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3 WAYS TO ADD MORE DRAMA TO YOUR ARIZONA BACKYARD

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HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTH IS

Everybody would like their backyard to become their alfresco great room and why not? In Arizona we have the perfect climate for spending time outside during most of the year. Here are three popular possibilities to add extra drama to your yard all year long to please family and friends.

FIREPLACES

A fireplace can make an attractive focal point for a yard that lacks flair. You can build the fireplace into a wall and add shelves for plants or outdoor art. You can even add a new low wall when you build that fireplace to create an alcove of privacy in a yard near a road. Many homeowners use fireplaces as a way of expanding hardscape to avoid plant and lawn maintenance in a large yard.

You’ll probably want to buy stand-alone furniture to add to the fireplace setting, including an area to dine in front of the fire’s warmth. Built-in seating, like a circle of benches might be good as well. The objective is to allow everyone to get as close to the hearth as possible.

What will a fireplace cost?

As you probably realize, the size of the fireplace, the quality of materials used and the need to create a surrounding setting can increase the price.

For a lower cost, you can buy a prefabricated fireplace made of concrete. Paver companies also sell fireplace kits with modular units that will match materials on your patio. Some companies sell concrete units that can be customized with stone or stucco. A totally custom fireplace would be the costliest option. Building materials could range from as little as $1,500 to as much as $5,000 for a fireplace.

How will you light the fire?

To put flames in the fireplace, you can extend a gas line from your house under or around the patio to the fireplace itself. You can also build a cabinet near the fireplace that would hold a propane canister that can be turned on as needed. Some homeowners even have small propane tanks put underground to provide the fuel for flames. Wood is an option, but no-burn days in Phoenix, and possibly other areas, can stop you from using your fireplace sometimes. If you’re running a gas line to the fireplace, you need to have it done by a plumber licensed to install gas.

Tips to remember:

There is a real science involved in drafting the smoke to go up the chimney instead of backing up out of the hearth, according to Nathan Angel, sales manager for Belgard Pavers. The size and location of the firebox must be done accurately for gases and smoke to be pulled up the chimney. All that may make this an unlikely DIY project. It is a bit easier, however, to build a fireplace outside rather than inside a house.

FIRE PITS

Fire pits have gained popularity in Arizona over the past few years because they can be a great lower cost alternative to fireplaces. Fire pits have 360 degrees of visibility, so more people can gather around a fire pit, as opposed to fireplaces with 250 degrees of visibility.

Fire pits are usually about three to six feet in diameter and a foot or two high. You can make one yourself with a kit purchased at a home improvement store or nursery or have a landscaper create a more complicated design with a surrounding seat wall where guests can relax and enjoy the ambiance.

Very popular are fire pits topped off with specially treated glass beads, crushed glass or stones, manufactured to withstand the heat of flames coming up from a burner inside. The beads create a luminous glow and interesting visual effects. Don’t use glass beads from a craft store that aren’t fire-treated.

What do they cost?

Stationary fire pits can be built by do-it-yourselfers for as little as $300 to $800, using a kit with quality materials, including a metal insert and grill. The best pits should have a fireproof metal liner surrounded by heavy duty masonry. Building a larger unit with a natural gas line can cost $2,500.

How will you light the fire?

These pits can be fired up with natural gas by running in a line from the house or via a propane tank in a container nearby. If you use gas or propane, you need a shut-off key for safety purposes just as you would have for a fireplace. You can also burn wood in a fire pit, but due to the growing number of no-burn days in Arizona, it may become impractical. Anyway, wood would make for a messy cleanup problem in a fire pit.
If you’re running a gas line to the fire pit, you need to have it done by a plumber licensed to install gas.

Tips to remember:

There are a lot of so-called “fire pits” now on sale for $100 or less that are small metal boxes or bowls on legs. You simply fill them with charcoal or wood and fire up. They’re essentially tiny grills that may rust out quickly. If you’re inclined to purchase one, be careful where you use it. They need to sit on a level surface that won’t start on fire when the grill/pit is ignited. It doesn’t seem safe to put them on an outdoor table of some kind. One difficulty with fire pits in general: Keeping them lighted when it’s windy.

PIZZA OVENS

For a real conversation piece, put in a pizza oven, a great place for partygoers to gather round for pizza – or even steaks or turkey or pasta or just about anything else — cooked over a wood fire.

What do they cost?

These ovens can be built for from $3,500 to $4,000. They come in pre-built kits but can be finished off with pavers or stone to match the building materials on your patio.

How will you light the fire?

Although these ovens burn wood, they’re not subject to no-burn regulations because they contain a cooking element unlike fireplaces or fire pits. The type of wood you use is important. It should be wood aged for two years or that has a 25 percent moisture content.

Tips to remember:

With fireplaces and fire pits or pizza ovens or any source of flames, extra care must be taken, especially with children in the family. You wouldn’t leave children alone around a pool; you can’t leave children alone around a fireplace or fire pit or pizza oven, all of which can stay very hot for hours..

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