Generations ago, an outdoor fireplace allowed you to cook meals without adding heat to the inside of the house in summer. Today, outdoor fireplaces are mainly leisure luxury items in back yards. They are a focal point and an area to congregate during social events when the outside temperatures are chilly or brisk. A roaring fire adds much to a fall or winter event for ambiance, even if no one is huddled near it to stay warm.
Local governments or homeowners associations may have strict codes and regulations in place regarding the construction and use of outdoor fireplaces. If the fireplace is made of masonry and is a permanent structure, building codes apply just as much as if the fireplace were inside the home. Investigate local codes to learn if any guidelines exist for clearance around the fireplace or for the use of certain landscaping materials, such as mulch or plants. The fireplace can become a hot area. Cinders and heat can cause nearby materials to ignite or, in the case of plants, sustain dieback from singed leaves or twigs.
Once the fireplace is constructed, ample space is needed in front of it for the family or guests to enjoy. Seating is vital, whether as a permanent bench or portable patio chairs and stools. A sloping yard may pose problems, as the grade or incline may limit where sidewalks or a patio may be constructed. Moreover, the sloping land can limit the actual size of the paved or gravel seating area or patio. Terracing the area is possible, but more cost is involved to move soil and create stable retaining walls, especially if people are regularly walking on and using the terraced areas. A deck can be constructed to provide a level space in front of the fireplace, too. Nonflammable decking materials are best and may be required by local code.
Enclosing the Space
A sloped lot might not provide privacy, especially if trees and shrubs are not present after the property is built and developed. Neighbors living on the upper side of a slope may have an unimpeded view into your property and to that handsome new outdoor fireplace you built. While you don’t want to plant trees or shrubs too close to the fireplace itself, consider where some vegetation is needed on the sides of the property to help enclose it. Taller shrubs and trees behind the fireplace will soften the look of the fireplace facade while ensuring more privacy for people viewing the front of the fireplace on the patio. Plants are less expensive to install and use on a slope than constructing walls or other structures with foundations.
Always select plants suitable for the soil, light, and year-round climate in your region. Avoid flammable plants, such as evergreens, ornamental grasses, or eucalyptus trees, in close proximity to the outdoor fireplace. A sloped lot may be more difficult to mow or walk across or have drainage or erosion issues. In the steepest and least-accessible parts of the lot, plant large shrubs and trees to stabilize the soil. Plant them at an appropriate distance so they can grow to their mature size without the need for annual, repeated trimming. Using accent beds and containers of flowering perennials and annuals is also appropriate, limiting the higher-maintenance landscape areas to just around the fireplace where people gather. Turfgrass may be initially cheaper to install, but it carries a high labor cost to maintain. On a sloped lot, lawn mowing isn’t easy and often not worth the effort.