Now that Spring is upon us, it’s time to get going on those backyard landscaping projects you’ve been dreaming of all Winter! While there are many important factors in upgrading and beautifying this area, one of the most important elements is choosing a focal point which can be anything from a pond, dramatic foliage, water features, to a wood fired oven or fireplace. Just like anything else, fireplaces can come in many shapes and sizes and there are many things to consider when deciding which to choose.

Here are a few tips regarding the different choices available:

Metal Box (Factory Built) Fireplaces:

There are many metal fireplaces to choose from made by multiple manufacturers. While a metal fireplace can be a great option for many cost conscious applications, there may be factors that exclude this choice for outdoor use. Metal fireboxes are cost efficient and easy to install however extreme temperature changes and weather conditions could dramatically reduce the life of the product. Ensuring a metal fireplace is protected from the elements would be important.

Traditional Masonry Fireplaces:

Not many will argue a masonry fireplace is beautiful. Again, there are many factors that go into the decision for this type of unit. Traditional masonry fireplaces can be customized and built to individual design preferences however may take a long time to build, a factor which contributes to the cost for installation. Though there is a basic design standard for traditional fireplaces, each one is unique with no performance testing. A skilled mason can do a beautiful job and produce a quality product; finding the right mason with the experience and one who will work within your budget is key.

If choosing a traditional masonry fireplace, a good resource is which lists stone masons and masonry contractors around the country. Be sure that they are licensed, check references and visit the mason’s past jobs.

Modular Masonry Fireplaces:

Also known as Prefab Masonry Fireplaces, Modular Masonry Fireplaces were first introduced to the US market by Earthcore Industries in 1989. These fireplaces, made from pumice stone are molded components which stack together with mortar to create a traditional or contemporary fireplace look. Modular masonry fireplaces are tested for performance and draft prior to being put on the market. This testing can therefore provide more assurance of a well performing fireplace. There are many benefits of a modular fireplace, the first being the cost savings on installation; the material is lighter weight than concrete, provides a free standing system, each piece is made to be installed in only one simple configuration and the fireplaces can be installed in less than a day. Able to withstand intense heat, the pumice stone does not absorb heat like traditional masonry brick, therefore has lower clearances to combustible framing and puts more heat into your area.

When choosing your modular masonry fireplace the most important thing to look for is if that product has been tested and listed UL 127 (safety & performance testing). Another thing to pay attention to is the material used to make the fireplace. Many companies boast that their fireplaces are “the strongest on the market” or list a PSI compressive strength – This means that their fireplaces are made primarily of concrete. Concrete does not handle extreme heat changes and is subject to a material breakdown. (Remember that cracked sidewalk outside your house growing up? The one that you always tripped over?).

No matter which fireplace type or manufacturer you choose, be sure to check with your local building inspectors for compliance to codes before you build, Be smart, safe and informed.