Outdoor Fireplace vs. Fire Pit: Which One to Choose?

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There’s something magical about gathering around a warm, crackling fire with friends and family. Whether sipping hot cocoa or toasting marshmallows under the night sky, there’s always a special moment to mark with the outdoor fire.

These and other features have popularized outdoor heating, with outdoor fireplaces and fire pits leading the way.

A landscaping survey conducted by Houzz in 2018 found that 67% of homeowners spend time outside entertaining guests or having family time. The outdoor nature necessitates a source of warmth during the colder months.

This comprehensive guide will compare an outdoor fireplace vs fire pit. When you finish reading, you’ll better understand which option aligns most effectively with your home and lifestyle.

Outdoor Fireplace

Outdoor Fireplace with furniture.

An outdoor fireplace can be a captivating addition to your home’s open space, offering warmth and ambiance and a unique focal point for your landscape design. Understanding the pros and cons of outdoor fireplaces is essential in making an informed decision.

On the one hand, they provide a cozy gathering place and increase the value of your property. On the other hand, they require a significant investment and ongoing maintenance. It’s important to weigh these factors to determine if an outdoor fireplace meets your lifestyle and outdoor living needs.

Let’s elaborate on this option


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Design and Structure

Stone fireplaces exude a rustic and timeless charm, while metal ones provide a more modern and sleek appearance. Outdoor fireplaces also have chimneys installed to direct smoke away from the seating area, ensuring a more enjoyable and comfortable experience.

The chimneys are designed to match the overall style of your outdoor fireplace, further enhancing its architectural appeal. Speaking of curb appeal, outdoor fireplaces can complement the architectural style of your home, making them stunning focal points in landscape design. 

Incorporating unique design elements like arched openings or custom stonework can elevate the aesthetic impact of your outdoor fireplace, making it a captivating feature year-round.

Advantages of An Outdoor Fireplace

Below are the benefits of outdoor fireplaces:

  • Acts as a statement piece in backyard designs.
  • Offers warmth and an intimate setting.
  • Provides customizable features to suit your home
  • Provides a more controlled environment for fire.
  • Safe to operate with less exposure to flames.

Disadvantages of An Outdoor Fireplace

Now, here are the demerits of having an outdoor fireplace installed:

  • Often more expensive to install
  • Requires more space in your outdoor area.
  • The fixed structure limits flexibility in backyard design changes.
  • Can be more challenging to maintain.
  • Can be more challenging to maintain, with aspects like outdoor fireplace repair needing consideration.

Fire Pits

A fire pit with furniture.

Like fireplaces, fire pits enhance outdoor spaces with a cozy and versatile fire feature. However, they offer a distinct set of design and structural elements that set them apart from outdoor fireplaces. Let’s discuss this a bit more.

Design and Structure

Fire pits come in various shapes and designs, with the circular shape being one of the most common. You can also find square, rectangular, hexagonal, and custom-shaped fire pits to suit your preferences.

This flexibility allows creative integration into your outdoor space, enabling you to craft a unique and personalized fire feature. Fire pits are also constructed using various materials, including stone, metal, concrete, and glass.

Stone fire pits exude a rustic and natural charm, while metal ones offer a sleek and modern appearance. The choice of materials allows you to align the fire pit with your desired outdoor style, whether traditional, contemporary, or eclectic.

The standout feature of fire pits is their openness, which allows for a 360-degree view of the fire. This open design fosters a more communal atmosphere, making it easier for people to gather around and socialize. The dancing flames from all sides create a captivating focal point in your outdoor space.

Advantages of a Fire Pit

Here are the pros of having your fire pit installed:

  • An open atmosphere is great for larger gatherings.
  • Easy to build and can be more budget-friendly.
  • Campfire feel, perfect for s’mores and marshmallows.
  • Easy to customize the backyard’s landscape.

Disadvantages of a Fire Pit

Below is a list of the cons of fire pits: 

  • Exposed flames can be a safety concern, especially with kids.
  • Produces more smoke without a chimney to direct it.
  • Require more maintenance due to their open nature.
  • Loses more heat to the atmosphere

Outdoor Fireplace vs Fire Pit Comparison

FactorOutdoor FireplaceFire Pit
Entertainment and GatheringMore formal, less interactive    Casual, interactive, and versatile for cooking
Seasons and Weather ConsiderationsBetter for cold weather, wind protectionIdeal for summer and fall, windy conditions add charm
Installation Process    Complex, often requires professional installationEasier, DIY installation is possible with kits
Maintenance and Cleanup    Requires more rigorous cleaning and inspectionsLower maintenance, simple cleaning, occasional fireproof lining replacement
Initial Cost    $1,500 – $30,000+    $200 – $2,500
Maintenance Cost    $200 – $500 annually    $50 – $200 annually
Safety ConsiderationsSafer with enclosed design, screens, and chimneyHigher risk of sparks, embers, and lower positioning
Heat Output    30,000 – 100,000 BTUs    40,000 – 50,000 BTUs

Selecting between an outdoor fireplace and a fire pit can be challenging—especially if you are new to outdoor heating. But that’s why we’re here! The following factors should help you choose the best option based on your situation.

1. Entertainment and Gathering

Fire pits excel at creating a warm and inviting atmosphere with their open design, making them ideal for casual gatherings, storytelling, and cozy evenings. They typically feature encircling seating arrangements, promoting interaction and facilitating group conversations. 

Additionally, they offer versatility for cooking and food experiences. You can use them for grilling, barbecuing, or roasting marshmallows, providing a casual and interactive cooking environment. 

On the other hand, outdoor fireplaces often have seating facing the fireplace, creating a visually appealing but potentially less interactive setting. They also have limited cooking capabilities with built-in grills or ovens, making them less suitable for outdoor cooking.

