No matter the season, an outdoor fire pit is always a welcome idea – from cozying up for stories and s’mores with loved ones on a cold winter night to digging into a juicy meal cooked on the grill at a summer get-together.
Many memories are created around fire pits. So if you’re feeling the heat trying to choose one, I get it. That’s why I’ve created a quick guide to help you choose the perfect outdoor fire pit for your backyard. Let’s get into it.
Choosing Your Outdoor Fire Pit by Style
One of the easiest ways to choose a backyard fire pit without getting too technical is by style. Try to choose one that best fits your existing (or intended) backyard design as well as the intended uses for your fire pit. If you’re designing a new backyard with your pool builder, now is the perfect time to install a fire pit too. There are many options to choose from; here are a few of my favorites.
1. Fire Bowls
You’ve probably seen or used a DIY version of a fire bowl before, but the more decorative ones can be a beautiful yet simple centerpiece for your backyard. They come in a wide range of sizes and can be raised on legs or placed directly on the ground. Logs (for the wood-burning type) or glass beads (for the gas-burning type) are placed directly in the bowl. The benefit of fire bowls is that they can be a portable option depending on size, so if you like to rearrange your backyard this is a good option for you. They’re also quite easy to clean.
Since fire bowls are self-contained and portable, they’re a good option for areas with regulations that restrict outdoor fire structures.
2. In-Ground Outdoor Fire Pit
Depending on where you want to place your backyard fire pit, you may want to consider an in-ground one. Building a fire pit into the ground is one of the easiest and least expensive options. You can even DIY it by digging a hole and lining it with rocks to contain the fire. You can also use decorative rocks as an outer rim to customize the look however you’d like.
3. Fire Table
A fire table is like a sleek backyard table with a small fire feature built into the middle. I’m all for anything that has more than one use! Depending on its size and design, a fire table can offer the functionality of an outdoor table with the added benefit of a fire pit. But many fire tables are quite small and they’re solely intended for use as a fire pit. Some homeowners like the look and feel of fire tables over fire bowls or other designs.
Fire tables are a great way to add value to your property but can be quite expensive to install and maintain. They can also pose a safety hazard – especially for children – as the fire isn’t typically as well contained compared to deeper fire bowls or in-ground fire pits. That said, they do help create an inviting outdoor atmosphere in your backyard.
4. Outdoor Fireplace or Chimenea
Your choice of an outdoor fireplace, sometimes called a chimenea, can be as rustic and simple or as contemporary and extravagant as you want.
Just like with fire tables, having a fireplace as an outdoor fire pit increases the value of your home. It also provides aesthetic appeal, creates an ambiance that only fireplaces do best, gives a great excuse to entertain, allows you to cook outdoors, and provides warmth during those cooler nights. Additionally, the flames are covered, so a light sprinkle of rain won’t force you to take the festivities inside.
5. Tabletop Fire Pit
If you’re all about low maintenance and portability, an outdoor fire pit that sits atop your patio table may be just what you’re looking for. While they may not give off the glorious heat and large flames of a proper campfire, they’re still enchanting in their own right. Tabletop fire pits work well if you live in an apartment or condo with a balcony or small outdoor space that doesn’t allow for other types of outdoor fire pits (always check your local regulations on open fires/fire pits).
This type of fire pit is also noncommittal. If you’re toying around with the idea of having a fire pit but aren’t quite sure, give a tabletop one a try first.
Choosing Your Outdoor Fire Pit by Fuel Source
There are 5 main fuel sources to choose from: wood, natural gas, propane, charcoal, bio-ethanol, and gel fuel. Each has its pros and cons.
Wood is the traditional option for a backyard or patio fire pit. It’s natural, cheap, and authentic to the whole “backyard living” theme. The downside? They’re difficult to start, require maintenance, and the smoke can bother your guests. And what happens if your wood is still burning when you want to call it a night? That said, there’s nothing quite like the crackling sound of wood and the aroma that fills the air.
Before purchasing this type of fire pit, make sure that local regulations will allow you to use it. It’s never fun to plan an evening by the fire pit, only to learn its a “no burn” day. And don’t forget to stock up on firewood!
