What You Should Know About the Color of Your Roof

Never mind the palette for your living room – homeowners, especially those interested in green house plans, should first figure out the color of their roofs. A new study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that white roofs may just make for a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly house topper than the traditional black or the trendy vegetated "green" varieties. While climate change may be of primary concern for some, even those wanting to save some money should still give some thought to the roof over their heads.

The cost of cover
Berkeley lab researchers examined the three types of roofs and their life cycle cost over a 50-year period. Their conclusions were clear:

"White roofs win based on the purely economic factors we included, and black roofs should be phased out," said Arthur Rosenfield, a co-author of the paper and former Commissioner of the California Energy Commission.

According to the researchers, white roofs do a better job cooling a building and the surrounding city air than black roofs because they reflect light and heat rather than absorb it. In fact, not only were black roofs deemed economically inefficient, but also hazardous, as high summer temperatures can cause the top floors of buildings to become extremely hot.

While green roofs are similarly effective at cooling as white ones, the latter was three times more effective at countering climate change, as it purportedly kept sunlight from being absorbed into the earth's surface. Additionally, green roofs required higher installation costs than the other two kinds of roofs. Yet, the study authors also acknowledged that they did not fully investigate the benefits of the vegetation option, citing storm water management and aesthetic pleasures associated with a rooftop garden.

A grain of salt
The study seems to come down decidedly in favor of white roofs, however, Stanford research a couple of years prior indicated that reflective white actually may actually result in a net global warming due to the fact the redirected sunlight could disperse earth-cooling clouds and result in further absorption of light by pollutants. While the study did not address the potential benefit of reduced electricity bills in the summer due to a white roof, the argument could be made that those savings are lost come winter, when heat absorption may actually be a benefit.

"Cooling your house with white roofs at the expense of warming the planet is not a very desirable trade-off," said lead researcher Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering.

An alternative to white roofs, according to the Stanford press release, would be photovoltaic panels that generate electricity without reflecting sunlight back into the atmosphere.

Location, location, location
Conflicting research may make it hard for you to decide on your best course of action. Apart from the color, you also have plenty of materials that change the efficiency of your roofs. Additional factors such as sunlight exposure and even the pitch of the roof may influence your decision. Yet, local climate should be one of the first considerations.

White and vegetative roofs are good at keeping buildings cool, which makes them great for sunny, warm temperature climates, such as Arizona or Southern California. If you're looking at Florida house plans such as this one, you may want to consider cooling options. People in cold climates like New England, however, require heat absorption. A dark roof can even assist in snow melt in the winter months. In any case, it's always a good idea to talk to your contractor about the most cost-efficient options as well as the feasibility of implementing them.

Study Finds Owner Satisfaction With Green Homes

Green building practices make up one of the most prominent building trends of the last decade. Yet, given that the field of sustainability is still in its infancy, people may wonder just how satisfied people are with their environmentally friendly homes.

Survey says? They love it. 

A recent study commissioned by the National Association of Home Builders found that 94 percent of people who purchased a National Green Building Standard-certified home said they would recommend a green residence to a friend. An equal percentage of people agreed that they were generally satisfied with the energy performance of their homes. Finally, 92 percent said they would purchase a green home in the future. 

Energy efficient, green house plans exist in abundance for homeowners who are interested. The question remains, though, what exactly did green homeowners find so satisfying? 

Defining green 
An overwhelming majority of homeowners surveyed said that they understood what was meant by the term green home. The truth is, however, many people don't, even when they think they do. That's because the phrase is rather nebulous – it's an umbrella term that has morphed through connotations to refer to many aspects of environmentally and energy-conscious building. An environmentally friendly home doesn't necessarily mean energy-efficient, nor does either quite mean sustainability. Generally, though, green homes are a combination of all of these components – homes that are less damaging to the environment, minimize energy usage, built with renewable resources and possess a small carbon footprint. The National Green Building Standard is just one of many measures of these efforts for U.S. homes and structures.

Dissecting the answers
The survey, conducted by GuildQuality, centered on people's satisfaction with various aspects of their green homes, which are also common features of many green home plans. Air quality, water efficiency, heating, cooling and natural light were all scrutinized in the survey. Some 92 percent of respondents agreed that their home maintained consistent temperatures and were less drafty than non-green homes. A majority of 86 percent agreed that they had lower utility bills than in traditional homes. More tellingly, when asked what green features were most important in choosing or building green homes, the top answers were insulation, efficiency, energy, heating, cooling and windows. Those aspects that they were most satisfied with were low-utility bills, energy efficiency and insulation. 

