If you’re searching for a beautiful way to heat your backyard entertaining space, this guide will help you pick the best outdoor fire feature for you.
Outdoor Fire Features Buying Guide
An outdoor fire pit, bowl, column, or other feature is a great way to heat your outdoor space in evenings and during the colder winter months. These beautiful features also provide a great space for friends to gather and socialize. Sit in a circle on your patio, have a few drinks, roast up some marshmallows, and bask in the warmth emitting from your stylish heating feature.
Because of the array of options available, we’ve taken the time to break each down individual feature in detail, listing its pros and cons. We look at pits, bowls, columns, and tables as well as chimineas, outdoor fireplaces, patio heaters, and more to help you select the right one for your home.
1. Fire Pits
The most popular type of outdoor fire feature is undoubtedly a backyard fire pit. Fire pits literally come in just about any shape, size, and style you can imagine. DIY versions look similar to a campfire while high-end, ready-built models are the pinnacle of luxury.
Many DIY pits are built above ground with stones. The stones are placed in a circle and the fire is built inside. This creates a classic campfire look.
Of course, you can take the campfire look to a new level with high-end building materials. Rare and exotic stones maintain the classic look while giving it an air of elegance. Another DIY option is to build an in-ground pit.
Think of this like a paved patio space with a hole in the middle for a fire. Lowes provides a detailed guide on how to build a fire pit. Not interested in a DIY pit?
Luckily, your options for pre-fabricated fire pits are nearly limitless. These span the range from rustic to modern design, from budget to designer pricing. Almost all of these models are built for aboveground use.
While some are installed in one area permanently, the vast majority are portable. Metal is the most common construction material. Not only is it durable against normal wear and tear, but it also holds up well to high heat and is rust resistant.
Cast iron, stainless steel, and copper are the best choices. The traditional fuel type for a backyard pit is wood. Options other than wood-burning now include propane, natural gas, charcoal, bio-ethanol, and gel.
Completely electric models are also available. Keep your intended use in mind when looking through your options. In addition to providing heating, your pit can serve as a place to grill delicious food.
Thanks to the vast variety of fire pit now available, you should also be able to find one that matches your outdoor décor. These features are just as much about fashion as they are about function.
2. Fire Bowls
The differences between a fire pit and a bowl are slight, yet they’re large enough to categorize each feature separately. While a pit is generally built into the ground or with a ring around an above-ground area, a bowl is more like a portable metal bowl built on legs that a fire is built inside. The easiest way to think of it is like a bird feeder.
The bowl is the bird feeder. Except instead of water, you build a fire in it. And instead of feeding birds, you’re heating the space around it.
The chief benefit of a fire bowl is its portability. They tend to be much smaller and more lightweight than pits. Move your bowl from place to place as needed.
This is especially beneficial in an area with extremely cold winters. You can easily store your bowl in your shed or garage rather than leave it outside to face the elements. Like pits, the style of fire bowls is highly variable.
Numerous designs are available, from traditional or rustic to contemporary or modern. An equally large range of choices is available for fuel type. While some bowls burn wood, the majority are powered by propane or natural gas.
Fire bowls are useful in areas with regulations that restrict pits or outdoor fireplaces. Because they’re self-contained, they’re usually able to get around most regulations, even some of those set by landlords. That doesn’t mean you should use them without caution though.
Wood-burning bowls, in particular, can be dangerous. Never leave yours unattended and always use a screen to limit the number of sparks and embers released. Search for a fire bowl that matches your outdoor furniture, décor, and landscaping for a cohesive backyard look.
3. Fire Columns
A fire column is another unique outdoor fire feature that combines the best characteristics of pits and bowls into a stylish package. As the name implies, this feature is simply a column with space at the top of a fire. Like bowls, most columns aren’t wood burning.
Bowls are generally round while columns are generally square or rectangular. Columns have the additional benefit of a slim design. They take up less room than a bowl, so they’re perfect for small patios.
Most fire columns are constructed from wood or stone materials (except for the interior which is metal). This enables you to add an authentic, natural look to your backyard area. Unlike pits and bowls, the majority of columns are designed for heating and style only.
They’re not the best option for grilling or cooking food.
4. Fire Tables
Source: The Outdoor Great Room Company
One of the most distinctive types of outdoor fire features is undoubtedly a fire table. These specially designed tables are created with both function and fashion in mind. They’re completely usable as a table while also providing the heating benefits of a fire pit.
The center of one of these tables contains a small fire, usually gas powered or electric (and almost never wood burning). The small fire provides plenty of warmth while the table around it is a great place to set items. You have a lot of different options when it comes to fire tables.
They range from end tables to coffee tables to dining tables to bar tables. Select the type that best matches your needs. Remember that the smaller the table, the more portable and easier to move it will be.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of this style of table is its form. The fire at the center of the table is a focal point which draws in everyone’s eyes. These tables are available in an endless variety of styles.
Though rustic and traditional models can be found, the vast majority seem to be created in the modern or contemporary style. A fire table is a perfect way to blend fashion and function in your outdoor entertainment area.
You’ve probably seen a chiminea before, but you might not have known exactly what it was.
