Fire Pit Basics – A Perfect Fall Hardscaping Project

If you have ever enjoyed sitting around a campfire, you will love the addition of a fire pit to your outdoor living area. Fall is the perfect time for adding a source of warmth to your outdoor environment. Building a fire pit can range from a simple do-it-yourself hardscaping project to an elaborate custom design.

Issues to consider in selecting an approach to your fire pit include:

  • Appearance – texture, shape, color
  • Use – ambiance, warmth, toasting marshmallows, cooking
  • Ease of installation
  • Fire-resistance
  • Cost – materials, labor, maintenance

In choosing the appearance you desire for your hardscaping project, you will determine the primary material.  This selection will significantly influence the other issues above. Options for fire pit materials are extensive and include:

  1. Natural stone boulders
  2. Natural wall stone
  3. Packaged natural stone kits
  4. Packaged manufactured kits including fire-resistant inserts
  5. Concrete forms requiring customization
  6. Customized from manufactured materials.

The chart below provides basic comparison of key elements of the different approaches.

Fire Pit Hardscaping Project Supplies

Guest Blog: 5 Tips to Make Your Outdoor Space More Inviting

When people buy or build their dream house, they usually focus on the interior. However, the exterior should be considered just as important. As you know, first impressions are essential. And this is precisely what the outside of your house offers. Just think about it: this is what your guests first see when they come to visit. Therefore, it’s good to have an inviting front yard. But apart from this, you should also focus on the backyard, where you’ll entertain your family and friends. So, here are five tips to make your outdoor space more inviting.

No. 1 Build a path

Nothing is more welcoming than creating a path that leads to your house. For this, you can use pavers and slabs. These materials come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Therefore, they give you a lot of options. You can opt for a more conventional and uniform path, or you can have fun with it. You can combine various colors and shapes and even make it a bit curvy.

To make your outdoor space more inviting, create paths that lead to your house and the entertainment area.

The same thing applies to your backyard. You can make your outdoor space more inviting by creating a path that leads to the entertainment area. Moreover, if you have a big backyard and a budget, consider creating several paths for your guests to enjoy a relaxing walk. You can even add some stepping stones to change things up a bit.

You can also create a path that goes around your home.

No. 2 Create the perfect atmosphere

If you want your family and friends to feel good in your outdoor space, you must create the perfect atmosphere. And one of the best ways to do this is through lighting. You can use lights for practical reasons, but you can also use them to accentuate certain elements. For example, you can light up the paths to move around easily, but this will also bring out the color and pattern of the path. And you can apply this to any part of the outdoor space: walls, fences, pool, etc.

No. 3 Make your outdoor space more inviting by adding a nice pool area

If you are so lucky to have enough outdoor space to fit a pool, don’t think twice about it. During summers, the pool area will be the main attraction. You can have quiet and relaxing days at the pool with your family or invite some friends over and have pool parties.

In any case, you should pay attention to the pool deck. This is very important because it’s where everyone will spend most of their time. A good option for the pool deck is to use travertine. This natural stone remains cool in the heat, meaning it won’t burn the soles of your feet. Moreover, it’s not slippery when it gets wet. Therefore, it’s highly recommended for the pool area. Plus, it comes in a variety of colors, so it will also look beautiful.

Make your outdoor space more inviting by creating the perfect pool area.

No. 4 Add an outdoor kitchen

Firstly, outdoor kitchens are very practical. You can use them even when you don’t have guests to protect your home from the smell of fried or grilled meals. However, during the warm season, they are great for barbeque parties. Plus, you and your guests can have fun and socialize while you cook.

Since they have a solid structure, bad weather won’t ruin your party. You can build your outdoor kitchen out of wall blocks or ready-made panels. But whichever you choose, don’t forget you also need access to gas, electricity, and water for a functional kitchen.

Now, depending on the size, you can equip it with everything you need: grills, fridges, ice machines, cabinets, and even a wood-fired pizza oven.

No. 5 Create an entertainment area

To make your outdoor space more inviting, you need an entertainment area. This is where your guests will spend most of their time. Therefore, you should think about ways to make them feel cozy.

Add a gazebo

The first thing you need to consider is that the weather is unpredictable. So, you will need a roof over your head if it starts to rain. Not to mention that summers can be scorching, so you will also need some shade. You can achieve this by building a gazebo, for example. The idea is for the area not to be fully enclosed. So, you can build a low wall around it. This will provide support for the roof and also some privacy.

