Creating a Safe and Appealing Fire Pit
More and more homeowners are looking to elevate their outdoor living spaces as they continue to spend time at home. Fire pits are increasingly popular, especially in climates with changing seasons. These can be constructed in less than a day without a sitting wall, landscape lighting, or other additions. With a 360-degree view of flames, fire pits create a comfortable ambiance that allows easier group socialization than a fireplace. Good design and proper construction are key to safety and longevity of design.
Types of Fire Pits
There are three main kinds of fire pits: propane, natural gas, and wood. Propane lights quickly and doesn’t produce natural embers, but customers will need to refill propane when it runs out and fire rings could clog. Natural gas lights quickly and easily and doesn’t produce sparks or smoke, but it’s not the best for cooking and not as hot as wood. You also need to install a gas line before building a natural gas fire pit. Wood fire pits have a campfire feel and create relaxing crackle sounds. However, while wood fire pits are the cheapest of the three options, they produce smoke and sparks and can be difficult to control.
Sometimes HOAs and municipalities restrict wood burning fire pits due to fire hazards and droughts, so be sure to have customers check with their HOAs before installation. You’ll also need to understand how much heat your customer wants from the fire pit. If they want a high heat concentration, add lava rocks as these radiate heat on their own and choose larger rocks if possible. Another option is to enclose the area slightly to retain heat, such as adding a seating wall, just be sure to keep the area uncovered.
With gas fire pits, you get heat control with a small dial to control the amount of fuel used. This allows customers to decide the amount of heat produced and the height of flames, which is more convenient than the trial and error of wood-burning pits. This type of fire pit is good for weather and season changes as customers’ heat level needs change. This model is also eco-friendly, as gas burns smoothly without producing thick smoke, ashes, and
soot. There are no harmful by-products or smoke irritation.
Natural gas and propane fire pits are convenient due to allowing a quick start and stop. There’s no need to wait for wood fire to burn out and no need to pour water on the pit. Gas fire pits are also customizable. From fire glass in a variety of colors, to lava rocks, to fire logs, there are many ways to change the look. These kinds of fire pits need fill material to cover the fire rings, which is mainly decorative, but these fillers also absorb heat and radiate warmth more evenly.
There are a few different ways to build a fire pit. Prefabricated fire pits are available for customers in a rush to enjoy one and these are easy to install. There are also fire pit kits available or alternatively you can custom build a fire pit.
If a prefabricated fire pit is chosen, size is predetermined, so ask your customer these questions to determine appropriate sizing:
1. How many people do you want to sit around it?
2. Are you creating a more intimate space, or is it meant for large group entertainment?
3. How big is your patio/area where you will be putting the pit?
To build a more intimate fire pit, it should be about 3 feet wide. For larger groups of 6 or more, pits should be 6 feet wide. If the pit is being installed in-ground, the depth needs to be substantial enough that fire ring or wood fits in it. Above ground fire pits need to be more thought out. Consider how the pit will be most used. If a pit is too high, homeowners won’t be able to prop their feet up or children may need to lean in to roast marshmallows. If the fire pit is too low, adults will be bending over for the warmth of the fire.
If they’ll want to prop their feet up, the fire pit walls should be around 12-14 inches high, based on dining height patio chairs. If the edge of the fire pit is a sitting wall, the walls should be 18-20 inches high. If the wall of the fire pit is any higher, customers might not be able to enjoy the flames.
It’s important to include a stainless-steel interior liner, which needs to be installed with the proper amount of airspace between the liner and the fire pit material. This barrier prevents the fire pit material from getting too hot and causing issues. No matter the natural stone or paver chosen, this layer adds safety and security.
Be sure to check how the wind typically blows on the property, especially if you’re installing a wood fire pit. Smoke shouldn’t blow into faces, towards seating areas, or onto the house or another structure. If you’re installing a gas fire pit, make sure a gas line is run before beginning construction. For even flames, you will need a gas ring, and it’s recommended to use stainless steel. These come in circular, square, or rectangular shapes, which adds another layer of customization. You can also install more than one depending on the shape of the pit and what the customer is looking for.
Fire pit kits are a middle option between a prefabricated pit and building one from scratch. These are customizable without too much work. The kit will provide the exact number of stones and blocks you need for the job, the liner/ring, and step by step instructions, which can be a great option for starting to add fire pits to your repertoire.
Each fire pit has an inner wall, outer wall, a cap (the flat tabletop surface at the opening of pit), decorative stones, pavers, and a base of the pit. Caps create a flat, finished rim, which can be functional to sit or set drinks. Usually these are made of precast concrete, flagstone, or brick.
The inner wall of the pit must be fireproof building materials. The outer walls need to be heat resistant but can be made of traditional brick, stone, masonry blocks, concrete pavers, or heat-resistant tile. Masonry block is appropriate if you plan to face the fire pit with a stone veneer, ceramic tile, or stucco. No part of a fire pit should be made with flammable or combustible materials. An optimal option is fire bricks, or kiln brick pavers. These are specially made for fire pits, furnaces, and brick ovens, so they can endure extremely high temperatures and are safer than concrete. Concrete pavers have small air bubbles inside; as air expands and contracts due to heat and pavers can explode, crumble, or split.
Regardless of the chosen material, you’ll need to use fire-proof mortar or grout to stack them together. It’s best practice to lay fire bricks on top of each other beneath the pit and over other pavers to preserve the patio. Having an elevated platform protects the ground underneath. However, this work needs to be level, so build a permanent brick pad if needed. For a rustic look, use natural stone.
Additionally, installing steel fire rings filled with heat absorbing rocks and sand are recommended to prevent the crumbing of materials and provide structural support for the pavers or bricks.
Try to complement the fire pit hardscape materials with a similar style to any existing patio for continuity.
Fire pits should be at least 10-20 feet away from objects, people, structures, and property lines. Check local codes to see the legal distance requirements before beginning construction. Follow all rules and regulations of municipalities as many places require permits for fire pits. All fire pits should be level and placed away from structural features made of flammable materials like wood. Placing a fire pit under a tree will dry it out, so be sure to place the fire pit at least 10 feet away from trees also.
Follow all manufacturer instructions. During routine maintenance ensure no dry leaves are on or around the fire pit. A great safety feature to add to a wood fire pit is a spark guard. Gas fire pits are a safer option as they don’t throw off sparks and easily turn off.
An overlooked easy safety feature is being able to see the fire pit from the inside of the customer’s house; this way they can check in on it at any time.
For more information on fire pits or for help on a project, visit a SiteOne Stone Center today and associates will gladly assist you.