Outdoor Fireplace vs Fire Pit

An outdoor space where you can entertain and relax is an asset to any northern New Jersey home. A backyard with luxury features like a pool, spa, hot tub and outdoor kitchen adds value and appeal to your home. Another outdoor luxury feature that’s popular with homeowners is an outdoor fireplace or fire pit.

An outdoor fireplace and fire pit both provide warmth and light. They both add a romantic atmosphere and provide a relaxing focal point for any outdoor setting. What’s the difference between the two? Which one is the best choice for your home? Take a look at some important differences between an outdoor fireplace vs fire pit.

Design Features


An outdoor fireplace is a large permanent structure with a firebox to contain the fire and a chimney to provide proper ventilation for smoke. It’s usually built in a rectangular shape, but it can be square, round or oval. The exterior is typically covered in stacked stone, brick, river rock, flagstone, limestone or concrete. The firebox opening can be rectangular, square or arched. The chimney can be tall and rectangular or tapered at the top. Additional features like a mantle, extended hearth, decorative tiles and wrought iron can be added to any custom-built fireplace.

An outdoor fireplace can be attached to the house or built on an adjoining deck, patio or terrace. With a large backyard, the fireplace can be located further away near a pool, spa or hot tub. It can stand alone or connect to patio walls that add privacy. The design can include custom amenities like fireplace tools, a fire screen and storage compartments. A custom-built fireplace can be designed any way you want, as long as it includes the basic features – a firebox and a chimney.

Fire Pit

An outdoor fire pit is basically a hole with raised walls. The interior of the fire pit that contains the fire (like a fireplace firebox) must be authentic firebrick with fireproof grout for safety. Many fire pits are built in a round shape, but they can also be square, rectangular or oval. The raised walls are usually covered on the outside with stone, brick, tile or concrete and they often have a ledge or seating area build around the opening.

A fire pit can be located almost anywhere on your property since there is no chimney. It can be designed as part of a patio or terrace that has other features, even an outdoor fireplace.

Size Requirements


An outdoor fireplace can be custom-built to any size. To determine the right size for your Bergen County home, consider how the fireplace will be used and the scale of your backyard.

How will you use your fireplace? If you plan to entertain large groups of people, you’ll need a large fireplace. The fireplace will quickly become the focal point in your backyard. Guests will gravitate to the fireplace for warmth and light. You should add an extended hearth to the fireplace and adequate seating in the area for entertaining. If you plan to cook on your fireplace, consider adding storage areas for cooking utensils and a comfortable dining table and chairs for guests.

The size of your outdoor fireplace should be proportioned to the size of your yard and surroundings. If your backyard is small, don’t build a grandiose fireplace that overpowers everything else. On the other hand, if you have a large yard with mature trees, lavish landscaping, a large house and a pool, you can build a large fireplace with an attached outdoor kitchen and the scale will look balanced.

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, storage areas and built-in seating can get up to 15-feet wide x 4-feet deep x 15-feet tall.

Fire Pit

A fire pit is much smaller and lower to the ground than a fireplace. A custom-built fire pit can be designed and built to any width and depth, but there are basic guidelines for height. If you plan to have outdoor seating around your fire pit and you just want to put your feet up, build your fire pit 12- to 14-inches high. If you plan to use the fire pit for seating, 18- to 20-inches high is best.

Since fire pits are low to the ground and don’t obstruct your view, don’t worry about balancing the size to your yard and surroundings. Most fire pits are not used for cooking, so you may want to add an outdoor kitchen.

Code Regulations


Wood burning fireplaces create a lot of smoke. Building codes mandate that the chimney height on a wood burning outdoor fireplace must be 2-feet taller than any adjacent structures like the house, patio roof or 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 downdraft pushing smoke out of the hearth.

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

Fire Pit

A fire pit does not have a chimney, so you don’t have to worry about chimney requirements or building codes. They can be wood burning or gas. Gas fire pits will require a gas line, just like gas fireplaces, that has to be trenched and piped from the fire pit to a connection point at the house.

Outdoor Fireplace vs. Fire Pit – Pros and Cons


  • Can burn wood, propane or gas.
  • Seats four to six people with an extended hearth.
  • Requires additional seating.
  • Provides more privacy.
  • Blocks the wind.
  • Can obstruct property views.
  • More expensive than an outdoor fire pit.
  • Requires building permits.
  • Requires code regulations.

Fire Pit

  • Can burn wood or gas.
  • More people can gather since it’s open on four sides.
  • Easier to incorporate built-in seating around the fire pit.
  • Will not obstruct property views.
  • Less expensive than an outdoor fireplace.
  • Provides less privacy.
  • Will not block wind.