WHAT IS THE BEST FIRE FEATURE FOR MY LANDSCAPE?
From the crackling sound and the dance of the flame to the delightful smell of wood, fire features can give you hours of backyard enjoyment with family and friends throughout the year. One of the best ways to gather with friends and family is outside, of course! Sharing a meal, enjoying a cocktail, playing games with kids and catch with the dog are what help to bring our homes and spaces that we live to life. But as the seasons cool, those activities can be cut short. There are only so many blankets and socks that you can pile on! Adding a fire feature to your space can help to extend the season by warming things up a bit. It can even allow you to enjoy the outdoor landscape in the middle of winter. So, whether its early spring, late fall or the occasional cool summer evening or even winter; a glowing fire is a natural gathering place and season extender. When it comes to choosing a fire feature for your space, you have lots of options. But with options like fireplaces, fire bowls and fire pits, which fire feature is right for you? Let us explore some things to consider.
WHAT CAN YOUR SPACE ACCOMMODATE?
Obviously, fire is hot and can be dangerous, so you want to be sure that you have enough clearance between the fire feature and any combustible surface (house, fences, garages) to remain safe. For most fire features, 15 feet is usually an acceptable minimum distance. You or your landscape architect/designer should talk with your local city or village to understand the exact requirements for your area. You will also want to find out if fire features are even allowed where you live. Some cities have no problem with wood burning fire features, other cities will only allow gas burning features while other cities will not allow fire features at all. Be sure to check with your local governing agencies as your first step. Nothing like getting excited about something then having your hopes and dreams dashed.
Fireplaces are beautiful and stately structures in the landscape. They not only provide warmth but are also a nice focal point and on occasion, added privacy. Fireplaces will require the most space. Although the actual footprint of a fireplace can be relatively small depending on the style you go with, a fireplace will typically have a patio area in front of it to accommodate seating and dining. If you are thinking of a cozy dining experience by the fireplace, you will want enough room for your table and chairs, room to walk around them without needing to move the chairs as well as being sure that chairs are a comfortable distance from the heat of the fireplace. The shape of your patio and whether is extends directly in front of your fireplace or sits off in front and to the side of the fireplace is something that you and your designer will explore together. Fireplaces can be customized to meet your needs. For example, if your décor lends itself to a more modern feel, then you may opt for a shorter square fireplace, instead of the traditional tall flue, and go for more minimal lines and details. If your décor is more rustic, you may opt for a chunky stone with a rough finish to add to that rustic feel. Other things to consider when designing your fireplace is if it makes sense to add a hearth or if you will want a built-in place to store wood? Details like these are what help to shape the space to your needs and bring your structure to life. A favorite and final detail is deciding what material will line the inside of the fireplace. Selecting the right material and layout for the fireplace lining can add depth, contrast and character. Getting this part right is what will make your fireplace stand apart from the rest.
Fire pits are an excellent feature for cozy gatherings and smaller spaces. It has been said that round tables are the best shape to encourage conversations. A round fire pit lends itself to this same idea. It is easy to see everyone and interact while still enjoying the warmth and beauty of the fire. I believe the same can be true of a square fire pit as the casualness of fire pits allow you to make use of the corners, when gathering, and still ultimately create a circle for conversation and interacting. Fire pits usually have nice wide copings that can double as a ledge to rest your feet or your drink on. As with the fireplace, you will want to consider the size of the seating area around the fire pit. At a minimum, a round fire pit will be roughly a 5-foot diameter on the outside edge and roughly a 3 foot diameter for the interior circle. A comfortable distance from the fire, when sitting, it about 2 to 2.5 feet. From there, think about how much room the chair will need. Smaller chairs will only require about 2 feet of space. Larger Adirondack chairs may require closer to 3 feet of space. Finally, give each chair a bit of space for walking behind it, 1.5 to 2 feet should be sufficient. In total you will need a sitting area of at least 5.5 to 6 feet outside of the fire pit. There are many options to choose from when designing your fire pit. From tall to short, round to square or rectangle and do you prefer natural or synthetic stone? Gas, natural wood burning or electric? There is also the coping to consider. Will you go with a bluestone coping, limestone or a man-made stone? Whichever you choose, don’t forget, the interior lining. Again, as with the fireplace, this gives you the opportunity to add contrast and character to your structure. It really does add that wow factor that your friends and family will compliment you on every time.
Fire bowls are another great fire feature and tend to have the smallest footprint. They add warmth and can also act as an element of décor, almost like a permanent tiki torch. This type of fire feature often end up being gas operated and can nicely accent the tops of columns to help define the boundaries of a space such as pool areas or mark the entrance of a space or pathway. Since they are usually gas operated, you will need to factor in having a gas line installed, by a licensed plumber, from the gas meter to the fire bowl. The final detail in designing your fire bowl is selecting decorative rocks to display on top. There are many options to choose from such as glass rocks, which add a sparkle and possibly color to your space to lava rocks, which have a duller finish and more casual feel.
BUILDING YOUR FIRE FEATURE
A well-built solid foundation is the starting place of any well-constructed structure. Your climate and material selection will largely determine the type of foundation needed for your project. Here are some examples. Structures made from natural stone will likely be heavier than structures made with man-made stones and therefore require a more substantial foundation. When a natural stone structure is built, mortar is added to adhere the pieces of stone together as well as an internal structure of concrete blocks for support. The end result, it a very heavy structure that will require footing that extend about 3.5 to 4 feet into the ground, to be able to endure years of freeze and thaw below ground. This is especially needed for areas where the ground freezes hard during the winter months. Whereas a fire pit made from man-made material may only require a compacted gravel base as a foundation. Check with your contractor on the best method for your climate and space. Working with an experienced contractor will make all the difference in the world. You want your investment to shine and impress for many years to come so working with someone who knows the details of how to build the right way is the most important decision of your process.
How do you envision using your space with your new fire feature? Are you thinking of small intimate gatherings? An open space for large parties and lots of adults, children and pets? Starting with a good design takes your needs into account a good a good first step. These are permanent structures, so getting help to think through the details and planning them out well before installation is an excellent next step. We want your space to be beautiful and one that brings you and your family years of memories and enjoyment. So, we leave you with this final thought…
The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it. – Frederick Law Olmsted