A Guide to Custom Outdoor Fireplaces (including 4 benefits of hiring a contractor)

Nothing is more inviting on a cool autumn evening than a crackling fire and a warm drink. Picture this: flickering firelight, laughter, the smells of falling leaves, and crisp air. 

This, my friend, is more than a beautiful, romanticized ideal. 

Custom outdoor fireplaces provide cozy yet versatile spaces that are usable throughout much of the year.

As a premium outdoor fireplace builder in South Carolina, we at DG Builders want to help turn this dream into a reality.

But why hire a contractor to build something custom when you can just buy a fire ring at Lowes or Home Depot? Does it really make a difference? Is it worth it?

We will cover these questions and more in this guide to custom fireplaces. 

Ready to learn more?

Let’s begin!

Table of Contents
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    1. What Goes into Building an Outdoor Fireplace?

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    2. Why Hire a Contractor?

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    3. Why Make It Custom?

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    4. Before Installing an Outdoor Fireplace

What Goes into Building an Outdoor Fireplace?

Before we get to the benefits of hiring a contractor to build a custom fireplace, let’s establish the elements of a great outdoor fireplace.

Outdoor Fireplace Materials

Outdoor fireplaces are commonly built from one (or a combination) of four materials

  1. Stucco 
  2. Brick 
  3. Concrete 
  4. Stone 

All four materials are durable, well-suited for outdoor use, and handle heat well. So choosing which material is best for your space is primarily about personal taste and matching the style of your surroundings. For example, a brick outdoor fireplace would be well-suited for an area surrounded by foliage. 

Maybe you aren't sure which type of material would work best for your outdoor fireplace. No worries - we have you covered with some examples of each type of fire pit. Take a look, get inspired, and choose the look you like best! 

Want to take your outdoor fireplace to the next level? You can always ask your fire pit contractor to use some creative materials like glass, copper, or Polywood to add stunning accents to the project.

common materials for building an outdoor fireplace

Types of fuel

There are four standard fuels for outdoor fireplaces, wood, propane, natural gas, and electricity

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of each. 

1. Wood - Wood is a traditional fireplace fuel.

Most of us associate the appearance, aroma, and feel of a wood fire with gatherings around an outdoor fireplace. The ambiance of a wood fireplace is very hard to beat. Wood is (generally) less expensive, and a wood-burning fireplace is cheaper to install. However, a wood-burning fireplace emits more smoke and requires regular cleaning. Additionally, the aroma tends to saturate clothes, hair, and cloth chairs. 

2. Propane - Propane is considered a clean fuel since it doesn’t admit any toxic chemicals or fumes.

It is purchased in tanks, making it a more convenient choice when compared to clean fuels that need to be piped. However, it tends to be a more expensive gas, costing $5.13 per gallon* in the US. Propane is also highly flammable. Because it is heavier than air, it can cause a fire hazard close to the ground if released.  

3. Natural gas - Natural gas is significantly cheaper than propane.

Natural gas costs $9.66 per 1,000 cubic feet, while propane costs $56.43 for the same amount* (note that propane burns almost twice as efficiently as natural gas so the price discrepancy evens out). Natural gas is also considered an eco-friendly fuel, but it does have a more negative impact than propane and is less energy efficient. Another big drawback to natural gas is that it requires a pipeline, and installing one is quite expensive.

4. Electricity - Electric fireplaces are easy to maintain, generally cheaper to install, and efficient to use.

They provide heat like traditional fireplaces at a much lower cost. In high-quality electric fireplaces, the LED flames look real and operate with or without the heat option. The primary downside to electric fireplaces is you don’t get the real fire experience. They also won’t work during power outages and are more suited for small areas.