2. Natural Gas
Natural gas initially costs more than other fuel sources because it has to be installed by a professional and connected to a natural gas line in your home. Once the installation is done, it costs a lot less in the long run than other types of fuel. Natural gas is a perfect option for permanent outdoor fire pits such as a fire table. This gives your gas fire pit a constant fuel source without the need to refill. It also burns clean and is easy to use.
A propane gas fire pit is also easy to use and doesn’t create smoke, unlike wood. This fuel source is portable and simple to install. Propane is an ideal option for portable gas fire pits, enabling you to move it around your backyard as frequently as you want.
Charcoal is a great option for a tabletop fire pit since it produces a controlled, even heat with a smaller flame.
5. Gel Fuel
This fuel source is a chemical that doesn’t emit any odor or irritating smoke. Gel fuel can be used in some styles of fire bowls and tables, depending on their design. It typically comes in tin cans filled with alcohol gel. Always make sure there are no large cracks or dents in the tin before burning, which could present a fire or burn hazard.
Bio-ethanol is another clean-burning fuel and is derived from the fermentation of plant byproducts. Unlike gel fuel, it takes about 15 minutes to warm up. It can also be more costly than gel fuel. However, certain fire pit products operate best using bio-ethanol, so always read the fine print before making a purchase.
Outdoor Fire Pit Materials
There is quite a wide range of materials to choose from that will be easy to clean and, most importantly, durable and practically fireproof for your backyard fire pit. Here are some of the most popular.
Considering how heavy stone can be, it’s a great choice for an outdoor fire pit or fireplace that you don’t intend to move around. Stone doesn’t rust and is easy to clean. I also love the aesthetic appeal stone masonry provides – it can complement your décor if your home has brick or stone details.
Keep in mind that stone doesn’t like to be exposed to extreme cold temperatures: it tends to crack after freezing and thawing a few times. This makes stone a great option for warmer climates.
2. Cast Iron
Cast iron is another heavy option perfect for permanent fire pit structures. When it comes to décor, cast iron is an ideal choice if you’re going for a rustic look. Cast iron fire pits are durable and sturdy and are ideal in colder climates because they generate heat better than other fire pit materials. Plus, they don’t tend to rust easily, making them great for cooking.
The downside? Cast iron is prone to discoloration and can be dangerous if touched before cooling. It may not be the best option for families with young children.
From a safety point of view, clay fire pits are safer because they don’t get hot as easily as cast iron. Clay ages like wine – the older it is, the better it looks. And because each clay fireplace is a work of art, their designs are more unique. However, clay fire pits tend to be fragile, require lots of maintenance, and have a shorter life span compared to sturdier materials like cast iron.
There’s a reason why steel is a popular choice for outdoor fire pits. It’s lightweight, durable, weather-resistant, inexpensive, and easy to maintain. Like cast iron, steel tends to heat up quickly and should be handled with extra caution. Take special care when young children are present.
Safety Tips for Your Backyard Fire Pit
It’s important to take care with your outdoor fire pit regardless of which type you choose. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The fire pit should be at least 10 feet away from any neighboring yard, structure, or tree. The farther away the better.
- Fire pits should not be placed directly on grass or wooden decks. Instead, they should be placed on non-flammable surfaces such as concrete, stone slabs, or patio bricks.
- Never position a fire pit under a tree with low-hanging branches or under a covered porch as this poses a fire hazard. If you absolutely must place it under a covered porch, opt for a gas-fueled fire pit since the flames are easier to control and there is less risk of embers getting loose.
Create Memories with an Outdoor Fire Pit
From simple to extravagant and everything in between, there’s an outdoor fire pit out there for you. I suggest picking a style you love and then narrowing it down according to material. The right outdoor fire pit will bring about the feeling of being around a campfire – and it’s sure to be a popular hangout spot for you, your family, and friends to create wonderful new memories.
I’m curious – which are your favorite types of outdoor fire pits? Do you have one already? Share your thoughts in the comments below!