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With colder evenings upon us…finally and evening temps 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 lifestyle.

The three most common fuel sources are wood, natural gas & propane. Many of us living in the Ahwatukee 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. Full cords usually run just about $500 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 gallons 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 100,000 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 $6,000 – $10,000 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 $1,700 and goes as high as $2,500, 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 construction 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 or call (602) 369 – 4198 for a free consultation.

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