Since time immemorial, mankind has treasured the simple yet awesome power of harnessing fire in a lovely fire pit that really anchors the whole patio, providing a focal point around which to gather and discuss the amazing deal you got on the tile in the renovated bathroom’s shower. I know, right? $4.15 a square foot for such elegant matte finish porcelain!
Nah, but seriously, a fire pit is a great way to liven up an outdoor space: they look good whether alight with dancing flame or cool and at rest, they provide warmth that makes an outdoor space pleasant when there’s a chill in the air, and some fire pits can even be used for cooking. If you’re wondering how to choose the right fire pit for your home, first consider the most practical factor, which is use. Will you ever slow roast a side of ham over your pit, or is it more for looks? Then consider if you prefer a pre-fab or DIY approach. And of course you’ll have to grapple with the wood vs. gas debate. Size too is a factor. And so on.
We can’t decide which fire pit is right for you, but we can share a few great options and try to spark the process for you.
THE DIY FIRE PIT
If you’re a handy type who takes pride in tackling a project head-on and hands-on, then you shouldn’t buy as fire pit, you should build a fire pit, mister! (The homemade fire pit is almost always of the wood burning variety, and we’re not even going to touch on a DIY gas burning pit, FYI.) You can use a variety of materials in constructing your own fire pit, from bricks to pavers to carefully selected stones, just make sure that you use firebricks on the bottom and around the inner walls of the pit (at least stacked a couple levels high within, if not all the way to the top.
Start by digging out an area of dirt that is several feet wider than the finished pit will be. Dig down four or five inches, then fill this shallow depression with concrete.
Once it has set, use mortar and firebricks to lay the floor of the pit, then create the first ring around the floor. You can fill in gaps with gravel and mortar (or more concrete mixed heavily with gravel).
Build the pit up, and consider leaving the inner ring of firebricks (the outer ring will be more decorative, but still sturdy and fire resistant, of course) slightly lower than the outer ring, which will allow you to rest a grill over the flames if you want to cook over your pit. You can also always just stick the bowl from a charcoal grill in there…
THE PROPANE PIT
Propane fueled fire pits are great in that they can look like a permanent fixture, but can in fact be moved around a yard (or patio or pool deck) at will, given that they’re not anchored to the ground or tied to a fixed gas line. The main drawback with this type of fire pit is that you need somewhere to put the damn propane tank. Some propane fire pits have built in fuel storage, while others will require you to run a line to a tank tucked away somewhere else. These fire pits make great tables when not in use, as most are relatively flat and often have inserts that cover their basins. A propane fire pit can produce enough warmth for those huddled close by, but they don’t send flames licking high into the air, and their flame can be hard to see when it’s not fully dark out. That said, their portability remains a huge asset.
THE TABLE TOP FIRE “PIT”
Ventless “table top fireplaces” burn an ethanol solution the produces no smoke and no odor, and are perfectly suitable for indoor or outdoor use. These nifty little contraptions can be perched in the middle of a table or on a dedicated stand. Grouping a few together will create the same hypnotic experience as a larger fire pit as ribbons of flame dance and twist behind thick panes of safety glass. These fireplaces produce minimal heat, but they look great, they’re affordable, and beyond occasionally filling a fuel reservoir, they’re wildly low maintenance.
THE HARD LINE FIRE PIT
Installing a fire pit that is hard lined to your home’s gas line takes more planning and effort than other fire pit setups, but once the thing is in place, you’ll have an instant fire at your finger tips 24/7/365. The benefits of a hard-lined fire pit include maximum potential warmth and ideal flame height control. The drawbacks include cost and effort. Chances are that you’ll have to have a professional plumbing service dig the trenches and tap into the lines, and that’s going to add hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars to the project. You also have zoning and ordinance issues to worry about (if you do things by the books). But when the project is over, you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood with your nifty new ever-ready fire pit, baby. Choose a safe, sturdy fire pit, a burner that works with the gas line and valve you installed, and plan to cover the burner with stones, marbles, and/or or broken glass (for looks and to spread the gas out for even flames). Then just turn the valve, flick a lighter or strike a match, and enjoy the flames.