Outdoor Fireplace Kit Buyer's Guide
Who said turning your outdoor space into a private getaway had to be an expensive feat? The days of relying on a brick mason to build outdoor fireplace kits from scratch are fast fading. Let's face it. Access to instructional videos has drastically increased.
We're not suggesting that a career in brick masonry is obsolete. But, hearth manufacturers make products that give access to regular people. Products like fireplace kits make it all possible. Now, homeowners, contractors, and technicians can build, install, and customize beautiful fireplace creations. And, these units elevate the look and ambiance of any outdoor living space.
So, what are fireplace kits, and how do they work? We'll answer these questions and offer much more information. In fact, this article will guide you through the entire buying process. We'll keep you abreast to the ins and outs of outdoor fireplace customization.
What Are Outdoor Fireplace Kits?
Sold in a variety of designs, fireplace kits include everything you need to build what is known as a modular masonry fireplace. You can also add highly desirable accessories like a chimney cap, log grate, or additional chimney flue sections. You can even add fire bricks and mortar, extension kits, storage boxes, and seat wall kits to the equation.
What's Included in a Kit?
In short, a fireplace kit includes all necessary parts to construct a cast cement or stone outdoor fireplace. The kits are typically modular. This means they are broken down into individual blocks or sections that fit together in a specific order. This makes it so much easier to construct a perfect outdoor oasis to meet your personal needs.
Composed of cast cement or cultured stone sections, fireplace kits give you the look of a masonry fireplace at a lower cost. The sections are held together by gravity alone, guide pines, or interlocked mortar-free grooves. This helps keep them securely placed. Many kits even include instructions on how to veneer the surface area. Veneer helps create an even more customized appearance by covering the masonry body of the fireplace with brick, stone, outdoor rated tile, or pavers.
How Do Outdoor Fireplace Kits Look Once Assembled?
With so many variations out there, it's impossible to show you all the different options. Outdoor fireplace kits range from simple constructions to extremely elaborate pieces. This, of course, depends on your preferences, backyard space, and budget.
Some people incorporate materials used to construct their fireplace into other outdoor constructions. You can do the same! Extend the customized look to your patios, pavers, outdoor kitchen, and sectional walls. It is common to use the fireplace as an anchor point for an outside room or patio and then expand from there. Whatever you choose, the versatility of an outdoor fireplace kit makes almost all configurations possible. Make it as extensive as you'd like.
Cultured stone models such as Mirage Stone are attractive on their own. They have many different colors of stone available, with a smooth finish that is pleasing to the eye without the use of a veneer. Most of the models offered by them come with an integral chimney that completes the unit. So, they must be installed in an area without overhead obstructions. As with other manufacturers, it is perfectly acceptable to apply a veneer to enlarge or expand the overall kit or to simply change the appearance to match the home or other nearby structures. Other manufacturers offer adaptations for either cast chimney sections or metal chimney pipes. These can be run through a chimney chase enclosure.
Models made by FireRock or Stone Age Manufacturing are often finished with interior firebrick, although many models do not require it. Exterior surfaces can be finished with stone, brick, or some other noncombustible veneer.
No matter which design you choose, stone choices and finishes make a huge difference in the look. Some people prefer the unfinished look. Others prefer a more polished finish using dry stacked stone or brick with flush mortar joints. Both are functional and durable options that appeal to different aesthetics.
Design complexity and price generally go hand-in-hand. Think about this as you decide which fireplace kit you would like to buy. However, beyond the look, there are more important things to consider.
Things to Consider Before You Buy
Before you buy an outdoor fireplace kit, there are a few things that should be factored. First, consider the ease of set up. Setup depends on fuel type, clearance requirements, and your available outdoor space. These things will also help you develop a realistic budget.
Some kits are more expensive than others! So, try to decide, on the front end, how much you're willing to spend on the project with all of the peripheral aspects considered, as well as any potential unforeseen costs. This will prevent later heartbreak if you realize a product is way over budget.
It is also important for you to know what products are permitted in your area. This will help you make an appropriate selection. In the next section, we expand on the things you should consider before buying.
Ease of Setup
Some fireplace kits are very easy to assemble right out of the crate, while others require enhanced degrees of setup and skill to complete. Much of this has to to do with the unit's size and extra accessories or customization elements, especially when it comes to the application of veneer or firebrick. Setup ease is also contingent on other factors like quality materials and fuel type.
Your choice of a wood or gas fueling system will often play some role in the ease of installation. You should always choose a licensed professional for gas applications. Locating NFI technicians can be done easily. But, orchestrating a time that is convenient for both parties could cause delays. It will also be necessary to work with a plumber for gas line placement and to determine if any up-sizing of existing gas infrastructure needs to take place.
When it comes to the assembly of the basic unit, the process is similar across most brands. Modular masonry fireplaces are broken down into blocks, with most individual components weighing no more than 80 pounds each. This makes it relatively simple for 1 or 2 people to lift each block into position. As mentioned, some kits will simply rely on gravity to hold the blocks in place, while others will have purpose built pins or channels to keep the assembly stable.
