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Do I hire a contractor or build my own outdoor fireplace?

Updated on December 20, 2016

Benefits of an Outdoor Fireplace

Imagine yourself relaxing in your backyard while watching the flames dance around and flicker in your outdoor fireplace. The warmth of the fire, the flickering light, the crackle of burning wood, the campfire smells of pine wood and roasted marshmallows, can be experienced in your backyard.

An outdoor fireplace can be a reality, and here are a few good reasons why you need one.

  1. They look elegant in any backyard.
  2. They increase the value of a home.
  3. They bring the living space to the backyard.
  4. It's a great place to spend a cold evening.
  5. They are fun to design, plan, and build.

Make the Outdoors a Livable Extension of Your Home

DIY fireplace built by a homeowner inside a framed in screen porch.
DIY fireplace built by a homeowner inside a framed in screen porch.
Wood burning fireplace; great looking flame.
Wood burning fireplace; great looking flame.

DIY Cost vs Contractor Labor Cost

When you pick a fireplace design you need to decide whether you are looking for the fireplace to be the centerpiece of your backyard or whether you just want to add a little conversation piece to your existing outdoor living space. Some want a small fireplace and others want a massive structure that will dominate the backyard.

An outdoor fireplace can be very expensive when you include the high cost of contractors. Adding the fees of contract labor will immediately and dramatically increase the cost of a completed backyard landscape. This increase in cost can be in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars above what you would spend if you were to build virtually the same structure by yourself. Contract labor is not necessarily a bad means of achieving a beautiful backyard, but if you can lift and aren't afraid to get a bit dirty, you might as well save the money.

For comparison, an average sized wood burning fireplace (approximately 6'-7' tall and 6'-8' wide) will cost you in the ball park of $1,500 to build. This cost is taking into consideration you are building the fireplace by yourself without hiring a contractor. Historically, at least in the southern Arizona area, a contractor will charge a little more than 3 times the price of materials for the labor cost. This will equate to around $6,000 for a completed structure. This equation is derived from the original $1,500 materials cost and an added labor cost of $4,500, which was the (x3) variable of materials. Keep in mind that the labor costs and pricing will depend on the contractor and also the size and complexity of the job. The tricky part is trying to figure out any up-charges and a breakdown of the contractor's pricing. This is especially interesting when a contractor simply quotes a price to you without sitting down to equate the job costs. They are effectively shooting from the hip on a quote and you should get something in writing before hiring them. Make sure you request an itemized listing of materials they plan to use and a firm amount for labor with the caveat that no additional changes would be made to the design. A reputable contractor will not have any problem giving you a somewhat firm price for the structure completely built. Having measurements and a picture or design for them to follow is crucial so you have a target of what the fireplace will look like.

DIY vs Contractor Costs

 
Contractor Costs
DIY Costs
Materials
$1,500
$1,500
Labor
$4,500
$0
Final Approx Costs
$6,000
$1,500
These prices depict the difference between no labor costs and an approximate (x3) variable for contract labor. This is only an example and may not indicate what you will pay for a structure.
Gorgeous DIY fireplace
Gorgeous DIY fireplace

Where To Find Design Inspiration

The amount of information on the topic of building outdoor fireplaces and coming up with a design for your construction project is endless. After reading a good deal of it, there are some great tips and ideas available. Many of the articles written on the topic of outdoor fireplaces deal with the placement of the structure and ideas one might take into account when coming up with a design. There are also books and publications that center around construction and landscaping. These books offer assistance and will give you insight into some of the things not thought of. The books center mostly around the DIY homeowner.

Internet searches for outdoor fireplace images will offer a massive number of designs and great looks with respect to what other homeowners have done with their backyards. Odds are you will find a few designs and material choices that you could envision in your backyard. Even if you find a desired fireplace shape but think the veneer and finish work pictured isn't quite what you would want, bookmark the image for later. It may come in handy later.

Follow up with a search for outdoor fireplace plans and compare the designs found to the fireplaces you liked from your image search. Fireplace plans will provide you with a materials list, a tools list, and step by step instructions to build a specific shape. Most plans will not dictate the finish work for the fireplace as there are too many variables with regard to the costs of that step.

Where to find fireplace design inspiration:

  1. Internet image galleries
  2. Online articles
  3. Books and magazines
  4. Around your own town

Old world style fireplace with wood storage voids.
Old world style fireplace with wood storage voids.

Your Final Finishing Touches

After you build, you will need to give it some final touches such as the seating surface, mantel material, a veneer and even some color. Veneer can be either real stone or fake (manufactured) stone and there are great manufacturers that use distributors to sell their products. Most veneer stone can be adhered to the outside of the structure with veneer mortar which has glue-like properties in it most of the time. The manufacturer of the veneer will sell this product. It is referred to by most as veneer mortar.

Natural stone such as flagstone or blue stone for horizontal surfaces can be purchased at a landscape supplier. The stone will be available in many colors, textures, and thicknesses so take your time and pick the right one. A truck is needed to transport this material as it is very heavy and sometimes awkward to move around.

If you purchase a lot of materials from a landscape supplier, you can make it worth your while to have it delivered for a relatively small fee. Most of the time, the delivery person can get the products fairly close to your building site and the money spent is completely worth it in the long run. The items are loaded onto a flatbed truck and then taken off by a small forklift.

For your horizontal surfaces, you will have a smorgasbord of choices with regard to the type of material used. Some of the best looking, durable, and cost effective materials to use on this section of the fireplace is flagstone. Go to YouTube for great videos such as the following one showing how easy it is to chisel cut a piece of flagstone. With some practice, it's very doable for even a DIY builder. Once this technique is practiced a while, you'll have the hang of it and it'll turn out perfect.

Chisel Cutting Flagstone

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    • Backyard Flare profile image
      Author

      Dan Heston 6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Thank you for that. I sure hope you enjoy your fireplace building experience.

    • profile image

      AJpost 6 years ago

      I've looked all over for plans to build my own fireplace. You just helped me find them. Good hub and I plan of visiting the site. Hopefully I can do it solo.