Landscape Science, Hardscape

Outdoor Living: Fire Pit Ideas Simplified

Nothing says “Northern Michigan” quite like a summer evening around a fire, with stars twinkling overhead and a s’more in hand. But with so many choices in fire feature ideas, it can be hard to know which one is best for you and your family. Here, we’re breaking down some common fire feature designs, as well as looking at different fuel options, to help you find your perfect fit.


Fire Pits

Perhaps the most common fire feature, fire pits range in style and complexity. Typically a ring around the fire, they may be constructed using masonry techniques, including stone veneer, or might be a simple circle of stones. Fire pits can either be above ground or in ground, with or without inserts, lending lots of flexibility to landscape design options.

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, these small-scale choices work well between seating elements 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, a fire table gives you a flame source accompanied by a place to put food or beverages. Fire tables range from shorter, coffee table heights to tall standing bar tables. You’ll find options in rustic, traditional, and modern or contemporary styles. Sometimes called a fire pit table, you’ll rarely see these burning wood.


Spanish for “chimney,” these rounded outdoor hearths have been used across Mexico and the American Southwest for centuries, with widespread adoption in recent times. Traditionally fired clay, these specialty outdoor fireplaces direct the smoke up and the heat out through the front opening. 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

Perhaps the most impressive on the list, these features take seemingly opposite elements and show them coexisting harmoniously, integrated into your landscape. This trendy fire feature can be implemented in a variety of permanent or portable ways. Balancing tranquility with a mesmerizing gaze, it’s always a remarkable addition. Add a third element by incorporating a stone feature around it or as part of a lava rock fire pit.
Image Credit: Hearth Products Controls (HPC)



The traditionalist’s fuel of choice, wood gives you the classic 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 a large and roaring fire 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 is best installed at the same time as 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 is already installed. Because there’s often no permanent gas line to a propane fire feature, 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 general fuel considerations. 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. You should also consider the intended uses of your fire feature. Will it be used for cooking? Heat? Aesthetics, or probably a combination of applications? Each of these should be thoughtfully weighed to help you pick the right fire feature for your needs.

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 towards the permanent end of the spectrum.

As previously mentioned, both fuel storage and post-burn cleanup (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.

Now that you’ve learned more about your options, you’ll be better equipped to pick the perfect fire feature for your landscape. It’s nearly time to bring out the marshmallows! If you’d like some expert help in selecting, designing, and installing your outdoor fire feature, contact Drost today. We specialize in making space for you to make more summer memories.