Fire Pit Questions

What Types of Fire Pits are Available?

For the past several years, there has been a growing market for fire pits. The result is a huge selection offered by hundreds of manufacturers as well as retail and online sellers. The first choice to make is whether you want a wood-burning fire pit or a propane gas fire pit. There are advantages and disadvantages for each.

Gas Fire Pits and Fire Tables. The advantages are convenience and lack of smoke. You won’t need to keep resupplying wood and kindling. Most propane and natural gas fire tables have an ignition system, which means starting the fire is simply a matter of pushing a button. Many propane fire tables have space within the base for the propane tank. For others you will need a hose going across the deck or patio to a separate enclosure for the propane tank. The disadvantage of propane is that you will need to get the tank refilled periodically. An alternative is natural gas. If your home already has natural gas, you will need a professional to run a gas line under your deck or patio to connect to the fire table. The fire table will have to have a permanent location. The advantage of natural gas is that you will not need to be refilling a propane tank.

Wood-Burning Fire Pits: Many homeowners really want that campfire experience. The fire is bigger and warmer than a propane flame. There is something very special about a wood fire. It is constantly changing as the logs flame, turn red and slowly become charcoal and ash and as you add another log. It is captivating to watch and feel the heat. Sitting around a wood fire with family and friends is a human experience that goes back thousands of years. It may remind you of camping. The disadvantages are that you have to maintain a supply of logs and kindling and you will have to contend with smoke. There are many options when choosing a wood-burning fire pit. A few years ago, a Pennsylvania company, Breeo, introduced the smokeless fire pit. Smoke is combustible material that has not fully burned. A smokeless fire pit circulates heated air in a way that more completely burns the wood, resulting in much less smoke. After Breeo, a number of other companies have introduced smokeless fire pits, mostly made in China like the Solo Stove. If you don’t mind the smoke from a wood fire, you can choose an inexpensive fire pit made from thin steel. These are readily available online and in box stores. Prices range from less than $100 to about $300. For a better quality fire pit that will last for many years, you should look at the small business in the U.S. that make fire pits from thick steel with prices ranging from about $400 to over $2,000. The best source for learning about these American-made fire pits is

What are the safety considerations for using a fire pit?

When you have a fire close to your home, there are of course things you need to be careful about. First, you should never leave a fire unattended. Home fires have started when people thought it was OK to leave a fire pit and turn in for the night. It is possible that a hot burning ember can fly out and land on something combustable. A fire pit made of thin steel can rust, making it possible for burning embers to fall through the bottom and land on a deck. When choosing a location for the fire pit, you want to make sure that it is not near anything that can catch fire, such as a low branch of a bush or tree or a deck railing. Make sure the space over the fire pit is clear. If you place your fire pit in your yard, you should choose a space that will not be scorched. Gravel or sand is the best kind of surface. If you place your fire pit on a deck, you will need a fire-proof barrier under the fire pit to keep the heat that radiates from the fire bowl from scorching a wood deck or melting a composite or PVC deck. Bricks and pavers work fairly well, though a hot fire pit can radiate enough heat that even thick cement pavers will not be enough. The worst thing to put under a fire pit is any kind of rug or carpet. Tiles are thin and a very poor insulator. Fire pits that have legs that raise the fire bowl well above the deck are the least dangerous because they allow for cooling air flow under the fire. Fire pits that rest on an enclosed base will cause the most damage to a deck because the heat is trapped in the base and builds up to high temperatures. Another concern is hot embers. You should use dry hardwood in a wood fire. Soft woods that are not fully dry will be the most likely to emit flying embers. Embers can pop out of a wood fire and fly five or six feet. It is always a good idea to have a spark screen. And when you don’t have a spark screen or have to remove it to add another log, just keep an eye out for flying embers.

Do Fire Pits require permits or regulations to be followed.

The answer to this question depends upon where you live. Local laws, regulations, and permits are a function of the municipality or town government. Some states have statewide laws that govern certain aspects of outdoor fires. The best thing to do is to check with your local fire department and town government. In the town I lived in in Rhode Island I contacted the local fire department chief because I could not find anything on the town web site. I could not reach the fire chief by phone so I left a voicemail asking about regulations governing the use of fire pits. Go no response. However, you should do whatever you can to find out what the regulations, if any, are in your town. There are more likely to be regulations about burning yard debris in your yard. Regardless of what your town government or fire department says, there are practices that are universally advisable, wherever you live. 1.) Do not burn anything that will result in releasing toxic chemicals into the air. This includes any kind of plastic. It also includes pressure-treated wood. You should burn only plain wood, logs, and branches. Avoid burning wood that has paint on it. Soft wood, such as pine is OK to burn, though hardwoods are better. 2.) Do not use a fire pit near anything that is combustible, such as yard debris, mulch, or fences. Your fire pit should be at least 6 ft. away. 3.) Never leave a fire unattended. 4.) Always make sure the fire is completely out. House fires have been started when people empty the ash somewhere, not realizing it is still hot and can start a fire. It is best to leave the ash in a fire pit, and not empty the fire pit until the next day.

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