What to know when considering a backyard fire pit
Last updated: August 2023
Many of today's homeowners are looking for more than a traditional wood deck with a grill in their backyards. These days, accessorizing means amenities like ponds, vegetable gardens, outdoor kitchens and fire pits. Because styles, sizes and materials abound, your choices should be based on your space at hand, budget and, of course, local ordinances. (Some municipalities ban open burning of any kind.)
Before you start dreaming of moonlit nights and toasted marshmallows, here's what else to consider about planning a fire pit:
How much does it cost to build a fire pit?
Costs can be as low as $100 if you go with something simple, according to Houzz. You can purchase a simple kit at a hardware store. Or, if you're up for a DIY project, you can create your own backyard fire pit. But costs certainly can also go up to several thousand dollars, especially when seating is added, says Angi.
Permanent vs. portable fire pits
As you begin planning, you may want to think in terms of permanence. Do you want a fire pit that is built in — a focal point in the yard — or something that's lightweight and potentially portable, so you can take it where you want your gathering?
Permanent fire pits
For a permanent fire pit, choose something that coordinates with the color, style, shape and materials you have in your yard already, says Houzz. You can assemble a fire pit yourself with a premade kit from a hardware store that comes with everything you need. Or you can go fully custom and have a landscape professional or contractor design and build it.
Portable fire pits
Portable fire pits offer a lot of different options. Fire bowls are typically made of copper, steel or cast iron, according to HGTV. Fire tables typically use propane or natural gas and have an area around the fire where you can put food and drinks, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. Freestanding fire pits called chimineas feature a chimney-style vent, says HGTV.
Regardless of which style you choose, you need to use proper stones and materials (something that shouldn't splinter when the fire heats up). Make it proportional to the size of your yard and be sure you have room for seating and circulation, says Houzz.
Wood-fired vs. gas fire pits
Wood, propane, or natural gas are most common choices to fuel an outdoor fire pit, according to Houzz. Those who favor the sound of a crackling fire may prefer burning real logs, says Houzz. This will require a steady supply of firewood.
Some fire pits use natural gas or propane for an instant fire — though you don't get the same crackle and smoke as a wood fire. A propane fire pit will have an attached tank, while a natural gas fire pit will require a gas line that runs from your house to the fire pit.
Where to set a portable fire pit
It's best to set a portable fire pit atop a fire-resistant surface such as metal, pavers or bricks, says HGTV. Putting it directly on a wood deck or grass can be dangerous if embers fly.
Where to safely place a fire pit
Many communities require a minimum of a 10-foot distance from your house and neighbors' yards, according to the Seattle Fire Department.
Some don't require a permit if the fire pit fits within set size requirements. Others require a site inspection from local fire officials to help make sure your proposed location is safe (away from fences, structures, overhanging branches, etc.). Some communities may also have restrictions on wood burning fires, says Houzz. Check with local officials before you purchase or start planning a fire pit.
Seating and lighting around a fire pit
Provide enough light for people to walk around the yard safely but keep it subtle enough to avoid destroying the camp-fire mood, says The Family Handyman. Consider light posts or overhead string lights (but don't hang them directly over the fire pit). Energy-efficient LED lighting can also be plugged into a nearby outlet without requiring you to call an electrician.
When adding seating, HGTV recommends keeping it far enough away from the fire for people to get up and move around safely. Built-in seating and heavier chairs may help keep people from moving too close to the fire pit.
Backyard fire pit safety tips
- Check wind direction before lighting a fire.
- Don't use flammable fluids (gasoline, lighter fluid, etc.) to light or relight fires.
- Don't wear flammable clothing (like nylon) or any loose-fitting clothing.
- Keep children and pets at least three feet away from the fire.
- Avoid using soft woods like pine or cedar because they can pop and throw sparks.
- Keep a fire extinguisher, garden hose or bucket of water nearby.
It's also important that you know how to safely dispose of the ashes when you're done with the fire for the night. Once the ashes have cooled, Portland Fire and Rescue recommends putting them in a metal container and pouring water on them.
Fire pits and homeowners insurance
Fire pits cost time and money. It can increase the value of your property too. That's why increasing your coverage limits may be a good idea, so that it's adequately covered.
It may also be a good idea to review your current policy's liability coverage. It may help protect you if you're found legally responsible if a guest is burned. It could also cover repairs if flames damage your neighbor's property.
Do I need to disclose my fire pit?
It's never a bad idea to notify your insurer of your fire pit. Not disclosing it could mean it's not covered, and if something happens you'd be left footing the bill.
What coverages apply?
How home insurance coverage is affected depends on the type of fire pit you have. Those detached from the house may need higher other structures coverage limits.
A fire pit that's moveable may be considered a personal belonging. In that case you may want to increase your personal property limits. Your insurance company can work with you to gauge your options.
Of course, you probably don't expect your fire pit to lead to an insurance claim, and you may be able to help prevent that situation by following some basic safety guidelines. HGTV suggests placing chairs away from the fire and making sure a fire extinguisher and fire blanket are nearby. At the end of the night, follow the manufacturer's instructions for putting out the fire properly.
Additionally, in certain areas — like those prone to wildfires — your homeowners insurance may require you to disclose your fire pit.