If you’re like many homeowners, you think of the end of summer and the coming of Old Man Winter as the absolute pits. But there’s another kind of pit that can rekindle your passion for the outdoors and extend alfresco entertaining and backyard grilling well into autumn and beyond: a fire pit.
From simple to sophisticated, wood-burning to gas fueled and cast iron to quartz-topped, the right fire pit can transform your exterior space into a go-to gathering spot for warming up, singing, ghost story telling, chestnut roasting and more.
“Outdoor living areas continue to surge in popularity among homeowners. Incorporating a fire pit extends the living space of your home and adds a desirable amenity to any outdoor area, bringing added value to you and your home’s next buyer,” says Danny Lipford, host of the nationally syndicated TV and radio program “Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford.” “Having a well-placed, safe fire pit can provide just enough heat to take the edge off a cold day or night and maximize the use of any backyard living space.”
Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals, says a fire pit can provide an ideal focal point for guests and turn routine family affairs into memorable moments.
“Family dinners become more fun when cooked on or eaten around a fire pit, and children appreciate special traditions like birthday s’mores, family game times around the glow, and note-burning to celebrate the end of a school year,” says Henriksen.
Today, consumers can choose from a diverse array of fire pit options. Among the wood-burning types, there are portable bowls made of metal or ceramic; chimineas that sport a tall chimney top; portable or built-in outdoor fireplaces; and do-it-yourself fire pits built from a kit or custom-designed using bricks, cinder blocks or stones.
Those who don’t want the hassle of finding wood and starting a fire often prefer a gas fire pit fueled by propane or natural gas derived from a portable tank or a professionally installed gas line. Popular gas types include fire tables, fire urns and copper fire pits. A third type burns a scentless, smokeless and clean gel, and includes tabletop fireplaces and gel-fueled logs compatible with wood-burning fire pits.
“A fire pit should complement the look and feel of the rest of your outdoor living space,” says Henriksen. “For instance, brick can be well suited in the Mid-Atlantic or Midwest where brick home exteriors or common, natural stone provides versatility, and manmade stones offer even more options.”
If you lack a large backyard, “a gas-burning fire pit may be a better choice because it can typically be placed closer to your home, or a rectangular fire pit can fit into narrow spaces and even works as centerpiece for a seating area in lieu of a coffee table,” says Joe Raboine, a designer with Atlanta-based Belgard, a paver, retaining wall and hardscape provider.
Prices can range from under $50 for a portable wood-burning unit to more than $10,000 for a custom-built permanent outdoor fireplace. Extras like a decorative paver base, seat walls, and designer stone tops can add significantly to the cost. Experts recommend enlisting a professional to construct large or gas-powered fire pits, or at least consulting with a professional before building one yourself.
“The optimal location for a fire pit is as close to the home is as safe, but at least 10 feet from any structure or materials susceptible to fire,” says Lipford. “Be careful to avoid placement directly under any low trees or hanging limbs.”
Lastly, before purchasing or building a fire pit, be sure to check with your local municipality regarding safety codes and operating restrictions.