Building a Fire Pit

By Mike Lorenc, Conservation Garden Park

All good landscapes have areas where people can sit and enjoy being outside. Gathering areas can host many activities including, in the case of a fire pit, roasting marshmallows. The ambiance of campfires have led many people to install residential fire pits. Perhaps you’d like to be among them? There are several important considerations to be addressed before you install a fire pit.

Fuel Type

Wood burning or fuel burning?  A wood burning fire pit is less expensive to install upfront but may not be usable on days with poor air conditions—and the smoke can aggravate neighbors. Gas or propane-fueled fire pits are cleaner burning but less DIY-friendly and tend to be more expensive. If you opt to have a natural gas fire pit, the lines must be installed by a licensed professional. Regardless of fuel type,

Utah fire code states that the fuel area of the pit should not be greater than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high. You can also burn only clean, dry and natural materials. This means no garbage, plastics, oil or construction waste.

Location

The placement of the pit is very important. Make sure there are no trees or wires overhead. A fire pit that burns wood should be placed at least 15 feet from a house or shed. A pit that burns natural gas or propane can be placed 10 feet away.

Materials

A concrete pad might be the best surface to surround your fire pit, but any non-flammable material would also work. Brick, pavers, flagstone, crushed gravel or some combination of the above make a good solid surface to place your fire pit. A 10 to 15 foot diameter pad would provide plenty of space for the pit, storage (for those marshmallow roasters) and seating around it. The pit itself should be constructed out of masonry, bricks, retaining wall blocks, cinder blocks or even custom poured cement. There are even plenty of pre-made kits available from most hardware stores to make it easy.

Construction

Once you’ve decided where to place your fire pit, it’s time to dig. Start by placing your fire pit on the ground in its intended spot and marking the perimeter around it. Next, dig between 6 and 12 inches to start the first row of blocks under ground level. Fill this hole with at least a couple of inches of sand or gravel, to allow for drainage and to aid in the leveling process. It is important to make sure this row is level because it will dictate whether the entire fire pit is level—it is ok to take your time here.  Many local companies sell fire pit kits which can speed up the installation process while also ensuring that proper materials are used.

Seating

As you plan seating, it is important to allow space for people to move around between the seating and the fire pit safely.  Whether you opt for built in benches or freestanding chairs, you’ll want to make sure to add comfortable seating, so you can spend time enjoying your family’s new gathering area while making s’mores around the fire.

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