How to create fire pits and fireplaces to last and enjoy

Outdoor fire pit and fireplace
ARTICLE Penny Lewis

Many lodges in New Zealand and across the world feature outdoor fire pits and fireplaces as part of their landscaping. We enjoy these cosy spots under the stars because we can gather to experience comfort, warmth and hospitality, toasting marshmallows and sharing stories. 

So why not recreate that around-the-fire magic at home? As more people look into adding this lodge-like atmosphere to their outdoor space, the options available have increased. ''There's a huge demand for outdoor fireplaces,'' says Christina Cairns, director of The Fireplace in Auckland.

Outdoor fireplaces have been a popular part of landscaping for the past 20 years. Fire pits, either moveable or built into hard landscaping, can be a good option for homeowners who are short on space. Portable versions also appeal to people who are on the move and want to take their outdoor fires with them to set up at a new home.

Built-in outdoor fireplaces cost $4000-$5000, plus the cost of a surround and installation. There’s a lot less outlay required for a moveable fire pit. The Fireplace sells the Fogata, a fire pit the company’s technical manager designed six years ago. It retails for $1995 and there’s also the option of a steel barbecue grill with a height-adjustable swivel top for $775.

An built-in outdoor fire pit surrounded by comfortable soft chairs

“The fire pit appeals to our hearts. It’s a place to gather and sit around and enjoy,” Christina says. The Fogata is made from heat-resistant concrete with stainless steel. The concrete retains heat, so emits warmth long after the flames have died down. The design features a shallow concrete bowl resting on six legs. It has a beautiful sculptural quality and so will look great in your outdoor room even when it’s not in use. The Fogata weighs 180kg, so it’s moveable but needs at least a couple of people to disassemble the components, move it and set it up again. This means it can be moved around your property or relocated from home to the bach for summer but it’s not so portable that a would-be opportunist thief can swipe it easily.

There’s no need to clean away the ash after each use, just leave it to cool. The ash doesn’t seep from under the bowl, but Christina says “common sense prevails” when it comes to the set-up around your outdoor fire pit. Place it over a heat-resistant surface, ideally concrete or tiles, rather than over timber decking. 

Ensure there is sufficient room around the fire pit so that flames, heat and smoke are away from foliage and your property’s boundary and there’s enough room for your family and friends to sit comfortably and safely around it. If there’s a logical place in your garden for your fire pit and you have no need for a moveable version, talk to your landscape expert about a built-in model. Seating can either be portable – outdoor bean bags and benches – or permanent, such as poured concrete with cushions for comfort.

Check with your local council, but in the Auckland region you don’t need to obtain building consent to install any type of outdoor fireplace, including masonry and brick open fires, fire pits and heat recirculating open fires (metal fireboxes with open fronts). Resource consent may be required even though building consent is not. All work will need to comply with the Building Code.

Outdoor fireplace built-in a wooden column that connects a lounge to the garden

There is an art to firewood, something Christina Cairns says Kiwis don’t pay as much attention to compared with firewood users in the UK and Europe. The key is to think ahead – and have a dry place to store your wood. “Wood should be mature and dry and at least a year old,” Christina says. 

Many people try and burn wood when it is still too green, which leads to the fire smelling and hissing and not taking hold. “Dry wood improves the efficiency of any fireplace.” Christina says. She recommends starting off with kindling, stacked into a “wigwam” shape. If necessary, use kerosene-based firelighters to spark the kindling. Once the flames are established, add pine to get the fire roaring. Finally, opt for a manuka or gum, slow-burning hard timber that burns twice as long as pine does. Christina says there’s no need to clear out ash frequently. With use, the ash will form a base and will help your fire to burn more efficiently as it acts as an insulating layer.

If fiddling around with wood isn’t your thing, there are gas-burning outdoor fire pits on the market, too. Talk to your landscape expert about what might be right for your home to create a cosy lodge-like atmosphere.

Get inspired looking through our Photo Gallery.


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If you would like to discuss options and ideas for your outdoor fire pit or landscaping project, please use the enquiry form on this page to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your landscaping design and build. If you would like to provide us with more information about your project, we have a more comprehensive enquiry form on our "Get in touch" page too.

*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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