Greg Alexander

Fire it Up!

Annapolis Capital, Fall 2007

When you live on the water, the time outdoors is the most precious time. Whether it’s entertaining friends with an outdoor cookout or simply enjoying a cool drink as the stresses of everyday life slip away with the sun, having an inviting, relaxing space outdoors is paramount. Cooler temperatures – and the lack of mosquitoes – make autumn the perfect time for al fresco dining, especially if you have a patio heater or fire pit to keep you warm, and more and more homeowners are now treating the patio as an additional living room.

“In this part of the country, we can have moderate temperatures even in November, so the patio can double as another living space; however, when the nights start to get chilly, people like to have a source of fire. It’s romantic, and people simply like to burn fires,” says Mike Vellon, project manager for Patios Plus of Crofton. Vellon says that most fire pits are done in conjunction with a new patio installation, and typically brick or manufactured stone is used for the fire pit.

Tina Dunn of Annapolis says when she and her husband Jimmy redesigned their patio this spring, a fire pit was a must. “When we bought the house, there was a simple four-foot-wide concrete slab in the back. The yard is about a half-acre, so we knew there was room for a larger entertaining space and a play space for our two young girls. Plus, we have a huge extended family, who visits often. Some friends of ours have a fire pit, so we decided to incorporate one in the design so that we could extend the outdoor entertaining season,” says Dunn, who adds that the cost of a fire pit was much lower than an outdoor fireplace. The couple opted for a wood-burning fire pit vs. gas because they wanted the smell associated with wood. “I love the spring and fall, and the fire pit allows us to enjoy the outdoors longer. The moment the patio was finished, the weather was beautiful, so we used it immediately.” She adds that the 1,400-square-foot patio was complete in about a week by Patios Plus.

For John and Judy Bonanno’s waterfront home in Severna Park, a new patio complete with a fire pit allowed the couple to enjoy cooking out in the fall and spending more time with their children, as the fire pit provides warmth during the cooler months. “Sometimes when we visited my husband’s brother, he would build a bonfire, which was fun, but we aren’t allowed to have bonfires where we live,” laughs Judy, “so we decided to have a fire pit built instead.” The couple had a new patio installed last November. “Living on the water, you want to be outside a lot, especially in the fall, and now we can entertain outside more.”

For those homeowners looking to add a little warmth to the patio quickly and easily, portable patio heaters are an option. Outdoor Leisure’s ( Gas Light Patio Heater – available in both an Arts & Crafts and ornate style in a hammered bronze finish – provides heat at body level, as well as additional firelight via its wind-resistant gaslight on top, which can be utilized even when the heater is off. The heater provides a heat output of up to 36,500 BTU for 12 hours on the high setting, and the 20-pound propane gas tank is hidden in the base of the unit. The company also offers a bar-height Bistro Table with a built-in heater, which offers adjustable heat output up to 16,000 BTU and will provide heat for up to 26 hours on the high setting.

Outdoor Leisure’s Gas Light Patio Heater and Bistro Table heater are available at Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, True Value and Barbeques Galore, as well as online. The Patio Heater retails for about $350-$375, while the Bistro Table will run about $325. Mexican-style chimineas made of cast iron also can be found at home improvement stores for $300-$350.

What to consider when adding a fire pit

When adding a fire pit – whether as part of a new patio installation or to an existing patio – Vellon of Patios Plus outlines some things to think about before moving forward:

• Location. For safety reasons, a fire pit should be regulated to a separate area, ideally a corner, of the patio and be at least 15 to 20 feet from the house. “Regardless of whether your home has a brick or vinyl siding exterior, it’s best to place a fire pit as far away from the house as possible,” says Vellon, who adds that the typical 3-foot tall walls that surround a fire pit act as protective barriers from breezy nights that waterfront homeowners may encounter. The effects of this new heat source on surrounding trees and other landscaping should also be considered.

• Compliance. Since some homeowners’ associations have aggressive review and approval processes, Vellon also recommends that clients submit those plans that incorporate a fire pit to a review board, if necessary. “We’ve never encountered a problem or have been prohibited from building one, but it’s better to be cautious and gain approval, if necessary.”

• Range of warmth. Vellon says that fire pit walls are usually placed about 2 to 3 feet away, and they double as sitting areas for guests. “You’ll be plenty warm on these walls and a few feet beyond. How much heat is given off really depends on the fire pit size and what materials you are burning.” While measuring BTUs is difficult, he says, he has never had any clients complain of being too cold with a fire pit.

• Child safety. As with any home improvement project, the safety of your children, as well as neighborhood kids, must be considered. Vellon says that some clients prefer to have the fire pit heavily recessed where only 1 foot is above ground level; however, this may pose a safety risk as children may fall into the pit.

• Cost. Vellon adds that there are several factors that will determine how much a fire pit installation will cost you, including size, material used (brick vs. manufactured stone) and what lies beneath the area where the fire pit will be installed, such as gas lines. He says that a fire pit can easily be built and installed for approximately $2,000.

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