The Heat Is On

BY NANCY MATTIA ON NOVEMBER 10TH, 2016

Having a fire pit in your backyard means that you can enjoy the outdoors practically year round, depending on where you live. Whether you’ve got a big yard or a small one, there’s a fire pit that’s the right size and style to suit your needs and budget. Here’s how to get started.

1. Find out if your area permits fire pits

In some towns, open flames – and thus fire pits – are banned; others have ordinances regulating their use, such as a fire pit must be supervised until it’s completely extinguished. Know all the facts before you start dreaming about cozy evenings with family and friends gathered ‘round.

2. Decide on a portable or built-in unit

Base your decision on how you see yourself using it. A portable fire pit, usually in the form of a bowl or frame and made of steel, stainless steel, or copper, can be moved around your yard. A built-in fire pit, made of stone, brick or architectural cast concrete, is permanently fixed and acts as a focal point for the yard.

3. Choose your fuel

A fire pit can burn either wood or gas. A wood-burning unit, the more affordable option, burns split firewood logs. “Any seasoned wood is suitable, but hardwoods and nut woods are preferable if you also intend to cook on the fire pit,” says Tim Lake, owner of T. Lake Environmental Design, in East Dublin, Georgia. “A bit of cedar is nice as an aromatic, but don’t use it for cooking,” since it may be toxic. Gas fire pits run on natural gas if there is access to a municipal source, he says. “Otherwise, liquid propane is used and can be supplied from a remote tank hidden in the landscape.”

4. Decide if you want to buy one or DIY

Retailers sell ready-made fire pits that are easy to install. If you prefer to build your own, get a kit that includes everything you’ll need. “It will save you lots of time and headaches,” Lake says. “If you are a true DIY craftsman with plenty of time and a strong back, you can certainly build one from scratch.” Or hire a professional to build a custom fire pit. “Your marriage will be better!”

5. Decide what to set it on

You can’t just plop a fire pit on any base. For a portable model, Lake says any type of paved surface will work, except asphalt, which can soften if it gets too hot. “Brick or concrete pavers, concrete, stone, crushed stone or brick, pea gravel, or gravel dust, even soil, are other good options.” Built-ins are often placed on a bed of gravel.

6. Decide on placement

Whether or not there are building guidelines in your area, use common sense: Avoid placement that would create a fire hazard. “Never put a fire pit of any kind on a wooden deck or near or under eaves or a roof overhang,” advises Lake. Stay at least 20 feet from buildings, wood fences and structures, coniferous hedges, or any other combustible surface – the farther away the better to avoid any embers landing and causing a fire.

But also consider function and aesthetics. Lake says, “Ask yourself, How will it look when not in use? How will I get wood or gas to it? How will I clean it and dispose of the ashes?” Make sure your fire pit doesn’t constantly drift smoke into your home. And think about how you’ll use the space, says Lake. “A fire pit placed on a patio is nice for gathering with friends and family while grilling or entertaining; one placed farther away in the garden or a corner of the yard becomes a retreat.”

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