Fireplace vs outdoor heater pros cons

In a country that gets as chilly as Canada does, having someplace warm to gather around outdoors is essential. A heated, outdoor gathering area lets you and your guests sit comfortably at length, so your nights can stretch on for as long as you’d like. Each type of gathering spot offers something unique that may (or may not) make it the best choice for your family. This guide looks at all the differences between fireplaces vs outdoor heaters, fire pits, and fire tables.

The benefits of fire pits

Fire ring backyard fireplacesBeyond comfort and convenience, many fire pits and fireplaces add value to your properly. As fixed structures, you’d leave them behind in a move, making them a smart choice to add to your landscaping.

A well-placed fire in your backyard shows that you’ve put love and care into your property. While a portable fire bowl might move with you, a carefully-designed fire pit surrounded by paving stones and garden patches creates an appealing outdoor feature for prospective buyers. Like other stonework, if well-maintained, your fire pit will last for years. Not only will your family be able to enjoy your space in the present, but the next family to live in your home (or even little ones coming to your family in the future) will be able to create memories in the same space.

Fire pits are a classic example of a backyard feature. These simple designs are perfect for gathering around, and they have the most warmth and light to offer. With a wood-burning fire pit, you can roast food while you huddle around its warm glow, staying cozy while you make a few backyard snacks. S’mores, marshmallows, and hot dogs are the obvious choices, but you can cook up some delicious chilli, toasted mac & cheese, campfire cobblers, or more for the family to share! Fire pits are generous with their heat, and can also be a very affordable, rustic-looking option for a backyard feature.

Fire pits are traditionally built on the ground from stone. Variations like fire bowls, metal fire pits, and fire rings, however, offer a similar experience with portability. You can move these temporary designs around your yard, and select a style that suits your needs.

The benefits of fireplaces

Above ground fire pit fire bowlIn many ways, outdoor fireplaces are the “next step up” from fire pits. These structures are a little more ornate, and are installed with a chimney. Like fire pits, they’re also often built from stone. The chimney helps direct smoke up and away from your gathering and creates a beautiful, architectural statement in your backyard. Unlike a fire pit, an outdoor fireplace is a big install job—not something that you and your kids can throw together in an afternoon. You might see one integrated along the edge of a yard, or placed underneath a covered patio to create a cozy, all-weather separation between your patio and green space.

Outdoor fireplaces are an excellent addition to your yard that will increase your home’s resale value. They’re typically open on just one (or sometimes two) sides, so they’re ideal for seated gatherings. You can still cook in a large, wood-burning outdoor fireplace; however, some models are natural gas or propane-fuelled instead.

If you want to create an impactful centrepiece for your yard, an outdoor fireplace is the perfect heating choice for you. These beautiful structures draw the eye in, bringing guests naturally to the space around your fireplace. They also add visual height to your outdoor space, which can make your yard feel more grand and lush while your plants and trees are still growing in.

Space and scale of fireplaces vs. outdoor heaters

Patio heater vs fireplaceWhen looking at fire pits and fireplaces vs outdoor heaters, two things to think about are movability and throw. Outdoor heaters (aka patio heaters) can be very convenient, and are especially great if you want to add warmth to your yard without installing a new structure. However, they tend to be more limited, and don’t offer as much coverage as a roaring fire would. Additionally, they typically need to be plugged in and fuelled, which may limit where they can be placed.

While a fire fixture offers both heat and warmth, outdoor heaters typically offer only heat. Their compact design won’t give off a significant amount of light. This electrical or propane-based change comes with benefits of its own; along with keeping your backyard dark for casual stargazing, they don’t require stoking throughout the night. Outdoor heaters can be a wonderful, clean solution for families worried about safety or smoke. You can find them in upright, lamp-style designs, but also as overhead installations.

How about a fire table?

Fire table vs fire pitFinally, there’s a backyard fixture that has been increasing in popularity in recent years: the fire table. Fire tables are rarely wood-burning, and they offer more of an aesthetic boost than anything else. Often gas-powered, fire tables have a small pit in the centre of a stone tabletop, and create a warm glow while also providing a ledge for you and your guests to set down your food and drink.

Fire tables are a beautiful choice for backyard lovers, and like the other fire features mentioned here, they work wonderfully in combination with the rest. Adding more than one gathering spot to your yard helps create an open, inviting atmosphere. It stretches the viewer’s gaze throughout the space, and gives you multiple locations with which to gather around.

You might choose to install a fireplace at the side of your yard, for instance, next to some patio furniture and an outdoor kitchen—but then add a fire pit in the centre of your backyard so your teenage kids have someplace to gather around while the adults talk. Or, perhaps you plan to add a fire table to host a book club, but you want to add an outdoor heater next to a nearby hammock so smaller groups can break off.

These different options give you and your guests plenty of flexibility when you gather. Each one offers something special, from a fire pit for big family fires to an outdoor heater for low-maintenance patio hangouts.

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Rae Chen
Rae Chen covers everything from handbags to speakers here on the Best Buy Plug-in Blog. They can also be found at, where they've been writing about beauty & wellness since 2007.