Fire Pits Picking Up Pace With Indiana Homeowners

Written by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, contributing writer
Updated June 15, 2021
people around fire pit
Fire pits make backyard enjoyment possible well into fall. (Photo courtesy of Pella Windows and Doors)

Once on a homeowner's wish list, fire pits are gaining popular in the Hoosier state.

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Indiana landscapers, especially those who lay patios and other hardscape, have seen an uptick in the number of homeowners who want a fire pit in the yard. Outdoor kitchens and fireplaces also fill the wish lists of many Hoosiers who are investing time and money at home during challenging economic times.

Currently, the top outdoor living features include the most basic elements: light, fire, food and a place to sit and enjoy it all, according to the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects Residential Trends Survey. The results show that 96.2 percent of respondents rated exterior lighting as somewhat or very popular for this year, followed by fire pits/fireplaces (94.2 percent), seating/dining areas (94.1 percent), grills (93.8 percent) and installed seating like benches or seat walls (89.5 percent).

Rather than moving to a different abode, people are spiffing up their current one, says Gus Lemcke, owner of highly rated Lemcke Landscape Inc., in Indianapolis. "Thirty years in this business has taught me a couple of things," he says. "In economic downturns, people stay in their own backyard. They stay home and fix up the place."

Paul Karrer, owner of highly rated P & K Exterior Design Services, also in Indy, agrees. "Anybody with money is doing what I call nesting," he says. "They're staying at home, enjoying their own fire pits or other enhanced outdoor living space."

Before having any outdoor work done, Lemcke recommends checking the ordinances in your community. Cities and neighborhood associations may have requirements for a fire pit's location regarding the house, garage, easements and public thoroughfares.

Fire pits can be portable or permanent. Permanent structures can be practically any shape, but usually aren't larger than 3- or 4-feet wide and about 1- to 2-feet deep. About 25 percent of the pits Karrer builds are wood-fired. A simple fire ring can cost $300 to $500 with more elaborate outdoor structures reaching into the thousands.

For Lemcke, most of the outdoor fireplaces he builds operate on propane or natural gas. His more elaborate designs include pizza ovens and stovetops.

Material selection is important, especially in the Midwest where winter freezing and thawing can destroy certain kinds of stone or mortar. Plus, the pit should be lined with a special stone that can withstand the heat of a fire.

"Don't give any money until the project begins," Lemcke says. He also recommends homeowners get all the details of the job in writing, including a complete materials list and the timing of the project.

Far from a do-it-yourself project, installing a fire pit may require electricians, plumbers and special engineering. "This isn't a homeowner friendly project," Lemcke says, noting that Angie's List members have an advantage in finding the right contractor for such a job. "Do your homework by diving deep in the List and giving the reviews a look. It's a great tool.”

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis, where she manages perennials and woody plants for a large, independent garden center. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications, including “The American Gardener” and “Garden Gate.” Sharp also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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