Systems that use larger castings, such as American Fyre Designs, will need more labor to set up because the individual sections can be much larger and heavier. Even so, the process involves less individual components, which can be more appealing to some.
The most skill will be required when pouring an initial foundation or placing pavers to support the weight of the product, applying firebrick to the interior of the unit, or applying an exterior veneer. Previous experience working with cement and mortar products will be required.
Installation Restrictions and Ordinances
If you're thinking about installing a wood-burning fireplace, make sure your local area permits them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established several ordinances. Many prevent the sale and installation of wood-burning appliances in certain areas. Check out the link above to determine if such restrictions apply to you.
Other restrictions apply to clearance requirements established by the manufacturer. These can inform foundation clearances, structural clearances, and much more. The International Residential Code website provides a list of coding restrictions to help.
Lastly, it is important to check with your town office and your HOA, if applicable. While more common in urban areas, there are usually restrictions on wood smoke output due to air quality concerns in some regions. Many models of fireplace kits can be utilized for both wood burning and gas burning applications. If you have fallen in love with a certain model, it's possible that switching to a gas burner system can easily solve the problem.
Top 5 Manufacturers of Outdoor Fireplace Kits
It's always good to know some of the top manufacturers and brands when planning projects for your home. Doing so allows you to compare and contrast product lines and materials. Many of the top names for outdoor fireplace kits manufacture their products in the United States. A list of these manufacturers is provided below.
- Belgard — With an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship, Belgard delivers some of the most natural-looking fireplace kits in the industry. In business since 1995, Belgard products are locally made. They set a high standard to make your landscape vision a reality.
- FireRock — For over 15 years, Firerock has established itself as a reputable company for custom interior and exterior products. They offer a 3-tiered approach to deliver quality products, service, and expertise. This company helps you develop your design ideas.
- Mirage Stone, LLC — Specializing in outdoor fireplaces since 2001, Mirage Stone focuses on quality and durability. Their units are designed to withstand the long-term effects of fire.
- Roman Stone Hardscapes — Based out of Bridgeton, Missouri, Roman Stone is fairly new to the industry. They specialize in manufacturing DIY outdoor fireplace kits for loose brick applications. Roman Stone Hardscapes enables everyday people to construct beautiful hearth products with helpful installation guides.
- Stone Age Manufacturing, Inc. — Family owned for over three generations, Stone Age Manufacturing produces the largest line of modular masonry kits in the industry. With an expansive reach, Stone Age also manufactures a wide selection of other outdoor hearth appliances for various applications.
Care and Maintenance
Assembled fireplace kits require appropriate care and maintenance for optimal performance. For wood-burning units, it's important to clean out debris and soot buildup before each use.
A broom or vacuum cleaner should do the trick for light cleaning such as this. But, we recommend you do a more thorough cleaning at least once a year along with your annual inspection. This preventative care helps preserve the life of the unit.
As with other veneer surfaces, staining can occur over time that will need to be addressed. In many cases, an annual pressure washing can take care of the issue, but a chemical wash may be needed to remove more severe staining. It is important to test the effects of any chemicals on an inconspicuous area to ensure that the veneer or mortar is not discolored or damaged.
Expected Lifespan of Outdoor Fireplace Kits
The contents of an outdoor fireplace kit consist of weather and fire-resistant materials. These include stainless steel, cultured stone, fireboxes, veneer, and other non-combustibles. So, there's little need to worry about your fireplace's ability to sustain.
Masonry constructions are some of the most durable. They have an ability to last anywhere from 25 years up to 100 or more years. The lifespan varies, depending on the type of veneer used, the quality of work, an the location of the installation.
Masonry sealant has a shorter lifespan. This is due to its exposure and vulnerability to the elements. Thus, you can expect it to last between 2 to 10 years, depending on the quality of the product. To extend the lifespan of your outdoor fireplace, follow the manufacturer's guidelines. You should also schedule annual inspections.
Like all products, some manufacturers use higher quality materials and better structural elements. These materials play a major role in the efficiency and lifespan of your unit. For example, Stone Age Manufacturing is reputable for superior design. Their fireplaces have larger openings with a large flue to maximize draft. This design element encourages the upward flow of smoke.
If you have questions about the lifespan of your unit, our NFI Certified Technicians can help! They can also assist with installation and clearance questions. By this point, you have likely decided what type of fireplace kit you would like, but what about shipping?
How Are Outdoor Fireplace Kits Shipped?
After finding the right outdoor fireplace kit for you, you'll need to know a little bit about how it ships. More often than not, these kits will ship LTL freight. The freight company will schedule a delivery to your home or business, and your kit will arrive on one or several pallets.
It may be a good idea to have another person or two at your home with you on the scheduled delivery day. For freight deliveries of this size, you'll likely need two or more people to receive your package. This is because they are generally larger in size and heavier than the average shipment.
Upon arrival, don't forget to check for damages before the delivery company leaves. Some manufacturers have extremely limited warranties for defective products.