Achieving green
All of these features sound great, but it's important that homeowners understand how architects and builders achieve them. While many green homes take on a modern, minimalist look, it's important to note that green building is largely concerned with design, not style. It's possible to have traditional-looking home plans that are still sustainable. Much of what makes green homes work are efficient layout, construction and Energy Star-approved products, from windows to HVAC systems. Builders of green homes usually pay special attention to developing a tight air seal and installing high-quality insulation, which cuts down on draftiness and therefore heating and cooling bills. Additionally, green houses may maximize natural heating through strategically placed windows and heat-absorbing building materials. 

Different designs
This house plan, for example, boasts plenty of green house features, while maintaining an elegant stonework design that harkens back at least a century or two. Meanwhile, this modest house plan features a simple neo-colonial style in a no-frills, high-efficiency package. In short, homeowners aren't limited by their tastes when it comes to selecting their green homes. Furthermore, even houses not originally billed as energy-efficient can still be built with Energy Star products to improve their quality in sustainability. All that's required is some forethought in the building of the home and a willingness to adjust to different, more efficient kind of living. Fortunately, plenty of intelligently designed home plans eliminate much of that hassle. 

Affordable Luxury May Be One of This Year”s Design Trends

Paste Magazine recently posted its predictions for the top 10 design trends of 2014. One in particular – high style at low prices – is an equally fitting description of pre-drawn house plans. People hoping to build a home that's luxurious inside and out may just have a bright year ahead of them.

The economics of pre-drawn plans
A personal architect will help customize your home to your every whim – for a price. Unfortunately, that level of site-specific design is enough to price out plenty of prospective homeowners. Pre-drawn house plans offer the advantage of a much cheaper alternative. However, a cost-effective blueprint doesn't necessarily equate to poor quality design. Plenty of pre-drawn home plans are designed by renowned architects, and an extensive selection of such blueprints means that buyers may be able to find their dream home at a fraction of the cost of designing from scratch. These pre-drawn blueprints range from French country designs to luxury house plans, ensuring that it is, indeed, possible to achieve high style at low prices.

Matching inside to the outside 
Fine house plans such as this one demand equally tasteful and elegant design. According to Paste Magazine, home goods stores are making it easier than ever for homeowners to achieve high-class looks at affordable prices. The Internet also has plenty of design websites that grant shoppers the opportunity to find deals on normally pricey furnishings. Chandeliers to hang in the dining room or in a grand stairwell can be found at a bargain online, whether homeowners are looking for something rustic, minimalist or Victorian. No matter what you're looking for, you can probably find it on sale online.

Of course, high style at low prices has always been available for buyers who know how to look. Thrift stores and antique shops offer plenty of slightly used but nonetheless high-quality furnishings. In many instances, you can find these older goods to be of a better craftsmanship and durability than mass-produced furniture made today. The trick to shopping used is to look past initial appearances. Ripped fabric or a scratched leg of a couch may seem unappealing, but reupholstering and refurbishing are relatively cheap services. You can even do them yourself. More important when buying used furniture is determining whether the structure is intact, the materials of good quality and the basic design appealing. Other flaws can usually be buffed, stained or patched according to your needs.

Taking advantage of other trends
Given the possibility for affordable design, people can even start implementing some of the year's other supposed design trends. These included rich, luxurious fabrics and sculptural artwork, both of which would add some serious flair to any room. Light wood and natural elements were other predicted highlights for the year. Given that wood shades are always coming in and out of style, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a nice piece of used furniture made from maple, oak, ash or pine. People who like print also have reason to embrace design in 2014, as classic patterns with a modern twist also made the list. The celebration of pattern is yet another reason why homeowners may want to try their hand at reupholstering antiques at a fraction of the cost.

Cost-Effective Designs to Incorporate Into Your New Home

Remodeling magazine recently released its annual "Cost vs. Value" report on popular remodeling projects and how well they retain their value over the years. People who are building their own homes obviously need not worry about remodeling just yet, but they should nevertheless take note of the report. By incorporating some of these home improvement strategies early in the building process, homeowners have the opportunity to increase the functionality and appeal of their home while saving more money by doing them during the construction phase.

