Fire Pits: Bring On the Heat


Ahhh
, summer! The season where each weekend is full of opportunities to experience the great outdoors. Couples go to the beach in the morning, have drinks on their patio in the afternoon, then in the evening, they turn on their landscape lighting and grill up steaks for their friends. Once the meal is finished, everyone gathers around the fire pit for good conversation, enjoying the contrast between the cool breeze and the warm fire, the hypnotic dance of the flames and the clear night's sky.

That kind of day is the dream of many a homeowner, so it is small wonder that many plans for outdoor living areas include fire pits and fireplaces. At a primal level, it’s comforting to gather around a fire, and it’s an experience that’s pretty rare for most of us. Fire features give property owners a safe way to experience this whenever they like, which is why they’re so attractive.

So if you’re looking to offer this feature to your clients, what do you need to know? First, you may not be playing with fire, but you are working with it, and you need to be sure that what you build is safe. Cities and counties typically require fire pits to be built away from any structures or property lines. A ten-foot minimum is commonly specified, but it’s worth checking the local rules just to be sure.

When placing a fire feature, also consider any overhanging tree branches, because the hottest point of a fire is actually a little bit above the top of the flame. You want to be sure that nothing is at risk of falling into the fire—people included.

With that in mind, some people prefer to have built-in seating around a fire pit, to encourage guests to keep a safe distance. When everybody pulls their chairs in close, there’s less clearance to move around, and a greater chance that someone will trip and fall into the fire.

Once you know where the fire will be, the next step is to figure out what will be burning. Fire features are typically fueled by one of three sources: wood, natural gas or propane. Wood setups are the most straightforward, and usually the most cost-effective, but require more work on the client’s part.

It’s important to make sure that enough air is able to get in, especially when it comes to a wood-fueled fire pit. Fires need oxygen, and if there isn’t a steady airflow, they will gutter, or even die out entirely. For an aboveground setup, it can be as simple as drilling some weep holes in the design, near the base of the structure.

For sunken fire-pit designs that need a little more air, you can pipe some in by installing an intake vent off to the side, and then tunneling diagonally to the fire pit’s base.

“You can usually tell which clients will be more interested in wood, and which will want natural gas,” said Brian Stover, owner of FS Landscaping Contractors in Furlong, Pennsylvania. “Some people like the smell of the smoke—they like stoking a fire; others just want to walk up to the fire pit, turn a valve, and light it.”

Part of the beauty of fire features is that there’s something for everyone. If the client is just looking to set aside a space to build campfires and roast marshmallows, you can build them a stone ring, with maybe a sheltered space for storing d