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Fire pitThe lure of flickering flames on a cool night is hard to resist. It’s no wonder, then, that in recent years a variety of outdoor fire features have come on the market to make the practice of “gathering around the fire” downright civilized.

Before you start chopping your own wood, you’ll want to check with your local municipality and homeowners association to ensure outdoor fire features are allowed where you live. Many cities have zoning regulations that dictate how close a fireplace can be to existing structures. You may also encounter property line setback guidelines.

If you’re placing your fireplace near a patio cover, find out how tall the chimney must be in relation to the top of the structure. You’ll also want to take into consideration the prevailing wind direction on your property. An outdoor fireplace should be placed where it will act as a wind break; this will create a calm spot in front of the hearth where you’ll be able to sit and enjoy the fire. Fire pits and chimineas should be located so that prevailing winds don’t blow heavy smoke into open doors or — even worse — your guests’ faces.

If you’re thinking of adding a fire feature to your outdoor space, you have several options, including:

Portable fire pits  

Portable fire pit2

A portable fire pit allows great flexibility while still providing warmth and character.

When it comes to design flexibility, this option rules. Stand-alone fire pits come in a variety of styles and finishes, ranging from industrial-style metal to stone to polished copper. Most fire pits offer 360-degree access — ideal for large gatherings.

Some higher-end fire pit models are powered by a natural gas source, but most use wood for fuel.

Many homeowners opt for a portable fire pit as their first fire feature, allowing them to experiment with location and how often they actually use it before committing to something more permanent.

Chimineas  

Chiminea

Chimineas are another portable option and come in a variety of styles and finishes that can blend in with your home’s style.

Like portable fire pits, chimineas are popular because they can be easily moved and, generally, aren’t very expensive. Especially fashionable on porches and patios, chimineas come in many shapes, sizes, colors and materials. All chimineas — clay, cast iron or bronze — should be covered when not in use.

The drafting action of a chiminea draws fresh air into the fire and out the neck, making it a more efficient burner than a fire pit without a smoke stack. But beware: You can’t build a big blaze in your chiminea. It’s designed for small fires.

Built-In fireplaces  

Fireplace

The most permanent fire feature option, an outdoor fireplace can make a striking statement.   Source: Details A Design Firm

For those who are ready to make the design and financial commitment required, a built-in fireplace will boost the appeal of most any outdoor space.

Your fireplace’s location will impact its usage and the overall atmosphere of the yard. Will you use it more often if it’s just outside the back door or if it’s located along the fence or in a private corner of the yard?

Fireplace veneers can be brick, real or manufactured stone, concrete or stucco. Each material has its pros and cons. Stone, for instance, provides an often sought-after natural appearance but can be time-consuming and expensive to install.

You can choose to have either a wood-burning or gas-fueled fireplace. Wood will provide the most natural ambience, but it can cause lots of smoke, and its use is heavily regulated in certain parts of the country. Gas is smoke-free and requires no chimney, but you’ll need to install a gas pipeline before installing the fireplace.

Adding a fire feature to your property can be a do-it-yourself project. Be cautious, though. Anytime you’re working with gas or placing anything flammable near buildings, you’d be wise to get professional advice to create the safest possible end-product.

See more outdoor fire features on Zillow Digs!

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About the Author

Mary was a newspaper writer/editor for 13 years and worked as spokesperson for a Fortune 500 Company before becoming a freelance writer. She has authored more than two dozen books for young readers and writes for a handful of regional home and garden magazines.

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