Plenty of craftsman house plans already feature these kinds of additions or can easily be fitted to incorporate them. Here's a summary of some of the top findings, as well as some ways in which people building new homes can take advantage of them.  

Cost-effective across the country
A total of 35 popular mid-range and upscale remodeling projects were featured in the report, spanning everything from sunroom additions to fiber-cement siding replacements. Of the 22 mid-range projects, the most-cost effective projects for 2014 by national average were steel entry door replacements, wood deck additions, attic bedrooms, garage door replacements and minor kitchen remodels. Homeowners who look at the list may note that the national average returns often fall below 100 percent, however, they should take into consideration the importance of region. A wood deck addition in Alaska may only garner 87.5 percent of the cost recouped in 2014, but in Hawaii the addition resulted in 150 percent of the cost being recouped, resulting in a positive return of investment. 

Steel entry door replacements
While this project is maybe not the flashiest, it was the easiest way to contribute to the curb appeal of a home, thanks to low cost and the highest rate of return based on the national average. A steel door is sturdier than aluminum, more durable and gives the front of a home a sharp sheen. Most any house based on a craftsman house plan can be incorporated with this kind of door. 

Wood deck addition
This was the second-most worthwhile home addition, and if you're planning to build a home, you've probably already debated incorporating one. Wooden decks in particular fared well on the market, and there are a number of floor plans that incorporate them into their design. This craftsman vacation home is a beautiful design that offers a rustic but grand wraparound deck that provides the opportunity for excellent views of the backyard.

When considering decks, however, homeowners should take into consideration the kinds of activities they want to do on them. A thinner platform is fine for sitting and relaxing, but families that want to host parties or live in colder climates may also want to consider lanais or screened porches. These offer year-round relaxation while still providing the option for an open, airy indoor-outdoor space.

Attic bedroom
That same design also boasts an attic bedroom. The appeal of an upper-level sleeping area for homeowners is mainly the added space for more guests or children. Often, the number of beds and baths are among the first things listed by real estate and floor planning companies, as it helps indicate the size and worth of a home. House blueprints that allow for attic bedrooms, then, have an advantage in terms of design flexibility. The upper level in the previously mentioned vacation home is designed specifically to be a bedroom, however, other house floor plans feature the attic as a functional, multi-purpose space. This Florida house plan, for example, features three attic bonus areas to be used at the homeowner's discretion.

The Advantages of Side-Loading Garages

The garage is a main entrance for many homeowners, but it also serves a number of other design functions. While plenty of homes feature garage entrances on their front facades, homeowners may want to consider the advantages of side-loading garages, an easily achievable addition to many craftsman house plans.

A cleaner front
Side-loading garages are often built for the purpose of aesthetics. Garages on the front of the house can be distracting and are even considered an eyesore to some. Homeowners who want a "cleaner" front to their home may want to situate the garage on the side, where it is out of sight. A perfect example of the aesthetic gain of a side-loading garage is this family-friendly home model, which offers a perfectly symmetrical facade that would be disrupted by the placement of a garage door. Side-loading garages may not only suit your tastes, they can make a huge difference years down the line if you ever consider selling.

Curb appeal is one of the main arguments for a side-loading garage. While you may not be interested in selling your house anytime soon, this design choice may be considered an investment, much like the decision to buy a home in the first place. The front of a house is the first impression that potential buyers get, and can often influence their decision about whether to even look at the rest of the house.

Lot considerations
While a side-loading garage can look cleaner, it can sometimes be pricier and more inconvenient for homeowners than a simple front-loading garage. Every inch of driveway costs money, and you'll likely need to pave more to reach the side of the house than the front. Homeowners should talk with their architect or contractor about ways to minimize the cost of an extended driveway.

Another large problem with side garages is a matter of space. Your driveway will likely lead from the front yard to the side of the house, where it must then make a 90 degree turn to connect to the garage. Cars will need enough space to make that turn comfortably, meaning more pavement on the side of the house and a large enough lot to accommodate a sizable driveway.

This issue actually leads to a different kind of aesthetic concern. While you may have preserved the integrity of the front facade, driveways can eat up a considerable proportion of a side yard, thereby cutting down on grass, plants and potentially play space for children.

