Ultimate Guide to Backyard Fire Pits

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Transforming your backyard into a fire pit station will create a warm gathering place for meals, drinks, heartfelt chats, and casual hangouts after a long day. Imagine the glow of fire warming your face on a crisp fall evening. Imagine a fun “campfire” night with your kids, roasting marshmallows as you tell stories around the flames.

The ways you can enjoy a fire pit in the backyard are pretty endless if you have the right location, construction, style, and size. Deciding to install a fire pit in your outdoor space is easy, but you just have to make quick decisions and narrow down your options to ensure you’re satisfied with your fire pit.

Choose your fire pit type

Before you start comparing brands and shopping for the best price, decide first what type of fire pit you want. Here are the types of fire pits to choose from:

1. Classic fire pit

A stone fire pit with stone benches

This is exactly what it sounds like: a sunken pit in the ground where you can safely start a blazing fire. It’s a classic addition to any house that can come in different shapes, sizes, and materials. It can be as basic as a DIY fire pit in the yard and as extravagant as a full stone fire pit. Fire pits often tend to be large, making it an ideal option for backyards with plenty of space or for people who host regular parties and events at their place. For a large backyard, it will be easy to add some patio seating to surround the pit so you can get a custom seating area. But if you have a smaller space, you can tone down your fire pit and make it a cozy seating area for a few close friends.

2. Fire pit bowl

A fire pit bowl

Fire bowls are similar to a fire pit, but the difference is they aren’t a permanent fixture and can be moved across the patio or yard if you want to. This is an excellent option if you live in an apartment with a landlord or don’t want to commit to having a fire pit for as long as you live in your house. A fire pit bowl comes in a wide range of styles.

Since it’s portable, it’s easier to store away when the weather gets nasty. This will ensure that it will last long. It also usually uses natural gas or propane as a fuel source. If you’re going to use a wood-burning fire bowl, it’s best to use a screen to contain embers and sparks to prevent catching fire on you and your neighbor’s property.

3. Fire pit table

A fire pit table surrounded with patio furniture

A fire pit table is a form and function molded into one. It’s like an outdoor dining table with a controlled campfire in the middle. It’s often fueled by gas or propane, as a wood-burning table can be a fire hazard. Not only does it provide warmth, but a table is also a great place to put some drinks and food and to put your feet up. If you have a smaller patio space, the fire table is perfect because it’s easy to move and store away.

Choose a material

A fire pit must be made of materials that can withstand high temperatures. The internal wall must be made of a fire-proof brick, mortar, or grout because it will directly contact high heat. The rest of the pit can be made with these materials:

1. Stone, brick, or concrete

A stone fire pit

Masonry materials are a popular option for fire pit materials as they can offer the chance of having a one-of-a-kind design tailored to your space. Also, using brick or stone can help you incorporate more colors and textures than concrete or metal. Though they can be movable, stone fire pit bowls and tables are heavier, so this would be better if your fire pits were not meant to be moved from season to season. It can last as long as the house, assuming that it drains well. It can also be designed to burn wood or propane. When burning with gas, it would need an underground pipe.  

2. Steel

A steel fire pit

Steel is an easy-to-mold metal that can be stained or painted with a wide range of looks. It’s a great and sturdy material to use for portable fire pits. But it can be susceptible to rust, so make sure you look for powder-coated options when shopping. Steel is also compatible with most fuels.

3. HDPE lumber

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic lumber is a relatively new fire pit material that is strong and durable. It offers a low-maintenance, sturdy, and environmentally-friendly alternative to wood. It’s ideal as a fire pit material to use in areas that has salty sea air, cold winters, and rainy summers. This marine-grade material resists rusting, and it’s safe to use on wood or composite decks. Usually, this material is used for table fire pits.

Select your fuel

Along with the type of fire pit and material it will be made of, the fuel that you will use is also a significant consideration. Here are your fire pit fuel options:

1. Wood

A wood burning fire pit

Traditionalists will agree that nothing beats the gentle crackling of wood and its smell burning atop a fire pit. It brings the nostalgia of a classic campfire, and anyone who wants to mimic that feel in their own home would love a wood-burning fire pit. Wood is inexpensive to install and operate, and it burns hotter than propane. It’s also the best option if you want to cook in your fireplace. It makes for a great BBQ party , and not to mention s’mores nights.  

