Outdoor fireplaces spark backyard fun out West
by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D
Spending an evening by a cheerful fire under the starry Western skies is one of the undeniable pleasures of summer. A cool evening is more enjoyable with a blazing fire, and a warm evening is more lovely with a few dancing flames to sit around in the company of friends.
You don't need to resort to a campfire, either. You can choose from many elegant and surprisingly inexpensive options for a fire feature; including a chiminea, fire pit, fire bowl, beehive, and a kiva-style or traditional fireplace, all fueled by different means. Convenience makes gas fire pits one of the more popular options. If you have a gas line already installed and go with a basic design, you can get a simple fire feature for less than $1,000.
Carefully consider the placement of your gas fire pit. If in doubt about placement, a licensed landscape designer can help you select an appropriate site. Tony Sarah, landscape designer with highly rated Magic Garden Nursery & Landscaping in Tucson, Ariz., notes that prevailing wind direction, distance from a door, existing vegetation, and accessibility for all ages and abilities should be some of the considerations when placing a fire pit.
Next comes the design phase. There are many options for the structure of the fire pit, the overall shape and the type of filler. Walls can match the home or accentuate a feature of the landscape, such as the style of the tiles in the pool.
Fire-pit shapes are limited only by the imagination, says Marius Vallecorsa, co-owner of highly rated Streaming Visions in Albuquerque, N.M. Shapes can be round, square, rectangular or curvilinear. The gas insert that will go into the fire pit may limit the structure's final shape.
The gas insert is covered by a filler, or fire bed, which is made of fireproof substances. Lava rocks or volcanic cinders make good fillers, but glittering fireplace glass also delivers a lovely option. You cannot use rocks that you find on your own because they may hold microscopic water molecules and might shatter when heated.
Larry Gucciardo at Dallas Outdoor Kitchens recommends sealing the stone sides of the fire pit. Sealers will brighten and enhance the colors and textures of the stone, plus protect the surface from the ravages of time and Mother Nature (not to mention children and pets). His company also recommends that you include a hardscape around your fire pit for additional seating. Ideally, the surface will meld well with your fire feature. Consider using the same stone, or perhaps stained or patterned concrete.
One of the reasons for choosing a gas fire pit is safety - the number one concern for many homeowners. Even if you don't have children at home, inevitably some will visit and be drawn to your fire feature. While ease of lighting a gas fire is nice, it should not be easy for small fingers to do. In the land of black widow spiders and scorpions, hiding the activation switch inside a recessed box is not all that safe either. Consider a locking ring that will allow you to padlock your fireplace in the off position.
Western skies are wonderful on a summer evening, and what better way to enjoy them than around a fire.
Jacqueline A. Soule has been gardening in the Southwest since an early age, and writing about gardening for almost three decades, with weekly and monthly columns in a number of Southwestern publications. She has degrees in Plant Sciences, Ecology & Environmental Biology and Botany, obtaining her Ph.D. from the University of Texas. She currently resides and gardens in Tucson, Ariz.