Consider design
If you have a sizable lot, then a side-loading garage may be a good option. However, whichever way you lean, it's also important to consider the overall design of the house in relation to the garage. The layout in this Mediterranean style home, for example, is positioned so that the garage connects immediately to a utility room and kitchen, while at the same time creating an enclave at the entrance of the house. In this case, the garage makes aesthetic as well as utilitarian sense. While you may be disinclined to choose a side-loading garage, you also need to examine connections such as these and decide whether the position of the garage contributes to a natural flow through the house.

Working the front
In that same vein, it's important to recognize that not all side-loading garages are prettier than their front-loading counterparts. Often a front-loading garage is an opportunity for smart and elegant design. While the garage is conspicuous, the door is designed to match the wood cladding on the left side of the facade, creating a tasteful connection throughout the house.

Finding the Right Dining Room Table

You want your dining room table to seat family and friends comfortably, but you also need it to sit inside your home. Getting the perfect dining room table to fit your floor plans is about striking a balance between personal preference and function. Here are some considerations when choosing this key piece of furniture:

Ample table space
Dining room tables are meant for family and formal feasts alike. As such, you'll want a table that can accommodate place settings and serving dishes comfortably, as well as candles and centerpieces. Be sure to account for elbow room in addition to space taken up for plates, silverware, drinks and side dishes. Any less space than two feet per person will feel crowded. If you have people sitting across from one another, you'll want a table that's at least three feet wide.

You'll also want to keep in mind how many people you plan to seat around your table. Couples who expect to have kids should plan for a potential need for more place settings in the future. Also, if you plan on hosting holiday dinners or even friendly gatherings, you may want to invest in a table that fits more than just your family unit. However, you may not have any interest in hosting dinner parties or even eating meals in the dining room. If you plan to use that space as a flex room, feel free to choose a table that better suits your needs.

Chair and walking room
Guests at your table are going to need to get up out of their chairs, not to mention ample room to walk around the dining area. While you can technically fit chairs with two feet of room between table and wall, three feet will make for a much more comfortable dining space. You should also give yourself more room if you plan to have other furnishings in the room, such as a liquor trolley or a cabinet for fine china. However, you may also get away with less room on one side if the adjacent wall is knocked down for an open layout.

Matching design
Your final consideration should be how the table fits with the overall design of the room. You may want to find a table that fits the style of the rest of the room. A formal, neocolonial space may look best with an antique table, while a room decorated in the vein of country house plans may look best with something more roughly hewn and rustic. However, much more important than the material and ornament of the table is its shape. 

In a square room, you can easily fit any shape of table, whether round, square or rectangular. However, in oblong rooms, a circular or square table will likely look strange. Furthermore, the table should be oriented to parallel the layout of the space, so that the longer sides of a table correspond with the longer sides of the room. This layout also maximizes efficiency.

Looking at a test case
Craftsman house plans such as this one feature plenty of versatility in terms of dining. In addition to the dining room, there is also a nook and a barbecue porch, all of which can have a dining table. To illustrate the previous points, a table in the dining room should probably be no less than 3' by 3' and no bigger than 7' by 10'. If need be, the dining room can cheat on the 2' walk space rule on the side closest to the foyer. Given the presence of the fireplace and the semi-open layout between the dining room and the family room, a small, modest dining room table may be the best option to match the space. 

Housing Construction is Looking Up

People shopping for floor plans in 2014 may find themselves in good company. Despite a slight dip in housing starts in December compared to November, it seems as if the housing production market will continue to grow in the coming year, with some cities already showing historic highs in terms of home building.

Spikes and improvements
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released statistics concerning the number of new privately owned housing units authorized in permit-issuing places over the past year, as well as statistics on the different phases of construction for new privately owned units. Nationally speaking, the number of permits and housing starts saw a decrease from November to December last year, with a 3 percent and a 10 percent dip respectively. However, November marked an unusual spike in 2013's overall trend.

Compared to December 2012, this last month actually saw a 4 percent increase in terms of authorized permits. Looking at yearly averages, there was a 17.5 percent improvement between 2012 and 2013, with 974,700 housing units last year over the 829,700 issuances in the previous year.

These statistics saw a roughly similar pattern in terms of housing starts, as there was a 1.6 percent increase in December 2013 compared to December 2012, and, in terms of yearly change, an 18.3 percent increase.