Incorporate seating

The furniture is also essential since you have to seat your guests somewhere. If you build a structure with a roof, you can create an outdoor living room, including everything from couches, pillows, TV, and even a rug. However, to entertain your guests, you will need seating areas in other parts of the backyard as well. So, if there’s no roof, pay attention to the materials of the furnishings. Otherwise, bad weather will cause it to deteriorate faster. Moreover, if you’re concerned that your furniture won’t withstand the winter, you can always place it in a storage unit until next year. Just be mindful when packing and prepare it well for this period.

You can design the entertainment area like an outdoor living room.

Consider including a focal point

Think about creating a fire area. Everyone enjoys sitting around a campfire and telling stories. But since you are not in the middle of the woods, you need something more elegant and practical. A good option is to build a fire pit. It can be made out of numerous materials and in various shapes, so you have many options. The advantage is that the fire pit generates heat, and it also looks incredible.

Final thoughts

Once you buy or build a new house, filling it with family and friends is what makes it feel like home. Therefore, it’s crucial for all your guests to feel welcomed. And since the exterior is what they see first, it’s essential to make it inviting. Plus, this is where you’ll entertain during the warm season. So, use these five tips to make your outdoor space more inviting for yourself and your nearest and dearest.

Author: Mary Aspen Richardson, Professional Copywriter

the completed Manor College outdoor classroom

Guest Blog: Designing an Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor learning isn’t a new new concept: outdoor classrooms may have become increasingly trendy in recent years, but California has an “environmental education” movement dating back to the 1960s, while Waldkindergärten (“forest kindergartens”) started cropping up in Europe as early as the 1950s.  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, historians and journalists pointed out that open-air schools helped curtail the transmission of tuberculosis and other contagious diseases in the early 1900s, and may prove useful in the present crisis.

Last year, Manor College enlisted our help in creating a new outdoor classroom for the benefit of their students and faculty.  In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the design considerations that we encountered on this project.

Pop-Up or Permanent?

Some higher education institutions pivoted quickly to outdoor learning by employing temporary solutions – for example, UC Davis and the University of Virginia both utilized tents.  Other colleges, such as Saint Michael’s in Vermont, offer degree programs in environmental science, agriculture, and similar fields and have been fostering outdoor learning environments for years (Saint Michael’s established their Teaching Gardens in 2004).  How long you envision using your outdoor classroom will dictate the permanence of its components.  Our client had begun exploring outdoor learning spaces some years ago, including the addition of a gazebo in 2017, so our design and construction needed to stand up to long-term use.

Manor College's outdoor classroom gazebo
Manor College added this gazebo to the campus in 2017 but it was inefficient for its purpose. This is the site of the new outdoor classroom.

Purpose-Driven Features

Before jumping on the outdoor classroom bandwagon, carefully consider its intended purpose.  Will it be primarily used for small seminars, or need to accommodate larger groups?  Are you looking to construct something to host classes outside only when the forecast is cooperative, or do you need to factor weather-proofing elements (ex. overhead shelter) into the design?  Is this a space where lectures will be given, or does it need to be large enough to hold dance troupes, orchestras, or other performing arts ensembles?  Manor College opted for a simple “theatre in the round” approach, with a central circle surrounded by three tiers of seating, making it a multi-purpose space suitable for a number of uses.

close-up of hardscaped outdoor classroom at Manor College
The terraced seating was a natural fit with the gentle slope of the location.

Location, Location, Location

Choosing the right spot for your outdoor learning space is an important decision.  Tucking it into a quiet corner of the campus may seem ideal to reduce distraction, but putting it too out-of-the-way may deter faculty from holding classes there.  On the other hand, a location next to a high-traffic road, sports facility, or other bustling area may introduce too many distractions for effective learning.  Be sure to consider accessibility for all potential users of the space: a classroom that seamlessly facilitates wheelchairs, ASL translators, and other potential aids will make for a more welcoming experience.  When possible, it’s also nice to “go with the flow” of the surrounding landscape instead of against it.

The new outdoor classroom at Manor College is built into the side of a small hill; the terraced seating blends seamlessly into the surrounding slope.  Some attractive landscaping boulders and perennial shrubs provide a nice natural border for the space.  A smooth paved path connects the classroom to surrounding walkways, helping ensure its accessibility by all faculty and student body members.

hardscaped outdoor classroom, with Manor College banner in foreground
Planting progress: some attractive shrubs provide a lovely border to the new classroom.

Parting Thoughts

With so much of modern life bound to technology and various screens, it feels important as ever to maintain some connection to the natural world surrounding us.  Countless studies and newspaper articles demonstrate that outdoor education provides a variety of benefits, including more engaged students, higher academic achievement, and fewer absences.  While the sky’s the limit regarding the types of outdoor furniture and equipment you can include in such a space, our Manor College project shows that a relatively straightforward but thoughtfully designed structure can be highly effective.  If you have additional questions before getting started on your own outdoor classroom, don’t hesitate to contact Woodward Landscape Supply or us – we’re here to help! 

