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10 Tips for Planning an Outdoor FireplaceAn outdoor fireplace is a great home feature that will expand your living space and increase your home’s value. It will allow you to spend more time outdoors through the year by providing warmth and light during fall and winter months. Whether you choose to relax with family or entertain with friends, a fireplace will add years of outdoor enjoyment to your northern New Jersey home.

Adding an outdoor fireplace to your back yard is a project that requires proper planning for successful results. There are numerous factors to consider to make sure your new fireplace accommodates all of your wants and needs. Before you decide to build, take time to consider all of your options and choose the best ones for your home. Carefully consider these 10 important planning tips.

1. Location

The location you choose for your outdoor fireplace is very important. The fireplace should be easily accessible from the house and adjacent structures on the property like a guest house or pool house. If you have a swimming pool, spa or hot tub, the fireplace should be located nearby for additional warmth and light. Family and guests will automatically gravitate to the fireplace for warmth after an evening swim or soak in the spa or hot tub.

If you have a small yard with a patio or deck that adjoins the back of the house, you can attach the fireplace to the house, patio or deck. This will provide an intimate setting near the house and allow your landscape to become the focal point. If you have a large yard, consider building a separate patio or terrace further from the house with a large outdoor fireplace. This will create an additional space for entertaining with your fireplace as the focal point in your outdoor setting.

2. Function

How do you plan to use your fireplace? An outdoor fireplace will immediately become a focal point in your outdoor setting. It will add a relaxing atmosphere for entertaining. Make the fireplace location part of your outdoor entertaining area where guests can comfortably mingle and relax. For entertaining, you’ll need comfortable seating and occasional tables. For dining, you’ll need an outdoor dining table and chairs. If you want to cook on your fireplace, you’ll need to incorporate a space for cooking utensils and storage.

3. Outdoor Fireplace Design

A fireplace is basically a large permanent structure with a firebox and a chimney. It’s usually designed with a rectangular shape, but it can be designed as a square, round or oval structure. The firebox that contains the fire and heat must be made from fireproof materials that are non-combustible. The firebox opening can be rectangular, square or arched, but it must be large enough to get wood through the opening safely. The chimney can be tall and rectangular or tapered at the top. The exterior is usually covered in some type of stone, brick or concrete. Custom features like a mantle, extended hearth, decorative tiles and wrought iron can be added for convenience and style.

4. Size

If you plan to entertain large groups of people you need a large outdoor fireplace with an extended hearth and adequate room in front of the fireplace for guests to move around. An extended hearth will comfortably seat 4-6 people, so you’ll need additional seating in the area. If you plan to entertain smaller groups, a smaller fireplace is adequate. Outdoor fireplaces can be built as small as 3-feet wide x 2-feet deep x 4-feet tall. Large fireplaces with a mantle, extended hearth and built-in seating can get up to 15-feet wide x 4-feet deep x 15-feet tall.

5. Property

How big is your yard? The size, design and overall appearance of your fireplace should be proportioned to comfortably fit the size of your yard. If your backyard is small, build a smaller fireplace for a more intimate setting. If you have a large yard with a pool, a pool house and hot tub area, you need a large fireplace that will be balanced with the scale of your Bergen County property. With a large yard, you may want to consider an outdoor kitchen or relaxing waterfall near your outdoor fireplace as an additional feature.

6. Outdoor Fireplace Materials

There are a lot of options for fireplace materials such as brick, stacked stone, river rock, flagstone, fieldstone, limestone and concrete.

  • Brick gives timeless appeal and traditional character to any fireplace. Brick veneer is affordable and easy to work. Facebrick is available in various colors and textures.
  • Stone is an expensive material for an entire fireplace. Stone cladding looks and feels like real stone, but it’s much less expensive.
  • Rock materials like river rock and flagstone offer interesting color variation, texture and an earthy appeal to your outdoor fireplace.
  • Concrete offers a modern or contemporary look that blends well with natural landscapes. Concrete fireplaces typically take about half the time to build as stone fireplaces.
  • Stucco is the least expensive material and comes in a variety of color and texture options. A stucco fireplace is great for a classic southwestern look.

7. Fuel Options

A wood burning or propane-fueled fireplace can be built almost anywhere in the backyard. They are typically free-standing permanent structures that don’t require any utility connections. A wood burning fireplace is cheaper to operate than a gas fireplace and puts out more heat, but it may not offer the same convenience. A wood outdoor fireplace requires a chimney that’s large enough to provide an adequate draft to let the fire burn correctly. A gas outdoor fireplace only requires proper venting.

A gas outdoor fireplace does not require a chimney which allows for a smaller fuel or vent pipe that will cost less money than a chimney. A gas fireplace does need a gas line. If the fireplace is close to the house, a short gas line can be put in. If the fireplace is further away, have your local gas provider check the location to make sure there are no problems or restrictions with a new gas line. The gas line has to be trenched and piped to a connection point at the house.

8. Safety

The fireplace should be close enough to the house for convenience of use, but should never present a safety hazard to the house, nearby structures or the neighborhood. Your fireplace needs proper ventilation and protection from a potential fire that could be started by sparks igniting nearby brush or structures.

Never build your fireplace under a wall or roof line with a blocked airway. If your fireplace is attached to the house, make sure it’s properly vented, otherwise smoke could enter the house. For protection, always store a fire extinguisher near your outdoor fireplace in case of an emergency.

9. Storage and Drainage

Your outdoor fireplace should have a convenient storage area either built in or nearby for wood or propane. If you are using it to cook, plan a storage area for your cooking utensils and accessories. Plan an area for fire, a fire extinguisher and cleaning supplies.

Pick a dry spot for your fireplace. If you live in a cold area, like northern NJ, take care that your fireplace will not be damaged by snow, ice or frost. Proper drainage is essential, especially in the event of a storm. Your fireplace must have a way for water to drain out to prevent damage.

10. Building and Code Regulations

Wood burning fireplaces create a lot of smoke. Building codes require that the chimney height on a wood burning outdoor fireplace must be two feet taller than adjacent structures on the property. That includes your house, patio cover and detached garage. The size of the flue and chimney require calculated dimensions to make sure the smoke vents properly upward through the chimney and doesn’t create a downdraft that will push the smoke back out of the hearth.

Gas fireplaces do not require a chimney, but they do require a vent pipe and a gas line. The gas line has to be trenched and piped from the fireplace to a connection point at the house.

It’s important to check building and fire codes for your northern NJ home. A building permit may be required if your outdoor fireplace exceeds a certain height. There may also be specific restrictions related to your Bergen Countty property. Regulations often vary by area. Your outdoor fireplace must meet fire standards for your area, and you must obey all fire regulations or you could be fined.