Breaking down the numbers
These national totals included multi- as well as single-family homes, but the statistics also showed improvements across differently sized housing units. Single-family homes – the largest sector of housing construction – also saw a percentage increase in permits authorized from year to year, as well as the number of homes under construction. Between 2012 and 2013, there was actually a 19 percent increase in single-family permits, roughly 1.5 percent higher than the total average. Housing starts, however, saw a roughly 3 percent dip for single-family homes. These numbers were then further broken down by national regions, all of which saw a yearly increase in issued permits. 

While the December dip may seem to be a sign that the housing market is slowing, Rick Judson – chairman of the National Association of Home Builders – noted that December's numbers were merely a return to trend after a particularly robust November, and that it was the third-highest monthly level of production in 2013, according to the NAHB. In general, that trend seems to be positive.

"Last year was a good year for home building, with overall production up 18 percent from 2012," said Chief Economist David Crowe of the National Association of Home Builders. "As pent-up demand is unlocked and the labor market improves, we anticipate that 2014 should be an even better year for home construction. That's good news for economic growth, as each new home that is built creates three full-time jobs and contributes to the tax base of local communities."

Cities of growth
While those statistics looked at general trends across regions, USA Today recently reported that some cities are seeing particularly robust improvements. Major cities in Texas in particular have reached 30-year average levels of single-family home building, specifically in Houston and Austin. Other cities that saw improvements include Nashville, San Antonio, Dallas and Jacksonville. When including multifamily construction, San Francisco, New York Seattle, Boston and Miami also reached or surpassed their own historic building levels.

Apparently some cities were able to reach those numbers because they hadn't already been overbuilt. Yet, according to the news source, economists are citing available land, pent-up demand, strong economies and good job growth as other reasons for the improved numbers. 

Shades, Shutters, Blinds and Drapes

When it comes to window treatments, you have your choice between four main styles – shades, shutters, blinds and drapes. Each one has its own set of characteristics to best suit your needs. As you decide which designs to buy for your home, you'll want to consider each and every room in terms of its light, heat and aesthetic requirements. Here to help you decide is an introduction to window coverings and how to pick the right ones.

Windows are an essential element to your home – not just for privacy or blocking light at night, but also for regulating the temperature of your home. Sunlight through your windows can provide solar gain, thereby warming your home. However, blinds are key in regulating the amount of solar gain, especially in the summer months, when rooms are liable to overheat. In the wintertime, you also run the risk of losing heat through glass, which is a poor insulator. Window treatments help to retain heat in winter months and during cold nights.

A treatment for every situation
Some of these window treatments are better at insulating and blocking light than others. However, you don't just want to pick the best insulator for every room, as you'll likely have different light, heat and privacy needs from room to room. The southern-facing wall of your home, for example, will let in the most light of any facade, and as such you may want heavy shades to block out the sun on really hot days. Because many people choose house floor plans with large bay windows on the south side to let in light, you'll also have more heat radiating through the glass in the winter. Closed window treatments during cold nights are also essential to retaining heat. North‚Äč-facing walls, however, receive little light and so don't require as much shade. Lightweight drapes that allow light may be a better option. 

Also, consider the various privacy requirements for two-story house plans, such as this one, compared to single-story craftsman house plans. Downstairs, thin drapes may be fine, but for upstairs bedrooms, you'll still want something opaque so that light doesn't get in and privacy is afforded. With the south-facing great room, however, slatted blinds may be preferable.

This type of window treatment is often used purely as decoration on the side of neocolonial homes, though many are not actually able to shut. However, they do provide a sturdy treatment that can reduce temperature fluctuations in a home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a solid shutter fitted close to a window frame creates an insulating air space. They can also be combined with other shading elements for greater insulation. They also provide a physical barrier from the elements.

The insulating abilities of drapes depends largely on the fabric being used. If you want a lot of insulation, then thick, dark drapes that layer atop one another are your best option. However, you can also use thin drapes to create soft lighting a room. 

Shades and blinds
The terms shades and blinds are often used interchangeably, but in general, blinds have slats. Because these slats are often adjustable, they allow homeowners flexibility in terms of letting in light and air. However, slats also create small slits where air can get through, making them less effective at retaining heat in the winter. 

Unlike blinds, shades are generally comprised of a single piece of fabric that can be pulled down over glass. These are highly effective means of insulation that can be improved upon through layers and sealed edges. 

Understanding Impact Fees

Jurisdictions across the U.S. have taken to charging impact fees on new developments. These fees are designed to cover the cost of utilities, schools, roads, parks and other community amenities that form the public infrastructure. Contractors may already be aware of these fees, but homeowners looking at floor plans should, too, as they can become reflected in the overall cost of a newly built home.

