Fire pits are in! And for good reason. There is nothing that beats the warmth, coziness and soothing stimulation that an open fire adds to any social gathering. Whether you are having a family birthday party with your wife and children or a large official dinner party to close an important deal, the fire is a subtle presence that makes the occasion special, it’s just there, quietly adding volumes to your event.
Contrary to the fire pits you can buy in home improvement stores, built-in fire pits are custom, and after you’ve chosen your fuel source (gas, propane, coal, wood), only your imagination is the limit. You can choose stamped concrete, or paver stones, and make your fire pit any shape, size or color that will make your heart sing. And there are fire pits to fit most budgets.
Further, they can be built to match your home, your patio, your fountain, your planters and … , well, your dream.
Decide if you want to build a matching sitting wall either all around the pit or just around one side of it. A wall can be built to match your beautiful fire pit with stamped concrete or pavers.
Fire pits can also be built below the level of your patio for better viewing. These can have an invisible drain that would prevent rain water from accumulating in the pit. Fire pits can also be built raised above the ground to table height, and even have a grill placed over them when you want to use it for cooking.
COMPARING FUEL TYPES
Wood is the most nostalgic of fuels. Dense wood, like oak, will produce a larger fire and generates more heat than other fuels typically used for fire pits. Wood is also easy to find and has that cozy fragrance, with the orange flames and crackle-pop sound. The downside is that some neighbors with health concerns are bothered by the smoke, so keep the fire small, don’t use very smoky wood and build your pit away from your neighbor’s fence. Also, light wood, like pine, may throw off embers, that can cause little burn spots in your clothes. So, use quality wood.
Gas is often chosen for convenience. Once it’s installed, whether you use natural gas or propane, you just turn it on and it yields about 40,000 to 60,000 BTUs of clean fuel for your fire. However, you will need an underground pipeline that is connected to your gas source. Furthermore, Gas fires are blue and don’t smell or sound like a traditional wood fire.
Alcohol yields an orange-yellow flames and produces 4,000 to 5,000 BTUs and lasts about 5 hours of burn time.
Alcohol Gel, made from isopropyl, alcohol, water, salt and binders, comes in cans. This fuel produces yellow flames that generate about 3,000 BTUs and lasts up to 3 hours.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU START
Before you start, be sure that open fires are allowed in your community and find out what the local ordinances are. Also check with your insurance agent to see if having a fire pit would affect your coverage. Then look around your yard, especially if your yard space is limited, be sure to plan for enough space for seating and walking around the pit. Even more important, build it far enough away from flammable structures, like your house, a deck, shed, a wooden fence, a picnic table and also shrubs, trees, low hanging branches and especially dry grass, so that no stray embers can cause trouble. The recommendation is 10 feet from fuel sources. Your community ordinances will likely help with some safety decisions.
- Use a paver cleaner to scrub stones and bricks.
- Keep gas burners clean and check it each season for even flames.
- Use a cover to keep water or snow from collecting in the winter or when not in use.
An open fire adds warmth and ambiance to Spring, Summer and Autumn evening, attracting everyone in the vicinity. It can be a silent presence as people chat, or it can be the center of attraction as guests are led to sing the traditional happy fireside songs accompanied by a guitar or fiddle. Guaranteed you are going to get exclamations like, “OH! I just love your Fire Pit!!!”
SOME PRECAUTIONS FOR WHEN THE PIT IS READY FOR USE
Though beautiful, useful, and though it was the common source of energy in years past, fire can also be extremely destructive and dangerous if not used cautiously. Because the open fire is not as commonly used for fuel today and novices are not always aware of the caution that our seasoned forefathers used, we offer the following suggestions:
- Make sure that weather conditions have not generated a temporary fire ban. And if you know that your area is experiencing a severe drought, you might volunteer not to light.
- Check the wind direction before you light and if it’s a windy day you might consider lighting on another day.
- Pick up leaves and other flammables from around your pit, so that embers don’t spread your fire to where you don’t want it.
- Make sure you have a water hose (if your pit is strong enough to withhold dousing with cold water when hot), a bucket of sand, and/or a fire extinguisher nearby, for emergencies.
- NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use a flammable liquid to light a fire or worse to revive one that is going out. This is extremely dangerous.
- Never leave your fire pit unsupervised when burning.
- Wear appropriate clothes. Nothing flammable or loose fitted.
- Be prepared (if wood is your fuel) that soft woods will pop and throw sparks. This can cause the fire to spread to places outside your fire pit. It helps to use a more solid wood.
- Set a limit as to how close you want your kids and pets to the fire and gently, but strictly, enforce it.
- Keep your fire small enough so you don’t lose control. If that happens use your hose and don’t hesitate to call 911 immediately.
- For a wood fire, make sure the fire is completely out and the ashes are cold before you leave the area. Fires that look like they are out can flare up later if the embers are not cold. Begin by spreading them in the pit. Lightly spray the embers with water. If there is still wood and you need to leave. Drench the wood and make sure everything is cold.