• Need a Little Backyard Heat? Fireplaces & Fire Pits…the perfect solution

    With January being the coldest month of the year, with evenings in the 40’s & 50’s most of the time, being in the backyard isn’t quite the same without the warmth of a nice fireplace or fire pit. Yes…a good patio heater never hurts, but doesn’t add the equity to your home like a well-designed fireplace or fire pit. Let’s explore your options and the cost associated with both so you can determine the best fit for your home and Phoenix landscape design .

    The three most common fuel sources are wood, natural gas & propane. Many of us living in the foothills don’t have natural gas, so we are limited to two options of wood or propane. I have a wood burning fire pit in my backyard, because I don’t have the luxury of natural gas and I’m not a big proponent of propane for a few reasons that I will explain later. I buy my wood from Paul Bunyan Firewood in Guadalupe and have some delivered a couple of times each winter. ½ cords usually run just under $300 delivered and stacked which I think is reasonable. They have many different woods to choose from…lots of choices there. Natural gas is my first choice for any fireplace or fire pit and in my opinion is the cleanest, most abundant fuel source in America. I’m not a big fan of propane for a fireplace or fire pit for a few reasons. First, the set-up is fairly expensive because you really can’t use a small 5 gallon tank or you’ll be running to fill it numerous times a month. A twin 100LB tank that holds approx. 23 gallons per tank or 46 for the pair will cost over a thousand dollars for the set up, then you of course have to add in the distance between tank storage and where your fireplace/fire pit is located to run your underground piping. You also need a key valve to turn it on and a burner (stainless preferred) in your fire pit, or log set in your fireplace. The cost of propane is about $3/gallon and in a fireplace or fire pit, doesn’t burn as clean as natural gas and a black soot usually emanates from them. Because most fireplaces and pits are burning at least 75,000 BTU’s (British Thermal Units), they are expensive to operate and with the other items mentioned above…that’s why it is my least favorite option. The cost of running natural gas from the meter is still an expense, but the overall operating expense is cheaper than propane as well as very clean burning. One other point…a wood fireplace or pit gives off much more heat than either natural gas or propane. Don’t light them with too much of a breeze in the air unless you don’t mind smelling a little “campy” before you go to bed.

    There are big cost differences between a fireplace or fire pit. A fireplace (wood ready), will run between $4,500 – $8,000 depending on how big you make it and the materials you use to build it. On the other hand, a fire pit starts at about $1,000 and goes as high as $1,700, so there is a substantial difference in cost. A fire pit has 360 degree seating whereas most fireplaces have 180 degree seating. A fire pit throws off more heat most of the time because you are able to sit closer to it and of course can accommodate more people around it. I do love the look of a well-designed fireplace. It really can give the backyard or front courtyard a very cozy feel.

    There are really three components to a fireplace. The main kiva where the fire is burning, the wing walls on both sides and the seat walls with hearth in front. I usually build them with all three components, but you can eliminate the wing walls and/or seat walls based on the overall design of the area. This will cut down on the building costs for sure. You also have to be careful of how the upper level of the fireplace with flue is constructed so you get the proper draft, otherwise smoke often billows out of the front opening which can stain and affect the beauty of the structure over time. The fire pits I build usually finish off at about 15 inches above the patio for a reason. The seat of the chairs you are using are usually 18 – 20 inches off the patio. When sitting around the fire pit, what is the natural tendency? To put your feet up on it of course. That is why I like a finished height of 15 inches…it acts like a natural ottoman.

    As you can see from some of the pictures , there are numerous material options, styles, and colors to name a few. These beautiful structures are built by the most amazing artisans on my staff. The attention to detail and quality of construction makes any backyard just that much better and of course with a well thought out landscape plan built by a professional contractor/designer always adds some nice equity upon completion.

    To see a lot more choices, designs, and options, please visit my website at outsidelivingconcepts.com

  • Landscape Lighting! The Final Touch & A Wise Investment

    I can’t imagine doing any Phoenix landscape remodel without adding a great lighting package. Since most of us work by day and recreate by night… in my opinion it’s critically important to do it right. The beauty it adds makes it all worthwhile. There are many ways to go about lighting your front or back yards, so let’s explore some options.

    For many years low-voltage halogen lighting was the norm. Now that technology in that field is expanding so rapidly, LED is the wave of the future. It’s here now and here to stay. LED stands for light emitting diode. Not only do these bulbs last five times longer, but they are also five times cheaper to operate. A 4 watt LED bulb is the equivalent of a 20 watt halogen bulb when it comes to luminance (the light it produces). Doing the math here you can operate five LED lights for the same cost as one 20 watt halogen light. Like any technology when it first rolls out, it is more expensive. LED lighting has come down in price in the past year and in my opinion will continue to drop over time.

    There are numerous types of lighting fixtures. Most landscape lights are professional grade fixtures made by companies like Vista, Focus, Kichler to name a few. These are aluminum, powder coated enamel fixtures that last for years. Like anything else in life you get what you pay for. A low-voltage lighting system is very simple to operate. Lights are powered by a transformer and the size of that transformer dictated by how many fixtures you are installing. These small boxes are usually mounted on the outside of a house and simply plug into a regular 110 volt outlet. These transformers knock down that power from 110 volts down to 12 volts. Transformers have a timer which will allow you to set them to go on and off automatically, or you can operate them on a photocell which senses the amount of light when the sun is going down and turns them on automatically. They will either stay on until dawn or you can install a timer that shuts them off at a predetermined time. Light wire is then run to each fixture and before you know it, you have given your yard a whole new look.

    These professional grade fixtures unfortunately are not cheap. Most run about $150 each give or take a few dollars based on the style and manufacturer, then add the cost of the transformer which is a few hundred dollars and another couple hundred for wiring. When it’s all said and done a professional grade lighting package with 15 lights will run approximately $2800. For those people on a tighter budget, Malibu is a common brand found at most home improvement centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s. They have recently come out with a painted, metal light in LED that run slightly less than half the cost, so you do have options here. One thing I have learned about lighting over the years. After you’ve completed the job, most folks have a tendency to add a few more.

    A professional grade light fixture comes in many colors and styles. There are up lights otherwise known as spotlights which highlight things like a tree canopy or small palm or vine crawling on the wall. There are path lights which generally illuminate walkways and other areas where up lights are not appropriate. There are also others we call inset lights that can be installed in the riser of a stair, or under the cap of a seat wall, or under the bar top of your outdoor kitchen. These are some of my favorite lights and I often use them like the ways I just described. Although landscape lighting is not difficult to install, I still recommend hiring a professional to do it for you. I have installed thousands of lights over the years and it has truly become an art form in itself.

    With so many choices I sincerely hope the next time you do a landscape remodel of your own yard, please don’t forget the lighting! As you can see by these pictures, they truly create a special ambience that make any outdoor party that much more special. A quality lighting package will last for years and will also add another very special component which is security. A well-lit landscape front or back yard will make those roaming burglars think twice about stopping by your home. If you would like to add a quality lighting package to your home or are looking for any other type of landscape or hard scape service, please visit our website at outsidelivingconcepts.com for more information or to set up a free consultation.