Firepits, fireplaces and cool weather entertaining

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Fall in Atlanta. The temperatures lighten up. The foliage gets gorgeous. Your entertaining calendar heats up…especially if you have planned out the ideal fireplace or firepit area.   

Hot Trends

So what to choose? An outdoor fireplace or a firepit?

“Firepits are definitely in!” says Todd Guilmette, president and owner of Unique Environmental Landscapes in Mableton. “They are more inviting for people to gather around. Last year and again this year, firepits are a must in creating an outdoor living space for any size project.”

But if an outdoor fireplace is more to your taste, consider the trend of making it a part of the bigger picture rather than the main focal point of your outdoor living space. “We are working with several clients to create outdoor living rooms so that there is a cohesive integration of the indoor living space with the outdoor living space,” says David Bennett of Bennett Design & Landscape. “These rooms incorporate comfortable seating around the fireplace with built-in cabinets for TVs, home electronics, outdoor kitchens, etc.”

In fact, says Dan Kalar of Pavestone Company LLC, this overall increased interest in both fireplaces and firepits is evolving from upgrades to standards in many of today’s residential communities. “We have noticed that homebuilders are starting to include these products in the community areas so that even entry-level homeowners can gather and entertain their family and friends in common areas,” he says.

Pit Pass

What are the pros and cons of each type of fire feature? Part of the firepit’s rise in popularity is its design and accessibility. “Firepits are perfect for homeowners who like to entertain since their design accommodates large crowds gathering around,” says Ken O’Neill of Belgard Hardscapes. “Many homeowners are adding circular seating walls around the firepit to accommodate guests.”

There are also a lot of firepit design options to help the firepit flow seamlessly in the overall outdoor living space. “Several different materials are used in construction of firepits, including natural boulder stone, cultured and masonry stone, and decorative concrete bricks,” says Dixie Speck, president of Solterra Landscape in Marietta. “Material selection depends upon budget and the desired look such as formal or very informal.”

Yet, although firepits may be on the rise, fireplaces still remain the only choice for many homeowners. “A fireplace creates a focal point for backyard design and is ideal for more intimate settings,” O’Neill says. “Custom fireplaces can be unique and specified for your exact needs in terms of size, design and features.”

With these fireplaces, natural seems to be the preferred choice. “Outdoor fireplaces continue to be predominately wood burning as the fuel source, and natural stonework as the finish material of choice,” says Frederick Reedy of The Mad Hatter.

Location, Location, Location

The location of your installation could actually dictate which feature you choose. For instance, Reedy recommends a UL listed firepit system that is either natural gas or LP for a deck position. “By purchasing a UL listed system, manufactured firepit unit, many of the clearance restrictions that are required for woodburning or a custom gas-burning system are negated,” he says.

Another possibility for families with decks are smaller, pre-fabricated firepit kits with a tabletop style and steel trays for the fire, Kalar says. 

Of course, there’s no reason why you can’t have both. “You really don’t have to choose,” O’Neill says. “If your backyard allows, a fireplace can be installed closer to the home with an intimate seating arrangement, and a firepit for roasting marshmallows can be set back further away from the home.” 

Decisions, decisions

Deciding between a firepit and a fireplace could be difficult, so ask yourself a few questions to help guide that decision. “Consider how you use your outdoor space most often,” O’Neill says. “Is it typically just your family enjoying the space, or do you entertain friends every weekend and need space for larger crowds?”

Setting a budget will also determine what you select. “Many homeowners have unrealistic goals for a fireplace project, and, as such, we find that before pricing is provided for the job many homeowners believe only a fireplace will do for their home and that a firepit is not an option they will consider,” Reedy says. “However, once the pricing is determined for the application, then a firepit becomes a more agreeable design idea.”

Safe and Sound

For families with children, choosing between fireplaces and firepits could come down to which one is the safer option. “Fireplaces or firepits can be designed to be safe around children,” Bennett says. “Typically, keeping the fireplace or firepit non-woodburning so that it cools down immediately after use and using a screen of some sort will help keep kids away from the flames.”

However, make sure kids won’t have access to turn on a gas burning unit. “If you are going to have an electronic starter or a simple gas key, it would be important to have these set away from the firepit area so young kids cannot turn on the gas,” Guilmette says.

A Third Option

New, unique fire features have captured the interest of homeowners so much that they are spreading like wildfire into other aspects of outdoor living spaces. “We are also seeing an increase in the amount of high-end, pre-fabricated fire bowls, fire tables, etc., that we can incorporate into our spaces. They are easy to disconnect and replace with a table for summer use,” Bennett says. “We’ve even incorporated a fire boulder into a backyard renovation.” (As seen in the top photo above.)

In fact, Speck recommends fire tables utilizing a natural gas hook-up or propane as a safer option for decks, among other factors. “Fire tables are also becoming more popular due to flexibility of location, immediate installation and sometimes cost savings,” she says.

Atlantans have always had a love affair with fall and want to enjoy their time outside as long as possible.  The right fire feature, at the right price, in the right location will help you do just that.


Kabobs

A Smokin’ Menu
Roasting marshmallows and making s’mores are both longtime favorite food activities when sitting around a fire. But the food fun doesn’t have to stop there. Next time you’re hanging out by the fireplace or firepit, try one of these fire-friendly recipes.

Pigs in Blankets
Ingredients:

• Hot dogs
• Rolled out pastry dough divided into strips
Place hot dog on skewer so entire hot dog is secured. Wrap hot dog with one strip of pastry dough. Place over hot coals of fireplace or firepit, and allow to bake. Pigs in Blankets are ready when dough is golden brown.

Veggie Kabobs
Ingredients:

• Onions
• Bell Peppers
• Cherry Tomatoes
• Squash
Chop vegetables up into bite-sized chunks, and place on skewers. Place over hot coals of fireplace or firepit, and cook until tender.

Fruit Kabobs
Ingredients:

• Apricots
• Banana
• Pineapple
• Mango
Cut fruit into bite-sized pieces, and arrange on skewers. Cook for three to four minutes on each side over medium heat.


Firepit Party Checklist
Entertaining around a firepit is a great way to bring friends together once the weather cools. To make the most of your party, be sure to have these items on hand.
■ Blankets
■ Large pillows for seating or to lean against
■ Side tables to hold food and drinks
■ Chairs
■ Paper lanterns
■ Citronella candles
■ MP3 player, MP3 docking station and portable speakers
■ Outdoor games
■ Rolling serving tray for transporting/holding food
■ Outdoor dishes, cups and silverware
■ Napkins
■ Skewers or roasting sticks
■ Food (see sidebar for ideas)
■ Galvanized tubs (for bottled beverages)
■ Ice
■ Extra firewood

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