History of impact fees
According to the National Association of Home Builders, impact fees started in the 1970s in Florida and California as a funding source in light of federal aid cutbacks. Since then, they have become a resort for communities across the country in need of money to immediately improve public infrastructure, as well as those that have been unable to procure the necessary funding through regular bureaucratic channels. The context and legality of impact fees is a complex issue that  has spawned into a handbook from the NAHB that is more than 100 pages long. However, what homeowners and contractors both need to know is that impact fees are now a common occurrence. Developers and builders need to know about the impact fee for their projects and figure out how to offset those costs. Homeowners should understand that impact fees translate into higher home prices depending on where they build.

Impact fees across regions
‚ÄčThe latest survey concerning national impact fees comes from Duncan Associates in 2012, which compiled states' average impact fees. California had the highest of any state, with impact fees totaling $31,014 on average. The next highest impact fees were found mainly in the western and mid-Atlantic regions of the country, with Washington, Oregon, Montana, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia all having average mpact fees between $10,000 and $17,000. Conversely, much of the Mid-West and Northeastern regions of the country had impact fees under $4,000 or none at all. Some of those without fees included Mississippi, Alabama, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, both Dakotas and Michigan.

Understanding the effects
The NAHB noted that the earlier a developer or builder knows the impact fee, the sooner he or she can adjust the cost of a home. Waiting too long could mean incurring the cost and losing out on a profit margin. Homeowners, on the other hand, will want to know impact fees to know how greatly the cost of the home is affected. They should also note that impact fees will change across jurisdictions, meaning choice of lot could determine the affordability of certain home projects or even of the home plans themselves.

Brightening Your Backyard With a Fire Pit

Campers can attest to the warmth and comfort of a good campfire. Around it, stories are shared, bread is broken and nighttime chills are kept pleasantly at bay. Fire pits are a way for homeowners to bring that cozy intimacy into their very own backyards – no tent required.

Fire pits today are so much more than the name implies, easily built into any shape and size and able to be fueled by your gas line. With so many options, it's important that homeowners take a look at just how fire pits can be incorporated into their home designs.

Design basics
The main purpose for a fire pit is communal, a place where people can gather and enjoy the flame whether on a winter day or a cool summer evening. As such, plenty of thought should be given to the design of the pit. It serves not just a decorative element in the backyard, but a centerpiece for parties and hangouts. Brick and stone are common, simple and elegant materials for a fire pit, often built in a circle a couple of feet high, though the pit can be any shape or depth you want. A good example of a classic fire pit is shown in the example of this country house plan. Even without a fire, the pit is still an attractive element of the backyard that matches the gray pillars and concrete floor of the house design.

While a 3-foot-wide fire pit may be a perfectly tasteful and modest size, homeowners should not feel limited by convention. If the fire pit is the main attraction of the backyard, it may be more enjoyable to go big with something as large as a 6-foot-wide fire pit. Conversely, if you have other attractions in your backyard, such as a pool, it may be better to scale back to a more manageable size.

Important considerations
When designing your fire pit, there are a few essential concerns you should address. First, you'll want to make sure there is enough room for people to sit around the pit comfortably. Second, you'll want to make sure that the fireplace is shallow enough that people can actually see the fire inside. While a well-designed fire pit can look beautiful without being lit, you still want the fire to be an attention-grabbing element. Finally, if you plan on having a wood-burning fire pit, you need to make sure it's deep enough to contain the fire, which is its original purpose in the first place.

Beyond the pit
Of course, technology and design have taken the fire pit well beyond its humble beginnings. Metal woks, troughs, tables and even gas-fueled rock piles are just some of the more modern approaches being used in new homes. That means a greater ability to customize a fire pit to a home. A chic, metal bowl design could be a good fit with minimalist contemporary house plans. Sprawling, graded backyards could make use of two small pits or troughs strategically positioned at different levels. Pool backyards could make use of a fire-lit grotto. If there is a design you have in mind, chances are you can find it or have it custom built. 

You even have the option of blurring the line that separates indoors from the outdoors with full-blown fireplace, as seen in this elegant and luxurious patio design. With this particular patio, you can treat it as a secondary living room. Best of all, you, your guests and the fireplace are all protected from the elements, so you can enjoy the blaze come rain or shine.