Who’s ready to bask in the last month or two of summer. . . and fall? From peaceful R&R to lively social gatherings, an outdoor fire feature will be your hottest investment yet—it’s a mesmerizing focal point that can be enjoyed year-round in any yard, porch, or patio entertainment space.
But once you start looking online for outdoor fireplaces, the burning question is: do you choose an outdoor fire pit or fireplace?
Here at Mantels Direct, we offer both outdoor fire pits and outdoor fireplaces, and both are exceptional additions outside your home. From size and aesthetics down to heat and smoke amounts, we’re fanning out outdoor fire pit vs fireplace differences so you can decide what’s hot (or not) for your backyard patio party wants and needs.
Flame Factor #1: Seating
Seating setups should be one of the top considerations when deciding between an outdoor fire pit vs fireplace. The question to consider is: are you looking for more of a social gathering hotspot or a cozy, quainter feel?
With a fire pit, seating options are very flexible and inclusive. People can sit and gather around the unit with 360-degree views of the fire and one another. This is true for both permanent and transportable fire pits. It’s great for those who want fire time to be social.
In contrast, an outdoor fireplace is not circular or square, which makes seating more limited. You can either have chairs facing the hearth and chat with others while gazing at the relaxing flames ahead—or if you view the fireplace as more of an ambiance feature in your “outdoor room”, have two rows of parallel seating by the hearth so that guests can look across from each other and be near the fireplace (without facing the fire itself).
Flame Factor #2: Size
An outdoor fire pit and a fireplace come in all shapes, sizes, and designs. With size, consider where you're placing your unit and how much (or little) space you want it to take up on a patio or in the grass.
Fire pits can come in the form of round fire bowls to expansive fire tables. Available in a wide range of diameters in either round or square shapes, pick the size of fire pit you need to accommodate groups big or small in your outdoor space.
An outdoor fireplace is often much longer or larger than fire pits, especially ones with a chimney and the addition of a mantel shelf and/or mantel. However, some electric outdoor fireplace and outdoor gas fireplaces are wall-mounted (even with see-through views!) and won’t cut into your surface area for adding couches or chairs.
Flame Factor #3: Fuel Type
When it comes to outdoor fire pits or fireplaces, it’s important to decide what fuel type is most convenient and affordable for your wants and needs: wood burning, gas, or electric?
At Mantels Direct, we offer both gas and wood-burning fire pits. Wood-burning fire pits feel like the real campfire deal, but do require ample amounts of firewood (and extra costs) throughout the year. Gas fire pits require liquid propane or natural gas to get flames up and running; however, once a gas line is installed, gas fire pits are easier to start (and end) than wood burning ones.
If you’re thinking of going with an outdoor fireplace vs fire pit, Mantels Direct offers gas or electric outdoor fireplaces. Like fire pits, a gas fireplace turns on quickly and is more eco-friendly (in comparison to wood burning), but will require a properly-installed gas line.
Although powered by electricity and not having real fire, an electric fireplace also still gives that same cozy ambiance you crave. All that's required to "fire up" an electrical fireplace is a covered outdoor area, a nearby electrical outlet to plug into or hardware directly, and flip on the realistic flames with a simple touch of a button or remote control.
Flame Factor #4: Safety
Fire safety is essential to consider when deciding between an outdoor fireplace vs fire pit.
With wood-burning fire pits, flames (and sparks) roam freely around the open top, especially when it’s windy. Consider this risk if you have dogs or kids running around your yard or patio. A gas fire pit is safer, but if unmonitored or forgotten to be turned off, could leak gas or cause a house fire. Whether gas or wood, be sure to maintain a safe perimeter of at least 3 feet from a fire pit. When fire time is over, a cover is a must-have for safety and protection.
Fireplaces (vs. fire pits) offer a stress-free and safer alternative to gathering around a fire—and for top-of-the-line safety, consider one of our electric fireplaces. For traditional outdoor fireplaces, flames stay securely inside the firebox and typically are surrounded by three walls built out of fire-rated stone, brick, or concrete. Other safety features like fire doors or a fire screen are also a plus.
Flame Factor #5: Aesthetics
Not only are outdoor fire pits and fireplaces fun and functional, they offer rustic-chic or haute couture style to your outdoor living space.
If you’re looking to make your outdoors feel (and look) more inviting, fire pits offer exactly that. At Mantels Direct, you can choose from classic stone fire pit designs in rings or fire tables or more unique styles like a festive wood fire flower or literal pebble shape. Or if you decide to build an in-ground fire pit, you can choose to decorate the border with pave stones and find fun lawn chairs or classic Adirondack chairs for movable seating options.
An outdoor fireplace (vs. fire pit) is a more stately piece of architecture that stands year round on your patio. Why not make it feel extra cozy with abundant furniture options (from couches to poufs or even a TV!), string lights, and plants or decor placed on the hearth or mantel. Also consider an attractive (and useful) log holder.
Flame Factor #6: Smoke
Yes, smoke is a big element of fire. The key is how much smoke you want to deal with in your outdoor fire unit.
If you choose an outdoor wood burning fire pit, you get 360-degrees of connection to the flames and conversations with friends or families circled around; however, no one can control how or where the wind—or trails of smoke—flow. Smoke smell also clings to clothes—although that is part of the ‘campy’ experience of enjoying an outdoor fire (unless you go with a gas fire pit).
A natural gas, propane, or wood outdoor fireplace is also still much more pleasant in terms of smoke than a fire pit. Smoke instead shoots vertically up and out of a chimney rather than swirling around or at your face or body. The fireplace is certainly a healthier option to eliminate smoke from entering the lungs or causing irritation in the eyes.
Flame Factor #7: Heat
Sitting around a fire is not just for social time; many people enjoy the cozy warmth, especially during colder seasons.
With an outdoor fire pit, part of the appeal is both seeing and feeling the heat, especially the closer you sit. However, due to not having as much masonry, much of the heat contained inside the pit is lost, especially if there is wind or extra coolness in the air.
The temperature of an outdoor fireplace can range significantly, but the heat stays inside the masonry/stone, providing a consistently toasty feel for those sitting near or in front of the firebox. If you choose an electric outdoor fireplace, you can bring the heat with the addition of a patio heater.
Flame Factor #8: Location
Location is key when thinking about your dream outdoor fire pit or fireplace. Examine your yard, patio, or deck to decide what the space visually needs or has room for.
A fire pit offers abundant location options. Every state has different laws, but do note that wood-burning or gas fire pits must be at least 10 to 25 feet away from building, house structures, or other flammable surfaces. Fire pits (especially transportable ones) can be placed near or far in your yard or on the patio.
Outdoor fireplaces (vs. fire pits) are great for adding a warm and welcoming “anchor” to large patios or backyards. Free-standing outdoor fireplaces typically sit at the edge of a patio. Note that you may need to obtain permits or building inspections to keep up to code.
And don’t forget to consider electric outdoor fireplaces—they are easy to install in a wall under any exterior area that’s covered and protected from wet conditions, and provide realistic flickering flames day or night.
We hope we sparked your interest and provided knowledge on the debate between an outdoor fire pit vs fireplace. Whatever fire feature you choose, Mantels Direct has plenty of cozy and ambiance-building options (conveniently at your fingertips).