Spanish for chimney, these unique fire features are often seen across Mexico as well as in the American Southwest, though they’re recently becoming popular everywhere else. Traditionally, chimineas were constructed from terracotta. Models built with this original material are still available, though those made with modern materials (especially metal) are now much more common.
The goal of a chiminea is much the same as any other fire feature: to provide heat for those sitting around it. The difference is that chimineas resemble a fireplace. In other words, the actual fire is covered with only a small opening in the chimney.
This covered design not only keeps rain from dampening the fire, but it also maximizes the amount of heat produced. The open front door of a chiminea helps direct this heat straight out into the sitting area. Better yet, the chimney on a chiminea directs smoke from the fire upwards.
Unlike with normal backyard fire pits, your guests won’t ever be directly in the smoke’s way. The enclosed nature of chimineas also makes them the safest option. They’re great for homes with children and pets (although safety precautions must still be taken).
Most chimineas are still wood burning. The best types of wood to use are hickory, mesquite, and cedar, although any type can be used. If you’re not a fan of the wood burning variety, natural gas and propane powered chimineas are also available.
Like any other type of fire feature, a nearly endless variety of chimineas are sold. Most still look fairly traditional (think American southwest style), but you have a lot of options for size and type of materials. One last thing to note about chimineas is they’re not designed for cold weather use.
If your area gets extremely cold in the winter, it’s best to store your chiminea in your garage, shed, or basement.
6. Outdoor Fireplaces
An outdoor fireplace is right for you if you want the high heat output of a chiminea, the open flame of a fire pit, and the utmost in safety and tidiness. Very similar to an indoor fireplace, the main difference between the outdoor and indoor variety is simply the location. In addition to its outdoor location, an outdoor fireplace must also be weather resistant.
Even those built underneath a covered patio area should be designed to withstand wide-ranging temperature variation as well as exposure to extreme elements like rain and snow. When it comes to outdoor fireplaces, you generally have two options. You can opt for a built-in fireplace or a portable fireplace.
A built-in fireplace is, as its name implies, built-in to your outdoor area. It’s constructed to remain in one place permanently. The built-in variety must be constructed by a professional.
DIY construction and installation are possible, but the fact that they’re almost always built from scratch means a professional touch is required. A portable fireplace, on the other hand, doesn’t require installation. Simply take yours out of the box, place it where you want it to be located, and you’re good to go.
In this way, portable outdoor fireplaces are quite similar to fire pits and bowls. The main difference is that they tend to be enclosed. Still another option for an outdoor fireplace is an insert.
If you have an old wood burning outdoor fireplace, you can modernize it with a natural gas or propane powered insert. Styles of outdoor fireplaces vary greatly. If yours is constructed from scratch, you can customize it to your specific preferences.
Pre-built versions are available in styles ranging from clean, sleek, and simple to ornate and embossed to simple and traditional. Certain outdoor fireplaces are also available in tabletop versions. Unlike actual fire tables, the fireplace isn’t built into the table.
Instead, it’s a separate piece that’s set on top of the table to provide heat for guests.
7. Patio Heaters
Though not technically an outdoor fire feature, patio heaters accomplish much the same thing. A patio heater is a device that produces heat for an outdoor entertainment space. Numerous models are available, including those that sit on the ground as well as wall-mount, ceiling, and tabletop versions.
Buying a patio heater provides all the heating benefits of a fire without an actual flame. They’re portable, energy efficient, and very safe. In fact, most portable heaters come with built-in safety features.
For instance, they have a switch that turns off automatically if the device tips over, preventing serious emergencies. Though patio heaters were once eyesores, today’s models are beautiful. They’re available in a variety of sizes that fit almost every size and layout outdoor space.
8. Fire/Water Features
If you want a feature that few other people have, it’s worth considering a combination fire and water feature. These features usually combine a small fireplace with a small water fountain. The water fountain has no real benefit other than adding a touch of high-class style.
Of course, a fire/water feature will serve as the focal point of any outdoor space. Add one to your patio and it’s sure to be a guest favorite at your next backyard gathering. Fire/water kits are also available that enable you to convert a fireplace or pit you already have a fire/water combo.
Want to get the same heating benefits of any other outdoor feature without spending all that money? Consider a plain old campfire. Gather some large rocks, place them in a ring, and dig out a small hole in the middle.
That’s all there is to it – you now have your very own fire pit! Sure, it’s rustic, but it gets the job done and has the rustic ambiance of the great outdoors.
There are a few additional factors to keep in mind while shopping for the right heating method for your backyard or patio. These include design considerations, additional outdoor accessories, fire safety, feature installation, and the average cost of the project compared to your budget. Research each of these factors to understand how they factor into your final buying decision.
A. Design Options
Multiple design options allow you to customize your outdoor fire feature to your preferences. Though we briefly discussed some of the above, it’s worth going into style, materials, size, and fuel type in slightly more detail. Remember to think about the style and décor of your backyard when looking at features to find one that works best for your outdoor space.
Here are the most important design factors to consider:
- Style – The most common styles of outdoor features include traditional, rustic, modern, contemporary, Victorian, and southwest.
