Who doesn’t love sitting next to a fire on a chilly night with friends and family roasting marshmallows? Before you build a pit, it’s wise to weigh the pro’s and con’s of having one as it’s so so so important to get this right not only for appearance and function, but more importantly safety.
One reason for a fire pit’s appeal? We believe a fire pit can extend back yard use through autumn and winter. Gone are the days of outdoor entertaining only through the spring and summer months with a great barbecue and pool party – fire pits are the way to go in the cooler months!
Here’s what you should consider before planning a fire pit and dreaming of cool, moonlit nights roasting marshmallows.
Types of fire pits
Ok, so there are generally four types of fire pits that you can choose from:
These fire pits traditionally have closed sides, with an opening on the front and a chimney on top. Chimineas are easy to find, sold at most home and garden stores, and are full of style. The ceramic material used to build chimineas can be painted, adding a pop of colour to your outdoor space. Chimineas are usually pretty heavy and are not meant to be moved around. Their design is helpful in keeping smoke out of your guests’ eyes.
Photo credit curbly.com
2. Wood burning fire pits
A wood burning fire pit is like having a campfire right in your very own backyard. They provide warmth, the crackle of wood, and real smoke all while keeping the fire completely contained. There are a variety of different types of wood burning fire pits you should be aware of:
- Outdoor fireplace: An outdoor fireplace, whether a portable one or a built-in design, will greatly enhance your patio. The design is usually similar to an indoor fireplace.
- Brick or stone fire pit: This is basically an easy DIY project. Brick or stone fire pits can be built by using cinder blocks, stones, or bricks from almost any local hardware store.
Photo credit mydomainehome.com.au
3. Natural gas fire pits
This fire pit is a permanent fixture in your backyard. One of the best things about natural gas fire pits is that they never run out of fuel. Here are a few different ways to design this type of fire pit:
- Sunken design: A sunken natural gas fire pit is built down into the patio or ground. You need to be especially cautious around these designs, as the flames are close.
- Square, round, or tabletop design: Design your natural gas fire pit to be raised above the patio with stone, brick, or copper designs, among others. They make a beautiful addition to the space.
Photo credit renoguide.com.au
4. Gel fuel fire pits
Gel fuelled fire pits are the perfect way to add ambiance and intrigue to your backyard. The gel is clean and burns without producing a scent or smoke. They are also extremely versatile and can be moved almost anywhere in your backyard. Here are a couple different types of gel fuel fire pits:
- Gel fuelled logs: You can purchase gel fuelled logs to place in any fire pit design. They create the real look and feel of a fire while completely concealing the gel fuel holders inside the logs.
- Tabletop fireplace: For those who want a small fire in the backyard, consider a gel fuelled tabletop display. These can be easily moved indoors or out, and add a great display to the outdoor table.
Photo credit: bgh.com
Check building codes for proper speculations and regulations
Before building a fire pit, check the building codes in your area to get the proper specs and regulations. Choose a spot that is away from your house and away from any low-hanging trees or other structures. Take precautions when digging holes, so that you don’t hit utility lines, so in Australia make sure you call Dial Before You Dig.
How much you are willing to spend?
Costs can be as low as $100 if you plan for a small fire pit. This means buying your own stones and digging the hole yourself or if you purchase a simple unit at a big box store. It certainly can also go up to several thousand dollars, especially when seating is added.
Whether it is permanent or portable?
Do you want a fire pit that is built in — a focal point in the yard — or something that’s lightweight and potentially portable, so you can take it where you want your gathering?
For a built-in design, you generally want to match materials in the garden or house. You can do a DIY job and assemble materials yourself or customise one with a landscape professional or contractor.
The options for portable fire pits are equally varied. There are copper or stainless steel bowls that are usually lighter, but heavier cast iron bowls also do a nice job of radiating heat.
Choose the fuel type: wood or gas
While there are alternate fuel types like gel fuels, wood or gas seem to be the most common choices. Those who favour a true outdoor smell usually prefer burning real logs, but that requires keeping flames going and requires a steady supply of firewood.
An alternative is to use gas or propane for an instant fire—maybe even powered with a remote switch–though it’s not as hot as a wood fire and you don’t get the same crackle and smoke.
Choose the surface you would like to set your pit on
It’s best to set a set a portable fire pit atop a natural surface such as concrete, stone, gravel, brick, slate, or a fire-resistant composite. Putting it on a wood deck can be dangerous if embers fly. A permanent fire pit is typically built on a base of gravel somewhere in the back yard.
Where to set up your fire pit?
Many communities require a minimum of a 10-foot distance from your house and neighbours’ yards. Some don’t require a permit if the fire pit fits within set size requirements; others require a site inspection to make sure your proposed location is safe (away from fences, structures, overhanging branches). It’s best to check with local officials before you do anything.
How to create the right vibe and enjoy the most of your fire pit
To get the best enjoyment, consider installing outdoor lighting near the pit. Make it subtle to avoid destroying the camp-fire mood. Energy-efficient LEDs can be plugged into a nearby outlet. More importantly consider seating arrangements!
A fire of any kind, small or roaring big demands serious attention to safety. Consider:
- Check wind direction before you light a fire
- Don’t use flammable fluids (gasoline, lighter fluid) to light or relight
- Don’t wear flammable clothing (like nylon) or any loose-fit clothing
- Avoid using soft woods like pine or cedar, because they can “pop” and throw sparks.
- Know how to safely dispose of ashes.
Naomi Findlay is one of our resident experts, principal of Silk Home and founder of the International Institute of Home Staging.
Ask Naomi a question | Read all her articles for Reno Addict.
Gas or propane fueled pits are the way to go unless you live on such a large amount of land that your smoke will not interfere with a neighbors’ health or quite enjoyment of their own property.