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Outdoor Fireplaces vs Fire Pits - Key Differences

Outdoor Fireplaces vs Fire Pits - Key Differences

An outdoor fire feature can be a wonderful addition to any backyard landscape. The atmosphere and warmth of an open flame create an inviting space for gathering with friends and family.

When planning an outdoor living area, one of the first decisions is choosing between an outdoor fireplace or a more rustic outdoor fire pit. While both add appeal and functionality to an outdoor room, some key factors determine which option makes the most sense for your goals, space, and budget.

A backyard patio with a fire pit and stone fireplace, wooden chairs, and ambient lighting.

Comparing Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits

Here are the key differences between outdoor fireplaces and fire pits:

Appearance and Structure

The appearance and structure of a backyard fire feature impact both visual appeal and functionality. Outdoor fireplaces resemble traditional indoor counterparts with an encased firebox and mock chimney. Usually constructed from stone, brick, or refractory materials they have a weighty, permanent look well-suited to a patio or built-in setting. Custom-designed outdoor fireplaces promote airflow to the fire, allowing it to burn cleanly and preventing smoke from filling the surrounding area.

Fire pits encompass a range of styles from simple, metal vessels to intricate stonework pits covering several feet. Most share a common bowl or pit-like shape, allowing fires to burn openly. Portable fire pit options have become popular to create ambiance in changing locations around a landscape. However, custom-designed permanent fire pits incorporated into patios or outdoor living rooms also add value as a gathering place.

Fuel Source

Outdoor fireplaces more commonly utilize wood as a traditional fuel source. The enclosure promotes steady burning while the chimney dissipates smoke. Some homeowners opt for gas logs in outdoor fireplaces for easier startup without having to continually add firewood. Custom-crafted wood burning fire pits use wood chips, pellets, or logs often contained within a metal basket.

Fire pits offer versatility in fuel choices to match different needs or preferences:

  • Wood burning - Traditional ambiance and dancing flames
  • Natural gas - Convenience and lower operating costs
  • Propane - Portability in tank form
  • Gel fuels - Clean burning with colored flames

Gas fire pits, whether natural gas or propane, provide convenience and lower maintenance. Flames can be switched on or off quickly as needed. Easy control over the height of flames makes these options safe and practical.

Heat Output

Outdoor fireplaces radiate ambient warmth in a similar fashion to indoor hearths. The firebox contained within brick or stone absorbs heat and releases it gradually to extend the glowing effects. This makes an outdoor fireplace a choice spot for gathering on cooler evenings. Heat circulates effectively around built-in bench seating.

The exposure and focal point design of fire pits directs heat upwards in a more concentrated way. This enables cooking over the fire or positioning chairs around the perimeter to soak up warmth. Wood-burning fire pits tend to provide more glowing heat effects as embers smolder. The heat output and radius can vary based on custom design choices.

Cost Comparison

Fire pits provide a more budget-friendly backyard fire feature option. Prefabricated steel or concrete fire bowls often cost a few hundred dollars. More intricate custom-designed stonework fire pits have an average installed price between $1,500 and $5,000. Choosing gas over wood burning also saves on future operating expenses.

Constructing a full outdoor fireplace requires careful planning and masonry work. Most homeowners spend between $5,000 to $10,000 for a properly designed and built outdoor fireplace. This higher initial price tag buys quality materials like brick, stone facades, and chimney construction designed to endure weather fluctuations. Custom fireplaces add long-term value and functionality to an outdoor living space.

Permanent vs Portable

Mobility ranks as one of the perks of choosing a fire pit for backyard gatherings. Manufactured steel models often have sturdy leg designs allowing repositioning. This allows rotating the fire pit to account for wind exposure or move it closer to a seating area. Some fire pits operate on small propane tanks, providing portability between a patio and lawn area.

Outdoor fireplaces serve as permanent backyard installations. They integrate with hardscape patios, providing a focal point for outdoor living areas. Strategic design options like built-in bench seating promote relaxation around the glowing fire. Masonry construction makes relocation difficult if not impossible in most cases.

A landscaped garden with a circular stone fire pit, pathway lighting, a covered seating area, and surrounding trees at dusk.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Fireplace Or Fire Pit

Deciding between installing a backyard fire pit and fireplace comes down to aligning your goals and needs with the strengths of each option. Keep these key considerations in mind when determining which fire feature fits your family and yard best.

Intended Use and Activities

How do you plan to use your fire feature? Envision typical gatherings and activities around the fire to guide appropriate fireplace or fire pit selection.

More rustic, interactive fire pits work beautifully to promote conversation and connection. The open flame offers a place to roast marshmallows or cook food while enjoying the fire’s ambiance. For larger gatherings, this focal point encourages interaction within the whole group.

Outdoor fireplaces encourage more intimate conversations and activities given their smaller capacity. Relaxing with a glass of wine or sitting quietly enjoying a book comes more naturally around the elegant setting of an outdoor fireplace. Guests can interact with the fire itself less than with fire pits.

Budget Considerations

From product and installation costs through ongoing maintenance, budget plays a key role in selecting between luxury fireplaces and more economical fire pits. Factor in size requirements, fuel source preferences, and design complexity. Then balance the value added from ambiance and functionality against costs over time.

Those prizing affordability can find quality prefabricated fire pits for less than $1,000 or DIY backyard builds even more budget-friendly. Opting for wood fuel demands more maintenance and cost over gas operation, too. Custom-designed fireplaces often run from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on details like masonry finishes and accessories.

Placement Options and Safety

Safety and clearance limitations provide practical considerations when installing either fireplaces or fire pits. As open flame features, both require strategic locations away from potential combustibles. Fire pits should maintain a 10 feet distance from home or any flammable structure according to the United States Fire Administration.

Outdoor fireplaces offer built-in containment so can be closer to patios and outdoor structures if following fire code allowances. This adapts them well for placement along a deck or patio boundary as a beautiful focal point. Always confirm requirements based on the type and size of the fire feature planned.

An elegant outdoor fire pit area with comfortable chairs, overlooking a lush green landscape at twilight.

Outdoor Fireplace or Fire Pit: Which is the Best?

When it comes to choosing an outdoor fire feature, fire pits win out. Though fireplaces have elegance, the flexibility, affordability, and versatility of fire pits make them the better backyard investment. 

Before selecting a specific fire pit, check our fire pit buyer guide to evaluate the options against your space and needs. Thoughtful choices result in the ideal centerpiece for backyard gatherings and memories.


How can a fire pit or fireplace enhance my outdoor space?

An outdoor fire pit or fireplace can create an inviting outdoor room, enhancing your outdoor living experience. It adds a sense of warmth and coziness, enabling you to sit around the fire just like a campfire, while also adding visual appeal that can elevate your landscape design.

I have an existing patio. Can I integrate a fire pit or an outdoor fireplace into it?

Yes, both, a firepit and fireplace can be integrated into an existing patio. However, it is important to consider your outdoor design, the space available, and your patio area to ensure that it does not become too cramped.

If I plan to use my fire feature mostly for cooking, which is a better choice: a fire pit or an outdoor fireplace?

If you intend to use your it mainly for cooking and grilling purposes, a fire pit with a custom-built design that accommodates a grill might be the more suitable choice than a backyard fireplace.

Is it possible to custom design a firepit or a fireplace for my outdoor space?

Absolutely! There are many landscape professionals who specialize in custom fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. With a custom fire feature, you can create a design that fully complements your outdoor design and existing patio, making it truly unique.

What are the rules or laws associated with adding a fire pit or fireplace to my outdoor space?

Regulations vary by city and state, so it's important to check with your local government or a landscape professional. Factors that typically come into play include distance from the house or other structures, the type of fuel (wood or gas), and safety considerations such as a fire screen.

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About The Author

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

His main focus is on sheds and generators!

In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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