Home & Garden

Warm up your patio during this cool season with a fire pit or fireplace

Deb and Bart Showalter’s firepit in the backyard of their home in Shueyville. The Showalters’s hired Forever Green’s landscape designers to design and install the patio and firepit in late summer of 2013. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Deb and Bart Showalter’s firepit in the backyard of their home in Shueyville. The Showalters’s hired Forever Green’s landscape designers to design and install the patio and firepit in late summer of 2013. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean your patio parties have to be — at least, not until winter. In fact, nothing cozies up a patio better than a crackling fire. Colin Waddick, a landscape designer and project manager at Forever Green in Coralville, said fall — perhaps unsurprisingly — is their busiest season when it comes to selling outdoor fire features like fire pits and fire places.

It can get so hot and humid in the summer that people don’t want to go outside and enjoy their patio, Waddick said. Once it cools off, however, they no longer want to be “cooped up.”

Even outside, though, people like to have something to gather around, he continued. Especially if that something keeps you warm and toasts marshmallows.

“It used to be water features, but those seem to have died off, mostly due to maintenance,” Waddick said.

Now, outdoor living spaces with fire pits or fire places — sometimes even full kitchens — are becoming all the rage.

“People always tell me they want something that looks like something you’d find in Colorado,” Waddick said. “They want that resort environment in their own backyard.”

Waddick suspects HGTV is to blame for the burst of interest in outdoor living spaces.

“HGTV is kind of both a nightmare and a blessing for us,” he said.

While on the one hand the network inspires people to upgrade their landscaping, he explained, they don’t always reveal a realistic price tag, forcing designers to bring misled customers “back to reality.”


In general, you can find portable wood-burning fire pits or bowls for $100 or so, but if you’re looking for something more permanent from a landscape design studio, you’re probably looking at costs anywhere from $500 and up, depending on design and materials. Fire places are even more expensive, starting in the $5,000 range.

Gas-powered fire pits and places, which have seen an even bigger boost in popularity, are even more expensive.

While a basic wood-burning fire pit at Forever Green starts around $900, a gas-powered pit starts around $3000, as the process involves not only landscapers, but also plumbers and sometimes electricians, too, Waddick said.

But for some, the benefits outweighs the costs.

Jason Allen, a landscape designer at Country Landscapes, said the rise of gas is likely due to its cleaner burn.

“You don’t smell like smoke or have to take a shower after,” he said.

Unless you like the “campfire feel,” or cooking over the fire — Allen advises against cooking over a gas firepit to avoid grease fires or other complications — gas-powered features mean you don’t have to “mess with wood or wait for it to burn out,” Allen said.

Adding a switch or a timer also allows you to walk away from the fire knowing it will turn off when you hit the switch or when the timer goes off.

On average, people typically spend around $15,000 on patio projects involving fire features, Waddick said. The most expensive residential project he completed was $275,000.

If you’re looking for something more affordable, you could attempt to do it yourself. Home improvement stores sell starter kits for around $200, but Waddick warns: “It’s more complicated than just throwing rocks in a circle.”


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“Take the time to make sure you’re doing it right the first time so that you don’t have to redo it,” Waddick advised.

Some tips:

l Before picking a spot, make sure your location is within fire code. In Iowa, that means 15 feet away from any structures if it’s gas, 25 if it’s wood burning.

l Make sure the ground is level — you may have to dig a shallow hole.

l Put down a rock or gravel base to keep it level.

l Before laying blocks, line the interior with a steel ring, which protects the stones from high heat that could cause them to explode.

l When stacking blocks, use masonry glue to keep them in place.

Keep in mind it will take time and manpower, Waddick added.

“It might be worth not going through the trouble and paying the chiropractor bill,” he said.



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