An outdoor fireplace can be an attractive upgrade to your backyard or terrace—and even increase the value of your home. But installing one can be a big undertaking, and getting advice from professionals will help you develop the game plan you need for a successful project. What are the zoning regulations? Do you have the right foundation? Gas- or log-burning fireplace? You’ll also need to take into account wind direction and smoke when choosing the perfect location, and hire a qualified builder and mason for the project. We asked Thomas A. Kligerman, a partner at the architecture firm Ike Kligerman Barkley, for top tips on navigating the process.
Are you zoned? First things first: Make sure local codes or zoning allows you to build a fireplace on your property. Then check if there are setbacks from the property lines or other regulations in place. “If you are allowed to build, be sure you have proper foundations,” says Kligerman. “In geographical areas that freeze, the bottom of your foundation will need to be below the frost line.”
Burn gas or log? If you opt for a log-burning fireplace, plan for a built-in niche or a spot nearby to store extra wood—the farther away it is, the more inconvenient it will be. If you go with logs, consider running a gas line as a log starter or as an option to switch to gas at a later time (and make sure it’s sized correctly). While not as warm, gas is convenient with no ashes to clean out.
Find the right location. The fireplace’s distance from the house may impact how often it’s used. “Fireplaces too far away can be inconvenient and become afterthoughts,” says Kligerman. “Make it easy to walk to, retrieve logs, and run a gas line to. It will get a lot of use if it’s in close proximity to food and drink, like the kitchen.”
Choose a size. Scale the dimension of the fireplace to the amount of space you are working with. Do you want it intimate or large enough to stand in? “Keep in mind that units that are indoors look smaller when place outdoors,” he says. “Scale it up to prevent it from feeling undersize and diminutive.”
Control the smoke. Use a qualified builder and mason to build the fireplace with the proper draw for the smoke. If there are prevailing breezes, glass doors can control the airflow and smoke. “Of course, if doors are used, a qualified builder will know how to get air to the fire,” says Kligerman.