You see them when you walk through elegant show homes and watch them created on home improvement shows. They can be the elegant centerpieces of your outdoor living area – that place around which everyone gathers. They elevate the look and feel of an outdoor living space and hold a warm place in our hearts when we imagine cuddling near them on cooler autumn evenings. But what exactly is involved in creating an outdoor fireplace, and are they right for you?

Custom built fireplace pit in Charlotte, NC

Stone Paver Fireplace Pit

The first thing homeowners need to understand about a show-stopping outdoor fireplace is that creating one the proper way is a large investment. To do it right, it requires far more than slapping some stone veneer on a wood framework. You’ll need an experienced contractor to draw up and coordinate a plan that works for both your family’s needs and the topographical nuances of your backyard. That includes any steps to accommodate raised or sunken areas, and permanent seating walls around the perimeter of the space.

You’ll want your contractor to map out all the utilities that need to be extended to the space – everything from electricity for lights to water for any water features or a nearby sink if this fireplace is to be a living area extension of an outdoor kitchen. They’ll also want to plan for proper drainage of rainwater as well as disposal of ashes. You’ll want to consider a gas or propane starter – because while the romance of a real wood fire is understandable, the convenience of being able to at least start your wood fire with the flick of a switch is a feature many homeowners embrace. If you are opting for real wood, you’ll need to build in a place to store it that’s convenient and either hidden or somewhat decorative, so you don’t have to haul quantities of wood from across the yard every time you want a fire. You’ll also want to select beautiful, durable materials that are designed to last – like stone or brick – and those tend to come with a premium price tag both in terms of material and labor costs. Last but not least, you have to consider that an expansive outdoor fireplace is designed to be the centerpiece of your backyard. That might be fine in November, when you and your guests are huddled around its warmth, but does it also makes sense in August, when you’d rather have gatherings centered around some type of water feature for children or guests?

The answers to these questions are something for you and your family to decide. Many homeowners don’t mind the added expense and sacrificing some yard space because they value the ambiance a fireplace creates and have a large enough yard and budget to accommodate it.

Outdoor fireplace and pool house custom built for Charlotte, NC resident

Outdoor fireplace area and Pool House

If you don’t have the space, billfold or desire to pull off a grand stone fireplace, it doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of one on a smaller scale. One family we worked with in the Lake Wylie area was originally contemplating placing a large masonry fireplace on their concrete patio. After they took a realistic look at the time, space and budget involved, they opted for a creative solution – a heavy-gauge steel fire ring that cost around $900. The solution was elegant and portable. In the heat of the summer, they simply move it out of the way. In lieu of permanent seating walls, whey opted for nice teak benches and Adirondack chairs that can be rearranged depending on their entertaining needs.

What’s more, portable options can give you a wider range of fuels and offer more diverse styles. There are models that have natural gas or propane flames rising above water features, stones or glass marbles as well as old-fashioned wood firepits that give you the true feel of a “real” wood fire.

The bottom line is that while it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of creating the ideal backyard fireplace, you should take an honest look at your usage and budget before you take the plunge. In many cases, you can create the same effect for a lot less, and then use the money you save to entertain your family and friends for many winters to come. If you do decide to take the plunge and go all out, remember that outdoor fireplaces are complex projects that need to be well thought-out and planned to turn out as you envision. Having the guidance of an experienced professional Design-Build contractor is a major advantage because you tap their expertise to help you make the best decisions. Their years of experience and ability to guide you through the process will prove to be a solid investment in the beauty and enduring functionality of your new outdoor living space.