*Propane and natural gas prices tend to fluctuate every year and according to locale. These prices are national averages from 2022.

nothing beats the ambiance and coziness of an outdoor fireplace

While these four fuels are the most popular, there are numerous other fuel options, including 

  • Ethanol and Bioethanol - a clean, renewable fuel from fermented grain alcohol. 
  • Gel Fuel - a smoke and soot-free option that works best for small fires. 
  • Charcoal - made from charred wood, this fuel is one of the best for cooking.
  • Wood Briquettes - made from dried, compacted wood, briquettes contain less than 10% moisture allowing for the wood fire experience without the smoke. 

Outdoor Fireplace Locations

An outdoor fireplace contractor can build a custom fire pit or fireplace in any outdoor living area. However, decks and patios are the most common location. Deck fire pits are a great way to have outdoor and indoor living options within easy distance. 

Let’s quickly address a few common questions about deck fireplaces and fire pits. 

1. Where should an outdoor fireplace be placed?

You want to locate your fireplace where it is within easy access to your home’s other amenities. This is why decks and patios are great for fireplaces!

2. Can you have an outdoor fireplace on a wooden deck?

The short answer is yes. 

However, it is imperative that you follow safety protocols and that not all fireplace/fire pit types are safe. Generally, wood fire pits are not approved for timber decks. Gas and electric fireplaces usually are. Be sure to hire a contractor who is in line with local safety codes and regulations. 

3. How far should an outdoor fireplace be from a structure?

Your outdoor fireplace should be at least 10 feet away from flammable structures or materials.

outdoor fireplace should be at least 10 feet away from flammable structures or materials

If this isn’t possible, you need to take extra safety precautions. 

4. Can I have a fire pit under a covered patio?

This isn’t a good idea. A fire pit needs to be in an open area with good ventilation. Without this, smoke and harmful gas (like carbon monoxide) can build up in the space. It is possible to build a fireplace under a covered patio, but it takes extra work and cost.

Now that you know a bit more about building an outdoor fireplace let’s talk about some of the benefits of hiring a contractor.

Three Benefits of Hiring a Contractor

Why should you hire a contractor to build a custom fireplace when you can buy a functioning fireplace at Lowes or Home Depot or build one yourself? 

Valid question. 

First of all, if you are able to build your own custom fireplace, bravo! However, this isn’t a widespread skill leaving most people with the choice between a generic Lowes fireplace or hiring a contractor. 

So why is hiring a contractor to build a custom fireplace a great idea? 

Let’s find out.

1. Customization 

When you hire a contractor, you get to customize your outdoor fireplace. You get to choose the design and additional features. Along with making your space more aesthetically pleasing, it also makes your space more efficient. Not only does it make your space more efficient, but it also fits your space period, rather than needing to alter your patio or backyard to fit your fireplace.

We’ll break this down in greater detail in the next section.

backyard patio with customized fireplace

2. Turn-key project 

Hiring a contractor makes building your custom fireplace a turnkey project. This saves you a lot of time and worry. Let's look at a few examples. 

  • Timelines: At the beginning of the project, you get to work out the timeline with the contractor. After that, it's their responsibility.  
  • Permits: South Carolina requires a permit for constructing a custom fireplace. With a turn-key contractor, you never need to worry about getting a permit or making sure you are getting the right one! The contractor takes care of it all.
  • Safety restrictions: Most areas have safety restrictions for fireplaces and pits. Beyond what's stated in the law, there are best practices regarding safety. Your contractor will be aware of these and able to act accordingly.

3. Experience 

A good contractor is going to be experienced. Experience is a huge asset when building a custom fireplace that lasts. A sixth sense often develops with experience that helps a contractor anticipate potential problems, create more efficient designs, and produce higher-quality work.

With almost 20 years of construction experience, the DG Builders team is well-equipped with the expertise required to deliver a quality product!

4. Guarantee 

A quality contractor will offer guarantees for the work they do. This diminishes the risk for the customer allowing for greater peace of mind and confidence in the decision. 

At DG Builders, we offer a lifetime guarantee on all of our stonework and pass on all manufacturer’s warranties to the client. This even includes gas parts for a gas fireplace.

stone fireplace in a backyard patio, with text on an overlay

Why Make It Custom?

Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of hiring a contractor let’s address the benefits of a custom fireplace. 

There are at least four reasons why choosing a custom fireplace is preferable to a generic one. 

Let’s take a look.

1. You get to choose the features. 

Arguably the best part of a custom outdoor fireplace is that you get to choose the features. This includes design features like color, material, and shape. Brick, stone, concrete - the choice is yours!

It also means you can choose the kind of fuel for your fireplace. Do you like the classic wood fire? If you already have natural gas lines installed in your home, a natural gas fireplace would be an easy, eco-friendly fuel choice. 

2. It fits your space.

A custom fireplace is designed to fit your space - stylistically and spatially. This creates a more pleasing visual experience while making the area more comfortable and cohesive. 

Aesthetics aren’t the only benefit when your fireplace fits your space well. Designing amenities with a particular space in mind makes an efficient outdoor living area. 

3. They last a long time.  

Well-built custom fireplaces always win when it comes to longevity. Because a custom fireplace is built by hand, special care and attention to detail are present that are lacking in prefabricated fireplaces. And the difference shows. Hand-built mason fireplaces can last for hundreds of years! This kind of quality is worth the investment.

backyard patio with hand-built mason fireplace

4. It adds value to your home. 

A custom fireplace not only adds enjoyment and beauty to your life but also adds value to your home. 

Let’s take a look at some numbers. 

In 2021, real estate agents believed that an indoor or outdoor fireplace adds up to $5,000 to your home value. That same year, the average horse with a fireplace sold for a price 13% above the national median.

Before Installing an Outdoor Fireplace

Before you begin your journey to purchasing a custom outdoor fireplace, here are some great questions to ask yourself.

Ask yourself these questions. 

Why do I want an outdoor fireplace?

Would you like to create a quiet, contemplative spot? Do you dream of hosting parties or using the space for family or small groups? Do you want to use your fireplace for cooking food? Is your primary goal to add value to your home? 

The answers to these questions will determine what design of fireplace or firepit is right for you. If you are able to define why you want a fireplace, you’ll be much more confident in your customization decisions and get the results you are looking for!

What is my budget? 

The investment for a custom fireplace varies significantly because of the many sizes and customizations available. While you can invest a lot in a custom fireplace, you also have the option not to. Be sure to discuss your budget with your contractor and explore the many options available!

How will my properties’ characteristics impact the outdoor fireplace? 

Where are your property lines? Will your outdoor living space be within sight of neighbors or passersby? Which is the predominant wind direction? 

If these details are missed, they could irritate you later, which diminishes your enjoyment of the space. A contractor is a significant asset in anticipation of how the features of the property will interact with your outdoor fireplace. 

Remember these safety tips. 

Safety is always essential so let's wrap things up with a few quick safety tips.

  1. Give your fireplace time to cure. When a custom fireplace is brand new, some extra precaution is needed. It’s recommended to wait 30-45 days before lighting a full-sized fire in your fireplace.
  2. Clean your fireplace regularly. It's best practice to clean your fireplace after every use. Realistically, that's a hard thing to do. However, periodically cleaning your fireplace diminishes the fire risk and extends your fireplace's life. 
  3. If you have a gas fireplace, regularly check for leaks. It’s recommended to conduct a thorough inspection at least once a year and get your gas fireplace services about every two years. 

Custom outdoor fireplaces are an excellent addition to any outdoor living area. They create cozy, intimate spaces where you can make meaningful memories and enjoy life.

Hiring a contractor to install an outdoor fireplace has a lot of benefits, throughout the installation process, with product quality and customer satisfaction.

At DG Builders, we care about providing quality service and results. We do this in four steps. 

  1. Call us for a free estimate!
  2. We will come to your home for an onsite design consultation. 
  3. Sign the proposal and watch your dream become a reality!
  4. Fall in love and enjoy your new outdoor fireplace!

If you are interested in creating a beautiful outdoor space, we also offer outdoor kitchens, pergolas, covered porches, and more! 

We look forward to hearing from you!