2. Seasons and Weather Considerations

A fire pit during summer and during winter.

Outdoor fireplaces provide various advantages in cold weather, including increased warmth and extended usability. Their enclosed design also provides better wind protection for a steady flame.

In contrast, fire pits offer campfire appeal during summer and fall. They also experience more fluctuation in flame intensity in windy conditions due to their open design. 

However, this can add to the campfire charm, creating a dynamic and rustic ambiance that many find appealing during outdoor gatherings in cooler seasons.

3. Installation Process

Installing an outdoor fireplace is typically a more complex and involved process. Due to their larger and more permanent structure, outdoor fireplaces often require professional installation.

This involves excavation, foundation work, and fireplace construction, which may take several days or weeks to complete. The intricate design and materials can also add to the installation time and cost. 

In contrast, fire pits are generally easier and quicker to install. Most fire pits are available as ready-made kits, making DIY installation a viable option for those with some construction skills. You’ll require excavation, a base, and the placement of the fire pit structure to set up a custom-built fire pit.


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4. Maintenance and Cleanup

Maintaining an outdoor fireplace often involves more maintenance than fire pits. Due to their enclosed design, fireplaces can accumulate soot and ash, necessitating regular cleaning to keep them looking their best.

The chimney and flue require annual inspections and cleaning to prevent chimney fires and ensure proper smoke ventilation. 

Additionally, if your fireplace includes decorative stonework or metal components, they may need occasional maintenance or repairs. This ensures their appearance and functionality are well-maintained.

Conversely, fire pits require less maintenance and cleanup. Since they have an open design, there is less soot and ash accumulation. Emptying the ash pit or tray is usually sufficient to keep them clean. However, you may need to replace or refresh the fire pit’s fireproof lining over time.

5. Cost and Budget Considerations

The initial cost of installing an outdoor fireplace can vary widely. On average, you can expect to invest around $3,000 for a basic model. However, the total expense can range from $1,500 for more budget-friendly options to $25,000 for elaborate, custom-built fireplaces with premium materials and features.

They also have higher maintenance costs due to their complexity. Regular cleaning, chimney inspections, and potential repairs may average between $200 to $500 annually.

On the contrary, fire pits are generally more budget-friendly upfront. A basic fire pit can cost around $900 on average. The price ranges from approximately $200 for simple, portable fire pits to $2,500 for more elaborate, customized models.

The maintenance costs are also generally lower. Regular cleaning and occasionally replacing fireproof liners or components are the primary maintenance tasks, averaging around $50 to $200 annually.

Nevertheless, both enhance the value and appeal of your property. They create attractive outdoor living spaces that can be a selling point when putting your home on the market. These features often appeal to prospective buyers, especially those who enjoy outdoor entertaining.

6. Safety Considerations

Outdoor fireplaces offer several safety features due to their enclosed design. The walls of the fireplace help minimize the risk of stray sparks or embers escaping, reducing the chances of accidental fires or burns.

The chimney is also essential for directing smoke away from the seating area. This effectively reduces the risk of smoke inhalation, creating a safer and more comfortable environment.

Additionally, built-in screens enhance safety by preventing sparks from escaping and as a barrier to direct flame exposure. This added layer of protection ensures a safer and more controlled outdoor fire experience, particularly when kids or pets are around.

On the other hand, fire pits have their safety considerations. While offering a captivating 360-degree view of the flames, their open design can lead to a higher risk of sparks or embers escaping and causing accidental fires or burns. They also lack built-in screens or doors, making it crucial to maintain a safe distance from flammable materials and exercise caution during use.

Additionally, the lower positioning of fire pits can pose a safety concern for children and pets, requiring extra vigilance and supervision to ensure their safety during gatherings.


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7. Heat Output

Outdoor fireplaces offer a broader range of heat output options, typically 30,000 to 100,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units). This wide range allows for greater flexibility in heating larger outdoor areas or achieving higher temperatures if desired.

The upper end of this range can provide a substantial amount of heat, making outdoor fireplaces suitable for more extensive outdoor settings or situations where higher temperatures are needed.

In contrast, fire pits offer a heat output of 40,000 to 50,000 BTUs. This heat level can create a cozy and comfortable atmosphere, making fire pits suitable for warming small to medium-sized outdoor areas.

Fire Pit vs Outdoor Fireplace: Which is Right for You?

You must align your needs and preferences when deciding between an outdoor fireplace and a fire pit. Begin by assessing your specific requirements and desires for your outdoor space.

Outdoor fireplaces are ideal for elegance and serve as a captivating focal point, adding a touch of refinement and warmth to your surroundings. On the other hand, fire pits offer a formal setting for gatherings or intimate evenings.

Next, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both options. Outdoor fireplaces offer architectural appeal, smoke management, and safety features but may involve higher costs and complex installation. Fire pits, on the other hand, provide design flexibility, lower initial expenses, and panoramic fire views but require more maintenance and safety precautions due to their open design.

Also, consider options like budget, available space, local climate, and expected frequency of use. Outdoor fireplaces may be better suited for larger budgets, ample spaces, and colder climates. However, fire pits offer budget-friendly options and versatility in placement and seating arrangements.

The Winner

Your outdoor space should reflect your personal needs and the unique characteristics of your property. To ensure the best choice, consider consulting with experts who can provide valuable insights into your situation. 

Ultimately, whether you opt for the structured elegance of an outdoor fireplace or the cozy communal atmosphere of a fire pit, both options can create cherished memories for your family and friends.

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Thomas Green

Thomas has worked in the Chimney & Fireplace field for over 12 years. He is an expert in his trade and loves to help People with their needs. Thomas Write helpful articles so that homeowners can make the most informed decisions about their fireplace and chimney.