Picking the Perfect Pit
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
A fire pit can be an amazing feature in your backyard. It can provide the perfect gathering
spot for family and friends of all ages. It can help with yard clean-up if you need a safe place to burn weeds. It can be a coffee table or even a simple back-to-the-basics outdoor kitchen. A fire pit, when designed correctly, integrates perfectly into your backyard lifestyle.
However, it can also become an annoyance if you don't plan correctly. Let's look at the three main reasons a fire pit becomes a nuisance.
The size of fire pit you get is important, not only does the size play a role in safety it also helps determine design balance in your space. If you purchase a fire pit that is too large for your space it can actually create a hazard. If people need to "wiggle" around the pit to get to the other side you've created a very serious safety hazard. You want to maintain at least 24" of clear space to move around the fire pit with no obstructions. Now, this doesn't mean you can't have seating close to your pit, however allow space for someone to walk around the chairs instead. This way they're not squeezing between you and the fire.
A too large of a pit can overshadow the other features in your yard instead of harmonizing. Smaller yards typically use smaller pits, to save room for chairs, patios and shade structures. If your pit is too large and limits the other features you can enjoy or add to your outdoor living space, you'll come to resent it and that's no fun. Using a fire pit should be a relaxing pastime.
On the flip side, going too small for your needs, can mean that not everyone gets too enjoy it. Standard sized pits can allow for 6 chairs around it with plenty of space for people to move easily around the group. Larger pits, like our Bonfire Pit, can handle 10 chairs easily. This is because you can build a larger fire and people tend to sit further back from it. This opens up the circumference giving you more space for seating.
Where you place your fire pit depends a lot on the layout of your yard. When using a wood burning pit, it must have free vertical space.
This means that your house's eaves, tree branches, a wood gazebo or pergola, and electric lines should not be directly overhead. Prolonged exposure to high heat can cause wood to reach its combustion point. My family has had fires going 6-8 hours at a time. (We once made Thanksgiving dinner completely over the open fire. We called it our Pilgrims Day and found historic recipes to try) Since we know we like to be outside and use a fire pit for cooking, we selected an area of our yard
with absolutely nothing by it. We later added a metal pergola for shade. If you're going to be burning for 1-2 hours on average, then having well watered plants close by is fine just make sure vertical space is clear.
The location also plays a roll in your design. Some people choose a spot that allows them to see the pit from the house, while not being directly by it. Then they add chairs and tables around it creating a conversation area. This adds depth to your view, making interesting "rooms" to your outdoor living space.
Now this might seem like an odd aspect to consider when choosing a fire pit, but nowadays fire pits are more than just a holder placed on the ground filled with flaming awesomeness. Your lifestyle and how you plan to use the pit, plus your home's location all play a roll in what features you'll want.
Let's start with your home's location first, since this is the easiest to clarify. Is your home located where you have a home owners association? If so, there may be restrictions on what type of fuel your fire pit can use. Some HOA's and even cities do not allow wood burning pits at all. Which limits you to gas only. This could be natural gas piped in from the street or a propane bottle. Gas fire pits are a lot more expensive then wood burning pits. Plan for $1,500 - $4,000 for the pit installed and all the necessary extras that these types require. Specialized pans, burners, ignition switches, air regulators (if doing propane) and if running a gas line - you'll need to factor in hiring a licensed gas plumber which is outside of a regular contractor's licensing.
The reason they are so popular, is after it's all said and done, it's the simplest fire pit to operate. You literally hit the ignition switch and instant ambiance. Plus after an hour or two of enjoying it, you shut it off. No waiting for flames to die down or embers to cool. The cost can be prohibitive to some, but when your HOA, city or county says no to wood, its the only option you have.
When it comes to design, there are lots of options for gas pits. Most of them are built higher than the wood burning pits since there's no danger of burning material spreading. Since the fuel is from a line, these pits are permanently installed. There's no changing your mind on location in the yard after it's in. Its a good idea to make sure you really like the location before you go to the expense.
Next is how your lifestyle will influence how you plan to use the pit. Now you could be saying "duh... to burn things." But what about cook things? Are you going to use it like a BBQ, to make dinner like steak or chicken? Then you might want to consider the option of having a pit with a cooking grate as a feature.
What about dutch oven cooking? Does it need to be large enough to handle a tripod holder? Even though we live in Southern Arizona, the high desert where our ranch is, gets below 20 degrees regularly in the winter. This means I have nice fall weather and there is LITERALLY nothing better than cooking chili over a fire pit in November. That's why we have a Bonfire Pit. I use it to cook a lot in the fall and winter.
If you plan to use it occasionally through-out the year during get-togethers or on cool evenings a smaller pit with a bowl insert might be the way to go. Our Patio Pit features a bowl insert. These types allow for the easiest clean-up and can be placed on almost any base material since the bowl sits above the ground. This creates an air gap between the fire and the ground material. You still can't put it over vegetation or wood chips, but gravel, concrete, pavers, and dirt are all good. Most of the bowl fire pits include a spark screen.
This is a mesh lid that will keep embers from flying out. This is especially handy to those living in the city and have smaller yards. It gives you the ability to close off the hot coals from wind and allows it to slowly burn out. It's only an added safety feature -- you should always monitor a burning fire.
When you've decided the size of pit and where you want it -- the next step is installation. If you live in the Southern Arizona area, we offer installation for all the granite pits we sell. If you live out of our service area or want to have a fun weekend project - these kits are super easy to install! As mentioned the Patio Pit can go on most bases, so normally there's no site prep needed. If you're going with the Bonfire, Grillin' Pit or the Round Grillin' Pit which features a ring insert (open bottom), you'll need to do a bit of landscaping first. Out here in the southwest our dirt is a perfect base material for an open bottom fire pit.
Simply remove any vegetation and level the area where the fire pit will be set-up. The wood burning fire pits in our collection do not require any mortar. The stones dry stack on top of each other, with an offset with each consecutive row added. When we install we add a high heat silicone adhesive to the top two rows to prevent movement. The shape of the granite blocks, the inserts and the weight of the stone (some of our pits weigh over 1,000 pounds) keeps it in place from there.
To view and print complete installation instructions for all our Fire Pits click here.
Adding a fire pit to your backyard gives you another reason to enjoy the outdoors. Whether you're adding it for entertaining, to give the family an alternative to watching TV, or as a basic outdoor kitchen, a fire pit can add many hours of relaxed enjoyment. By doing a little research and planning, your fire pit will be a welcome addition to your outdoor living space.
Take a look at AE Recycled Granite Fire Pits and start planning!