Fire-Pit Appeal Increasing

Homeowners wanting to enjoy their back yards are going beyond their decks and portable barbecue grill these days. When homeowners talk of accessorizing that could mean anything from ponds, flower beds, vegetable gardens, outdoor kitchens, and, increasingly, fire pits. One reason for fire pits’ appeal has to do with extending back yard use through fall and winter. In fact, fire pits have become so popular that some builders construct them as part of the package for their higher-priced homes.

Things to Consider in Adding a Fire Pit

Since styles, sizes, and materials for fire pits abound, your choices should be based on your space at hand, budget and, of course, local ordinances. (Some municipalities ban open burning of any kind.) Another thing to ponder before planning a fire pit is how much to spend. Costs can be as low as $100 if you plan for a small fire pit, buy your own stones and dig the hole yourself; or if you purchase a simple unit at a big box store. But they certainly can also go up to several thousand dollars, especially when seating is added. Still, they’re less costly than an outdoor fireplace (another growing trend), which can run upwards of $10,000, depending on construction method, height, width, and materials.

Built-In or Portable?

You have to ask the question 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 do-it-yourself job and assemble materials yourself; go with a pre-made kit from a big box store that comes with everything you need; or go fully custom, with a landscape professional or contractor doing the design and building it. The options for portable fire pits are equally varied. There are fire bowls that come in a variety of materials — copper or stainless steel bowls are usually lighter, but heavier cast iron bowls also do a nice job of radiating heat. Fire tables are similar to bowls, but are often made at coffee table height. There are also chimney-style options (freestanding pieces with a chimney-style vent) that come in a range of materials. Regardless of which way you go, you need to ensure that you’re using proper stones and materials (something that shouldn’t splinter when the fire heats up, explains Van Zandt). Make it proportional to the size of your yard, and be sure you have room for seating and circulation.

What to Set It On and Where to Set It

It’s recommended to set a portable fire pit atop a natural surface such as concrete, stone, gravel, brick, slate, or a fire-resistant composite, the experts say. 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. As far as where to set it up, many communities require a minimum of a 10-foot distance from your house and neighbors’ yards. Some don’t require a permit if the fire pit fits within set size requirements; others require a site inspection from local fire officials to make sure your proposed location is safe (away from fences, structures, overhanging branches, etc.). And, some communities have outright bans on open fires. Check with local officials before you do anything.