent structure, you certainly can access more material choices and create a feature for your outdoor area.
The fire doesn’t have to be burning for the fireplace to be a focal point. The fireplace or firepit structure can be a gorgeous architectural element that links to materials used in your home, or simply creates a dramatic statement in its shape and size.
Love the geometric nature of this landscape design – and the way the fire pit integrates so well with it. [Image Source: Pinterest]
Buying a ready-made cauldron or cast-iron fire bowl like this may help you create your outdoor fireplace much faster! [Image Source: Chiminea]
Where will you locate it?
If you’re building it in permanently, consider whether it will be a free-standing element within your outdoor living area, or attached to something else.
Some great examples pictured show the fireplace sitting on the outside of the home’s wall. It is even possible to create a fireplace that works internally and externally from the same hearth.
Alternatively, the outdoor fireplace can be integrated with some outdoor built-in seating.
Sometimes the hearth of the fireplace is also a seating zone – extending as a large ledge. Or in large firepits, a circular seating arrangement is located around the fire area so you can get close to the heat source.
It often seems logical to locate the fireplace so seating can be arranged around it – and looking at it. However, if you’re only using the fireplace a few months a year, that location may not be a flexible choice for other seasons.
If you’re building in the fireplace, consider whether other built-in elements will work when the fireplace isn’t in use. Also review whether flexible furniture arrangement will enable you to change your focal point at different times of the year.
The Mackay Terrace home by Shaun Lockyer Architects integrates seating with the fireplace design. [Image Source: Shaun Lockyer Architects]
One of my personal faves, this off-form concrete fireplace is integrated with the home’s construction, and casual seating is available both inside and out. Designed by MAKE Architects [Image Source: MAKE Architects]
What materials will you use?
There are SO many options for fireplaces and firepits these days, we are spoilt for choice.
You can build it from concrete, stone, brick or concrete blockwork to create a masonry fireplace. Masonry materials are heavy in thermal mass, so they will hold the heat well after the fire has gone out. This can be a great consideration if your external fireplace sits on a wall of your home, as the masonry material will provide warmth back into your home as the air temperature drops.
Steel and cast-iron fireplaces and firepits are other options. These can be in the fireplace itself, or as a pre-made insert you can build into a fireplace structure.
A free-standing metal fireplace with its own chimney makes for easy installation and an almost sculptural focal point on this deck. Renovation of a Robin Boyd home by Stephen Jolson [Image Source: honestlywtf.com]
A very contemporary firepit design, where the fire source is integrated into a table element. Image Source: Colorado Homes and Lifestyles]
What type of fuel?
Outdoor fireplaces can utilise a few different types of fuel:
3. Biofuel such as ethanol
Each will have different installation requirements and burning conditions.
Which one you choose will come down to a personal preference, how much heat output you’re seeking from the fireplace, and what infrastructure needs to be run to install the fireplace.
The crackle of a wood-burning fireplace can be lovely – however, they can take some time to get going, can create a lot of smoke if not adequately managed, and can also be messy with charcoal and embers.
You may prefer a gas or biofuel option which is much more an on/off option. Biofuel fireplaces generally have a much lower heat output than other fuel choices. Gas fireplaces have requirements in terms of supply and ventilation.
If you’re putting in a wood fire, consider where wood storage will be. This is a way of storing it that also looks great – you can buy this beautie! It’s Australian made, and available from Unearthed [Image Source: Remodelista]
AK47 Designs have a range of beautifully designed firepits you can buy ‘off-the-shelf’ based on your needs. This one has an integrated seat and wood storage. Brace yourself … they’re well-made, beautifully designed, and an investment item [Image Source: AK47 Design]
Ready to toast marshmallows yet?
Your dream outdoor fireplace may look like one of the glorious examples pictured in this blog.
Or it may be a ready-made, portable firepit you simply sit in the garden and pull some chairs up to.
Whatever your budget, and whatever choices you want to make for your home, an outdoor fireplace is a gorgeous way to gather family and friends together during the cooler months, and extend the use of your outdoor living areas at home.
So get planning, creating and building … so you can toast those marshmallows, and enjoy a winter’s evening staring meditatively into the flickering flames of your outdoor fireplace.
You can read more about the top 10 things every great outdoor room needs here …