How to Light up Your Summer: Fire Pit, Fire Bowl or Outdoor Fireplace?
There's just something about a good fire's crackle and glow that livens up any party or family get-together. Whether you use the fire to roast marshmallows or hot dogs, to grill some burgers, or simply to look at, the effect is undeniable. You don't want to end up with a fire pit that brings more work or less "spark" to your garden than you're looking for, though.
Keep in mind how you'd like to use your fire pit, as well as how much time, space and cash you want to invest. Then consider these backyard fire options to help you decide which is right for your family.
Permanent: Outdoor fireplaces or built-in fire pits
When it comes to permanent fire pits, the results are endless. You can buy a kit that includes the inner workings--the burner, regulator and hoses-- and build your own outer ring out of fireproof material such as paver stones, slate or granite. Other larger fire pit kits come with the outer shell as well, which can be made of slate, steel, copper, bronze, ceramic tile or just about any other fireproof material. Prices for fire pit kits range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Outdoor fireplaces and larger, custom-built fire pits are pricier and require more space, but can add a unique elegance to your property. They also tend to last longer than more portable structures. Most outdoor fireplaces are made of brick or stone. You can call in a local contractor to do the work, or go the DIY route; just make sure to check your local building ordinances first, because some areas require safety inspections.
Semi-permanent: Smaller fire pits and fire rings
Smaller fire pits, often called "fire bowls" can still be heavy but, with some effort, you can move them to another area or store them in the garage for the winter. Most fire bowls are made of metal such as steel, copper (beautiful, very durable and more expensive than steel), cast iron (inexpensive but not as long-lasting as other metals) or bronze. Fire bowls typically have legs and a mesh cover. Some are suitable for grilling and others are not, so it is important to ask the seller if you want to grill on your fire bowl. Some of these fire pits are heavy and require placement on a fire-resistant surface, but you can still move them to another area if you need to.
Fire tables are fire bowls with a table-top rim around the fire. Some have only enough table space to hold drinks or cooking utensils, while others are for dining. Some fire tables come with a grill grate, so you can cook and serve in the same spot.
The fire ring is the most basic, "campfire" type of fire pit. It is also the least expensive option. All you need for this option is to dig a pit for the fire and line it with fire-resistant material such as dry fire-resistant soil, sand or gravel. Surround the pit with a circle of heavy rocks to prevent the logs from rolling or falling out, and you're ready to build a campfire.
Portable: Fire bowls and chimineas
Small fire bowls are more lightweight and easier to move around or put away for the winter. Some even have legs with wheels so you can reposition them with ease. If you're looking for a portable option, it's not only size that matters--steer away from heavier materials such as cast iron or granite, and opt for lighter materials such as copper.
Chimineas are modeled after a traditional Mexican design. They look like an upright tube with a chimney top and a wider, bulbous bottom where you build your fire. They are usually made of terra cotta or a similar material, but they can also be made of metal. They take up little room, so they're ideal for smaller spaces. They are not suitable for grilling, though, and some clay models can crack if you build hot, long-burning fires. Kiln-dried chimineas are typically less likely to crack than air-dried models.
Fuels and accessories
Most fire pits either use wood or propane as fuel. Some people prefer the look and smell of wood fires, although they require more work to start and keep going, and you have to clean the ashes out regularly. Propane fire pits can use a refillable tank or a gas line hookup for fuel. Some fire pits use ethanol gel, which has no smoke, odor or dangerous fumes, which means you can use them indoors as well as outdoors.
Some fire pits come with grilling grates, and you can also buy grates separately as long as your fire pit is suitable for grilling. Many gas fire pits and fire tables have a space for fire glass, which comes in a rainbow of colors and catches the light from the fire beautifully.
Note: As with any fire, make sure to follow fire safety around your fire pit. Don't wear baggy clothing or dangling sleeves, keep a safe distance from the fire, and keep aerosol cans and other flammable materials away from the fire. Do not put your fire pit below hanging tree branches, and position the fire at least 20 feet from flammable materials such as wooden fences. Use only the specified fuel for your fire pit, and make sure any accessories you buy, such as fire glass, are appropriate for your type of fire pit. Enjoy safely!
Use Wet & Forget to clean mold, mildew, algae, moss or lichen from the outdoor surfaces around your fire pit, such as paving stones, decks, patios, and even outdoor furniture. You want your guests to admire the ambience without being distracted by ugly stains!
Photo courtesy of cuttlefish.
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