- Materials – Most outdoor features are constructed from material for their fire-resistant properties. Common types include cast iron, stainless steel, and copper.
- Size – Outdoor features range in size from small hanging patio heaters up to full-blown wall-sized outdoor fireplaces.
- Fuel Type – Wood burning, propane, natural gas, ethanol, gel, and electric are the most common power sources.
If you can’t find a feature that matches your needs or preferences, remember that customized options are available. Though they cost much more than a pre-built feature, you can tailor them, so they look and perform exactly how you like. This route is most common with outdoor fireplaces but can be taken with any feature.
Along the same lines is building an outdoor fire feature yourself. Buy the individual components, no matter the type of feature you’re building, and assemble them exactly how you like.
B. Outdoor Fire Accessories
Outdoor fire accessories can improve the style, function, and safety of your outdoor feature. The best items to use include:
- Tools – Pokers, cooking grates, marshmallow skewers, wood handlers, and tongs are all tools that help you enjoy your backyard fire.
- Screen – A metal screen is key for any wood-burning feature. It prevents embers and ashes from exiting the feature.
- Pads – Place a heavy-duty fire pad underneath your feature to prevent damage and to increase safety.
- Racks/Carriers – Place logs in a rack or carrier so you can easily add them to your wood-burning feature.
- Covers – Cover your feature with a heavy-duty weather-resistant cover when it’s not in use.
Of course, a fire feature on its own isn’t much fun if you have to stand around it. Invest in a fireproof rug and some fire resistance patio furniture to spice up your outdoor entertainment space.
C. Fire Safety
It doesn’t matter what type of feature you’re using – you must treat it with caution. Basic fire safety is to protect your home and family. This starts with common sense: remove all possibly combustible materials from near the feature.
Make sure to stay alert the entire time a fire is burning. Fire safety extends beyond wood-burning features to those powered by propane, natural gas, or even electricity. Any feature that gets hot during use poses a potential hazard.
Ensure that nothing is touching the device that might catch on fire. Perhaps most important, don’t position your feature underneath a low-hanging branch or porch roof. Ensure it’s also at least 10 feet (if not 25 feet) away from any structure.
Aaron from Essential Home and Garden says that fire safety is commonly overlooked when a new outdoor fire feature is installed. Unfortunately, it often takes a loved one being hurt before the mistake is realized. Mother Earth News has a great resource on backyard fire safety.
The difficulty of installing your outdoor fire features depends on the specific feature that you bought. For instance, a built-in outdoor fireplace is much more difficult and time-consuming to install than a portable fire pit. With that said, the majority of today’s fire features are pre-fabricated.
They come as a single piece (or a handful of easily assembled pieces). All that’s required to “install” them is to slap these pieces together. Then place the feature in the location you want it, and you’re good to go.
The only type of feature that likely requires professional installation is an outdoor fireplace. If you opt for a built-in model, expect to spend thousands of dollars hiring a professional contractor to do the work. Fortunately, most other models are ready to go right out of the box.
Almost anyone can install one of these without assistance.
E. Cost and Budget
The cost of buying and installing an outdoor fire feature varies wildly depending on the scope of the project. The first factor to consider is the type of feature. These range from under $100 all the way up to $1,000 and more.
Portable electric features are cheapest. They are also energy efficient, saving you even more money in the long run. Patio heaters are a good option here.
Fire pits and bowls often cost a few hundred dollars upfront. They’re also very energy efficient, paying themselves off in the long run. Other than the cost of wood, the wood-burning models are very cost effective.
The most expensive portable feature is undoubtedly a traditional chiminea. These are hand-crafted from terracotta, thereby their high price. Of course, every type of feature has both budget models and high-end models.
Luxury models that incorporate high-end materials cost much more than budget models. The same goes for customized features. With that said, Fixr.com estimates the average cost to install a fire pit is $700.
They list the average range from $300 all the way up to $1,500 and higher. As far as price goes, the absolute most expensive option is an outdoor fireplace. Even portable models regularly cost between $500 and $1,500 (installation not included).
Built-in permanent fireplaces cost even more. These almost always require professional installation (unless you’re a highly skilled DIYer with plenty of tools). Expect to pay a minimum of $1,500 for a professional to install an outdoor fireplace.
However, ImproveNet states you’re more likely to pay somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000. Top-of-the-line outdoor fireplaces tend to sit around $10,000 to $15,000. It’s easy to spend even more, in tune to $20,000 or $25,000, for a customized fireplace though.
Simply put, there’s an outdoor fire feature to fit all budgets. Set a budget you’re comfortable with ahead of time and then look at features that fit into your price range. You’re sure to find a model that meets all your needs without breaking the bank.
Where to Buy Outdoor Fire Features Online
There are dozens of great places to buy quality outdoor fire pits, tables, bowls, columns, and fireplaces on the Internet. We’ve narrowed down the options to a handful of the very best. These online retailers have the most extensive selections for the best prices.
Intuitive search tools enable you to find exactly what you’re looking for in the blink of an eye. Here are our favorite places to buy outdoor fire features online: