Fire pits take entertaining outdoors

As the temperatures begin to drop, many Atlantans hold onto some summer memories by creating a camplike setting at home.

Fire pits and chimineas have become an essential part of fall outdoor living and are embraced by folks with all budgets.

Whether you’re entertaining on the weekend or enjoying the flicker of the flame after a long day at work, the affordability of some fire pits or chimineas makes them enjoyable for anyone, even if you have only a small patio or yard.

“It’s a great accessory,” said Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for the Home Depot.

A National Association of Home Builders survey found that 65 percent of people want an outdoor fire feature -- such as a fireplace, fire pit or chiminea -- in their upscale home and 9 percent want one in an average-priced home.

“Fire features are one of the fastest-growing landscape trends today,” said Ken O’Neill, vice president of marketing for Belgard Hardscapes, a manufacturer of premium pavers and garden wall products that is owned by Atlanta-based Oldcastle Building Products.

Fire features create not only a spot for conversations and roasting marshmallows, but they emit heat and provide ambient lighting, Fishburne said.

Fire pits and chimineas typically are cheaper than adding a fireplace outside, which costs $2,000 to $2,500, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Costs, depending on the size and style, range from $39 to $1,500. For homeowners seeking a custom-made fire feature, the price can be double, said Andrew O’Neill, owner of Woodstock-based O’Neill Landscaping and Supplies and a board member of the Georgia chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

What’s new

Homeowners are buying smaller fire pits and chimineas and using them with existing patio furniture, Fishburne said. Some people put away their outdoor tables and bring out the fire pit or chiminea in the fall.

Rod iron and stone are common materials, and colors such as blacks and browns work well, Fishburne said. Pricier options include aluminum, slate and tile.

One of the newer options is a gas fire table, which works in limited space or as a second fire feature. When not in use, Belgard’s Nottingham Fire Table, for example, can double as a seating area.

The rustic chiminea, typically made of clay, is the least expensive option. The one-sided feature allows people to place them on one side of an outdoor seating area, Fishburne said. The chiminea -- typically 20 inches in diameter -- doesn’t need to be in the center of the conversation.

Consider this before buying

  • Location

Some people like to place a fire pit in the shade or around tree canopies, O’Neill said. Fishburne suggests looking at the furniture you already have outdoors. If you don’t have much room, a chiminea might work better. “If you’re going to put it in front of a sofa or a love seat, you’re going to want to go a little bigger so everyone can get the warmth from it, or grill around it, or roast marshmallows,” she said.

Belgard recommends including a fire-resistant liner when building a fire pit atop granite or limestone, which can retain water and explode when overheated. Chimineas and some fire pits should not be used on wood decks.

  • Purpose

Some fire pits have a grate for grilling, if you’re interested in cooking on one.

  • Gas or wood?

Fire pits can burn wood logs, natural gas or liquid propane gas. Buyers appear to be returning to wood-burning fire pits, which is being driven by the cost of gas.