Author Info

For over 40 years, Souder Brothers Construction has provided a full range of services for commercial and high-end residential construction projects. Based in Horsham, PA we serve customers throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. Visit our project galleries for examples of our work!

photo of a Woodward customer's stone retaining wall

4 Reasons to Add Retaining Walls to Your Property

There are many ways you can improve your landscaping. However, the one upgrade that stands out is building retaining walls. Retaining walls are especially popular among homeowners who have slopes and elevated areas in their yards. Sure, you can always go for leveling the sloped ground. However, even experts suggest building retaining walls. Why? It’s simple, actually. If you choose to level your yard, you’ll drain both your time and your bank account. On the other hand, if you go with the retaining walls, you’ll have many benefits. So, let’s see the top 4 reasons to add retaining walls to your property!

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an outside fire pit is one of many hardscaping projects that may increase your home's value

Hardscaping Projects That Increase the Value of Your Home

If you’re considering making upgrades to your home or backyard, keep in mind that some will increase the future resale value of your property more than others. Of course, the most important aspect is that you and your family will benefit from and appreciate the upgrade, but it never hurts to plan ahead. A home project that will increase your home’s market value is the best possible option. However, the question is: what hardscaping projects can increase the value of your home the most? In the rest of this article, we’ll answer that question and go over everything else you need to know about certain hardscaping projects.

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Installing Gas Fire Pits – What You Need to Know

The unofficial end of summer, Labor Day, has come and gone, and the weather is slowly transitioning from muggy and sweltering to cool and crisp.  Those of us who have hunkered down indoors for the past months due to mosquitoes, heat intolerance, or health concerns are anticipating those temperate fall days when we can go apple picking and host backyard get-togethers without worrying about bug bites, heat indexes, and poor air quality days.  There’s something magical about gathering around a bonfire to roast marshmallows or simply enjoy each other’s company, especially on a cozy autumn evening. 

But perhaps your old faithful firepit is looking a little drab these days, or the smoke from the burning logs triggers a family member’s allergies or asthma, or sometimes you simply find starting and tending the fire more effort than it’s worth.  How can you enjoy the nostalgic campfire warmth and flames without all the hassle?  Here at Woodward, we offer a great solution: gas inserts for fire pits.  There are all sorts of options, from pre-assembled kits to custom designs; we’ll go over some of the considerations and characteristics shared by all gas-fueled fire pits.

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decorative rock landscaping on stairs with greenery

5 Benefits of Decorative Rock Landscaping

There is something peculiar about rock gardens. Rocks and stones represent a peaceful and grounded feature, which can truly be a remarkable addition to your yard. Besides being such a versatile element, rocks go amazingly well with water features and greenery. There are numerous ways you can add rock and stone to your garden area. By doing so, you will give your home an instant boost of curb appeal and a beautiful landscaping look. But, apart from standing the test of time, there are many more benefits to it. So, if you’re wondering how to improve your outside area, we’ve listed 5 benefits of decorative rock landscaping to help you choose.

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pathway of pavers bordered by lawn

Do Pavers Add Value to Your Home?

People undertake home improvement projects keeping the long-term benefits in mind. Homeowners carefully choose renovations and additions that improve the functionality and also add value to the property. Kitchen and bathroom renovation, repainting, window replacement, and adopting ways to improve energy efficiency are a few ways to increase the value of a home. Potential home buyers look for the overall appeal of the house, including both interiors and exteriors.

Homeowners looking to update their exterior spaces often wonder whether adding pavers to the landscaping will increase their home value. Indeed, pavers can help improve the outdoor appearance and add to a house’s curb appeal. However, factors like the location, size, and condition of the house and how and where the pavers are installed are equally essential in determining a home’s value.

Pavers or paving stones are incredibly popular, and when designed beautifully, provide an excellent way to improve a home’s exterior appearance. There are several applications of paving stones in outdoor hardscaped areas, including patios, pool decks, walkways, driveways, and outdoor kitchens. Pavers are made using a variety of materials like concrete, brick, and natural stone.

How can pavers increase home value?

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What Water Feature is Right for my Outdoor Space?

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a fire pit in a backyard surrounded by big stones

5 Reasons to Install an Outdoor Fire Pit this Summer

With days getting longer and warmer as summer approaches, we have all the more reason to spend our free time outdoors. However, once the sun sets, it might be less tempting to stick around in your backyard. This is why it makes sense to install an outdoor fire pit this summer. This neat, unique hardscape feature will surely make your outdoor celebrations, family gatherings, and barbecues the talk of the neighborhood! Let’s see how.

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