DO IT YOURSELF - Gathering around the Fireplace!

The crisp, cool evenings of fall invite us to enjoy “outside” time with our families and friends. Fond memories of gathering around a campfire eating s’mores and staring into mesmerizing flames are part of the allure of fall. Many of us are recreating these memories by extending our outdoor living spaces to include an outdoor fireplace or firepit in our own backyards.

Outdoor fireplaces are becoming more and more popular for many reasons:

  1. they enhance the beauty of your outdoor living area;
  2. they extend the usability of an outdoor patio or living space by a number of months;
  3. they are a focal point for entertaining or just relaxing outdoors comfortably;
  4. they add resale value to your home.

The structures themselves vary in size, degree of difficulty to install and cost, but today, there are options for just about any situation and budget.


Family time around a full masonry outdoor fireplace veneered with natural stone.


A full masonry outdoor fireplace veneered in natural stone.


Full masonry fireplace veneered in natural stone with brick trim.

Typically, outdoor fireplaces are constructed from concrete blocks that are mortared together to give the structure the desired size and shape. This block is then covered by a veneer, such as brick, natural stone or a manufactured stone, while the interior of the firebox is lined with a fire brick. These fireplaces usually require the expertise of an experienced mason because of his construction knowledge and skills, particularly in designing and building a fireplace that draws smoke correctly. There are many examples of beautiful, creative outdoor fireplaces constructed in this manner scattered throughout the Charlotte region, however because of the time and labor involved, they can easily run in the tens of thousands of dollars.


Typical concrete block construction of outdoor fireplace.

Fortunately, an easier and more cost-effective method of constructing fireplaces is now available from a company called Isokern. They provide "pre-fab” fireplace kits that allow the fireplace structure themselves to be put up in a matter of hours as opposed to days. They are still true masonry outdoor fireplaces and chimneys using "building blocks” made out of volcanic pumice. The structures are exactly engineered to draw extremely well – no more guesswork involved! They are available in different sizes and configurations and can be customized onsite to allow for creative designs.


The Isokern Standard Series fireplace.

Once the structure is assembled, the same type of veneering that can be used on conventional fireplaces is applied here, too. When finished, you can't see the difference between a conventionally built fireplace and an Isokern fireplace, but your costs should be lower and you have the assurance that the system is well-built and carries a lifetime warranty.


Isokern fireplace modified to create a custom structure and then veneered with natural stone.


Outdoor fireplace constructed using Isokern kit and veneered with natural stone supplied.

Even with Isokern fireplace kits, most homeowners are not able or willing to tackle that big of a project on their own. An easier week-end project for a homeowner would be a firepit which accomplishes the same general goal at a much lower cost and labor investment. Firepits can be constructed in various ways, but it’s important to check out the safety of the materials you use – verify that they are capable of withstanding the intense heat from a fire to prevent serious accidents.

One great option is a firepit kit from Belgard. It includes block, an insert and a grilling grate - everything you need to construct the firepit, except for the glue!


Belgard's Weston Wall firepit kit.


Circular FireRock firepit veneered in Landmark Stone.

A second relatively simple option is a firepit constructed from concrete retaining wall blocks. A popular style is the Keystone Country Manor block that is finished on both the front and back sides (this way, your firepit will look nice on the inside and the outside) and lends itself to circular designs. These firepits don’t require veneering or fire brick linings, so once you construct the “wall” and put in an interior base of gravel, you’re done!


Firepit constructed using Keystone’s Country Manor wall blocks.


Firepit constructed with Belgard’s Celtik Wall system.

With all fireplace or firepit construction, it’s vital to check applicable zoning restrictions and ordinances. Many of these are in place for your safety and for the safety of surrounding structures. These precautions will include minimum distances from surrounding buildings as well as minimum or maximum chimney heights. This is not a project you want to undertake without evaluating all relevant safety factors.

Whether you’re interested in an elaborate outdoor fireplace or a simple firepit, there are designs and materials available to meet all of your needs and budgets.



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