Landscape Science

Outdoor Living: Fire Pit Ideas Simplified

With endless choices in fire pit ideas, it is sometimes helpful to categorize the styles and fuels. We’ve assembled an overview of the myriad options, and considerations when selecting and designing your landscape fire features.


Fire Pits

The most common fire feature, fire pits, range in style and complexity. Typically a ring around the fire, it may be constructed using masonry techniques or just a circle of stones on the beach. Examples include both above ground & below, with or without inserts.

Fire bowls

Similar to fire pits, fire bowls encircle the fire, though with a concave shape. Many fire bowls are self- contained, and lend themselves to more portability. They can be freestanding or have an accompanying pedestal or legs. Like many designs, several materials and fuel sources are available to choose from.

Image Credit: Infinite by Eldorado Stone

Fire columns and urns

Decorative, with a smaller footprint, these primarily aesthetic fire features enhance any patio or hardscape. Typically cylindrical or rectangular, this small-scale choice lends itself to use between seating like a side table or along the perimeter of a patio or hardscape. Consider staggering several for a majestic look.

Image Credit: American Fyre DesignsFire tables

Created for both function and fashion, the flame source is accompanied by a place to put food, feet or beverages. Fire tables range from a coffee table height to a standing bar table you’ll find options in both rustic traditional and modern/contemporary styles. Sometimes called a fire pit table, though rarely seen burning wood.


Spanish for “chimney,” these rounded outdoor hearths have been widespread across Mexico and the American Southwest with widespread adoption nationally in recent times. Traditionally terracotta or stucco, these specialty outdoor fireplaces direct the smoke up and the heat where you desire. Many are reasonably portable.

Image Credit: ChimineaCharmOutdoor fireplaces

While there are some portable “fireplaces” available, the vast majority of outdoor fireplaces exist as permanent fixtures using brick, natural stone, or cut stone. They’re often a great way to help frame an open-air or covered outdoor living space.

Fire/water features

Two seemingly opposite elements coexisting harmoniously, integrated into your landscape. This trendy fire feature can be implemented in a variety of permanent or portable ways. Balance tranquility with a mesmerizing gaze; it’s always a remarkable addition. Add a third element with stone or as part of a lava rock fire pit.
Image Credit: Hearth Products Controls (HPC)



The traditionalist fuel of choice. The crackling and popping sounds, the smells that evoke memories of days gone by, and the radiant heat for all your needs. Immensely scalable, you can build small or large fires and easily add to them.

Additional concerns do come standard. Popping embers can be a fire hazard without a proper screen solution, and smoke can be a nuisance too. Inputs and outputs can pose particular challenges, too. House the wood in a dry area, keep an eye out for spiders, and have a plan for what to do with the ash created.

Gels and Liquids

The most common gel fuel is an alcohol gel, while Ethanol is the typical liquid. These clean-burning fuels lend themselves to many design applications – including portable ones. Sometimes touted as a vent-free option, these fuels are popular both indoors and out.
Alcohol ignites instantly providing a heating range of 2500-3500 BTUs. Each 13oz can will last about two and a half to three hours. Ethanol has a “warm-up” time of five to fifteen minutes and produces 4000-8500 BTUs. One quart generally lasts up to five hours depending on the size of your burn pot.

Natural Gas

With no fumbling for matches or kindling, this fuel is ready-to-go at the push of a button. The adjustable flame can range between a low flicker or large and roaring in an instant. These fire features produce no embers, smoke, or ash – and are completely safe for cooking. Natural gas requires a permanently installed gas line, ideal for permanent fire designs, and best installed with your landscape design. There’s no need to replenish the fuel, and it’s available even when there’s a power failure.

Image Credit: Modern BlazePropane

Very similar to the natural gas option in features and benefits, propane is a great substitute especially when the fire feature is added after your landscape or patio is already installed. Because there’s often no permanent gas line to the propane fire pit, it’s usually more portable. Design considerations must be made for concealing propane tanks, however. Also clean-burning and safe for cooking, these smokeless options can often be converted to work on natural gas – or vice versa.

Image Credit: Rural King


When selecting the style, fuel, and design, numerous concerns must be addressed. Safety is preemptive, from a design that prevents guests and toddlers from burns to fuel concerns. Protect fuel lines from digging and other damages, and be aware of fuel safety especially others’ attempts to add fuel to a gel or liquid fire feature while burning. Lava rock fire pits (and other dispersion media like rocks or glass) can become hazards if not suitably selected.

Depending on your allergens, your choices may be narrowed to a smokeless or limited smoke design.
Consider then intended uses of your fire feature. Will it be used for cooking? Heat? Aesthetics, or probably a combination of applications.

Choosing portability versus permanence will vary based on style and fuel source. Don’t worry about winterizing a permanent installation as landscape maintenance services can often include shrink-wrapping of fire features. Most outdoor fire pits that are part of a comprehensive design lean toward the permanent end of the spectrum.

As previously mentioned, both fuel replenishment and waste streams (or lack thereof) play a role in design. Custom fire pits can utilize a variety of construction materials – metal, wood, rock/boulder, cut stone, concrete, and may or may not utilize a fire pit insert.

For expert help selecting, designing, and installing your outdoor fire features, contact Drost Landscaping.