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The Difference between Patio Fire Pits and Outdoor Fireplaces

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

If you are thinking about creating an outdoor living space you may be wondering what the difference between patio fire pits and outdoor fireplaces is.

The popularity of outdoor living spaces in on the rise as more people bring their leisure time back home. Whether it is fueled by the economy or by a nostalgic desire for the 1950s and 60s, cocooning is definitely back in style.

Today's patio is not the piece of concrete with a hibachi on it that your father or grandfather used for entertaining guests at the picnic table. The modern outdoor living space may have a completely equipped outdoor kitchen, complete with wine cooler, comfortable seating, and even a fireplace or a fire pit to give the area that cozy ambiance on a clear summer night.

This standalone fire pit is less than $300 on amazon.
This standalone fire pit is less than $300 on amazon. | Source

What Is the Difference between Outdoor Fire Pits and Outdoor Fireplaces?

While fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are similar in what they do, the technique and the cost are vastly different. Here is a quick rundown on the differences:

  • A fire pit is usually much less expensive.
  • A fire pit is usually open on all sides.
  • A fire pit is often freestanding and can be removed from the box and used immediately.
  • A fireplace will be similar to a fireplace in a home, contained in a firebox and open on only one or two sides.
  • An outdoor fireplace will need a chimney, firebox, and hearth.
  • An outdoor fireplace is usually more expensive and more difficult to do on your own.
  • An outdoor fireplace is more elegant, less casual than a fire pit.

You will usually need a permit for an outdoor fireplace but not usually for a fire pit.

A fireplace like this is beautiful but expensive.
A fireplace like this is beautiful but expensive. | Source

Types of Patio Fire Pits

Patio fire pits are less much costly than an outdoor fireplace. You can create a built in fire pit on your patio or you can purchase a standalone fire pit for around $200.00

A fire pit has a more casual air than a fireplace. It is created in a way that it is open on all sides and sort of makes you feel like you and your guests are sitting around a campfire. A fire pit can be the center of attention if you add it to the middle of your patio or it can create a cozy area for socialization off to the side.

There are three main types of fire pits.

Wood Burning

A wood burning fire pit is usually the easiest and least expensive option. It is little more than a decorative container that safely holds burning wood. These come in a variety of styles and sizes and are the easiest to install. Simply unpack the box and set it up. You will be ready to roast marshmallows and sing Kum-ba-yah before you know it.

Propane

A propane fire pit is powered by propane canisters just like your propane grill. It will generally have a hose and a tank stand that go with it, although the hose may allow the stand to be several feet away. You will not use wood in these, ceramic logs will simulate wood.

You can expect to pay a bit more for a propane fire pit than a wood one. It is important to note that you will also miss that comforting crackle of wood burning – a gas fire is completely silent.

Natural Gas

This is the most expensive option, as well as the most permanent. A gas line is run from your natural gas line in the house to the patio and the fire pit is attached to it. The benefit is that there is no unsightly propane tank to concern yourself with and it will never be empty (unless you don't pay the bill).

Built In Fire Pits

While you can purchase a free standing fire pit, it is also possible to create one of brick or heat proof stone. The cost of this project will depend on how much you do yourself, as well as the design you choose. Read more about the process for making an outdoor fire pit or fireplace in the article, How to Build an Outdoor Fireplace, a Step by Step Guide (Link below).

Types of Outdoor Fireplaces

Generally the outdoor fireplace comes in the same types as the fire pits. You can choose wood burning, propane, natural gas, or even a combination of natural gas and wood. An outdoor fireplace will usually cost somewhere over $1,000.00 to build because of the need for the firebox, masonry, chimney, and other details.

Generally you will need a permit from the city, as well as contractors to help with the creation of your fireplace.

Which Should You Choose?

A beautiful patio can certainly make a difference in the appeal and value of your home. Whether you choose a fire pit or fire place should depend on the look you want, how much you can do yourself, and the money you have to spend.

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    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      We have a fire pit my husband ads onto every summer. This hub ends our debate of turning it into a Fireplace. We like it as a pit best, great hub, thanks.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks ..great post..nice

    • Sue826 profile image

      Sue826 6 years ago from Albuquerque

      We have a fire pit but I grew up with an enclosed patio with a built in brick fireplace - If I ever have the opportunity, I'd get the built in fireplace some day. You really get a lot of use from them.

    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 6 years ago from Winnipeg

      I have a fire pit, but I would love to build my own outdoor fireplace, they add so much beauty to your home. If you build it yourself, you can let your imagination go wild and create whatever you want. Good information here, thanks for sharing!

    • Tamila Roberts profile image

      Tamila Roberts 6 years ago from Canada

      Very useful, I quickly understood the difference between the two types now.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Terrific photos and information. Well-written and beeautifully put together. For my space a fire pit is the logical choice. Thanks for making the differences clear.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Another great one and your hubs are always so well presented and easy to follow.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 6 years ago

      Dearest Marye,

      What a lovely Hub! Thank you for sharing! The examples and photos you show are enticing!

      I just moved into a lovely new home with a built-in gas fire pit! I don't know how I ever lived without one before!

      Blessings to you and yours! EarthAngel!