But it comes with a lot of downsides to consider. Wood fire pits  needs hands-on tending to keep the fire’s size and temperature. It also requires a lot of safety precautions to prevent out-of-control fires. After burning, you have to clean out soot from the pit, and it leaves a lingering scent on hair and fabrics. It can also release ash or soot into the air, and you cannot install it on your patio or deck – it needs a wide-open space. It releases soot and ash into the air, which you might inhale and cause a fire hazard. Also, burning wood inside your property isn’t allowed in some places.

2. Natural gas

Natural gas fire pits light quickly and doesn’t produce smoke, soot, or sparks. It’s also cheaper to operate than propane. However, it’s not the best option for cooking as it doesn’t provide as much heat as wood. It’s also more expensive to install and operate than wood and ethanol. It’s also suitable only for permanent-type fire pits since it needs a gas-line installation, but it can increase the value of your home because of its fixture. This very reason makes its installation more expensive than other options, including propane.

3. Propane

The flip of a switch can activate fire pits fueled by propane, and you can have more control over the flame. Like natural wood, it’s clean-burning and doesn’t produce embers. It doesn’t need a gas line installation, as propane tanks can be portable. However, this option is more expensive to operate than wood and natural gas. Also, most propane fire pits won’t allow cooking. You will need to refill the propane when it runs out, and its fire rings may clog.

4. Ethanol

Also known as biofuel, ethanol is clean burning and safe to use even under the roof. Ethanol-powered fire pits tend to be portable and need no ventilation. It’s also easy to install, and you won’t need gas lines for it to work. However, it doesn’t heat as much as other options, typically found in smaller fire pits. It also burns less efficiently, and you cannot cook on ethanol fire pits.

Ensure that your fire pit is safe and legal.

While there is always a risk when it comes to fire pits, they can be a safe fixture for your outdoor space if you play it smart and take safety precautions. Research or call about your city or county’s fire pit regulations, as some cities have strict laws regarding fires. They have limits on how large your fire pit can be and its distance from homes, trees, fences, and neighbors. You also need to secure a fire permit, while some cities prohibit fire pits altogether. Make sure you check your city’s ordinances regarding fires and fire pits.

If you live within an apartment community or HOA, check if they allow fire pits under specific regulations. They are inclined to be more particular about what’s permitted and what’s not than city ordinances.

Another thing to be mindful of is the health conditions of the people living in your house and your close neighbors. People with asthma, COPD, or other lung-related diseases can be adversely affected by smoke. Using natural gas, propane, or ethanol pits would be considered instead of installing a wood-burning fire pit.

And when you’re installing a fire pit, you and your household must know fire safety and first aid essentials. Though they won’t be the ones operating the fire pit, everyone must know how to extinguish the fire and how to use the ignition switch properly. Having a burn first-aid kit ready is also a good idea.

Determine the location.

Beyond design factors, there are other practical considerations to help determine the location of your fire pit.

For safety reasons, you must keep the edge of your fire pit at least 10 feet away from your house or structures of any kind. You will need an open space for adequate seating, but you also need to choose a spot that won’t catch up with any fires. Keep your fire pit away from bushes, trees, and low-hanging branches, especially if you choose a wood-burning pit. Wind can make embers travel surprisingly far, and you don’t want your bush or tree catching sparks from your fire pit.

Speaking of wind, avoid putting your fire pit in areas that are usually gusty. Wind can force fires far in one direction, so make sure you put your pet in a patch of land protected from high winds.

You would also want to choose a spot that’s level enough to support the fire pit and has enough space to place surrounding chairs. An excellent tip is to allow about 7 feet between the fire and chairs. It would also be safe to choose a place that is nowhere near pools of water as excessive moisture can damage the fire pit. Always check and adhere to your local area’s safety regulations.

Set the size

If you choose to buy a portable fire pit, the size will be predetermined. But if you’re having it constructed on the ground, you will need to set the parameters. Here are some factors to consider that will affect the size of your fire pit:

  • How big is your backyard or patio space?
  • Do you want to create an intimate space, or do you want to entertain large groups in it?
  • How many people do you want to be able to sit around it?

For an intimate gathering area, a 3-foot wide fire pit would be enough. You can also go up to six feet wide (including the walls) to accommodate six or more people.

Also, take the depth and height of the fire pit into consideration. If it is to be constructed in the ground, the depth needs to be enough, so the wood or ring of fire fits inside it. The height of the fire pit must be about 12 to 14 inches from the ground if you want to be able to prop your feet on it. If you want to use the edge of the fire pit as a sitting wall, it can increase up to 20 inches. You don’t want to build it higher than that, or you won’t enjoy the flames and warmth of the fire.

Remember, the larger your fire pit is, the bigger the chance is for the fire to get out of hand. Always remember to stick to safe parameters when constructing your fire pit.

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