To Dig Or Not To Dig: Fire Pit Dos & Don’ts

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Picture this: it’s a cold winter evening, and you’re gathered around a campfire with your friends and family, roasting marshmallows and basking in the warmth. If this sounds like the perfect winter activity to you, you should invest in a fire pit for your home!

Fire pits are a fun and effective way of heating your outdoor space and backyard. By adding a fire pit to your outdoor living area, you can enjoy that outdoor space all year round. 

Fire pits come in a variety of types and styles, so you can choose one that is best suited to your home. Fire pits aren’t only a fun way to get warm on a chilly evening, but they provide great entertainment and double as a great cooking tool. 

However, there are a few fundamentals to know when you choose to add a fire pit to your home. Obviously, open flames pose certain risks, so you need to be up to date with the dos and don’ts of fire pits. 

There are two kinds of backyard fire pits: in-ground fire pits, which are obviously created by digging; and above ground fire pits, which are placed on a stand. Each type has its unique advantages and disadvantages, and which is better for you will depend on your home situation and lifestyle. 

This article will help you understand the pros and cons of each fire pit option. This comprehensive guide will help you choose the right fire pit to spruce up your home.

In-Ground vs Above Ground Fire Pits: Which Is Better? 

When it comes to adding a fire pit to your home, this is the most cost effective option. It is likely you will already have all of the equipment you need at home as all you require is a shovel, a little muscle power, and some sand, gravel, or small rocks to contain the flames. If you want to be a little more creative you can add some decorative rocks around it and you are good to go.

Another advantage of a fire pit dug into the ground is that the fire will be better contained. If the fire is in a hole, it will not spread, provided that you do not have a lot of dry leaves around the area and you are not in a bushy area during the dry season.  

However, there are some disadvantages too. The hole in the ground that you make is a permanent fixture. If you realise you do not like where it’s positioned or if there comes a time when you would have to move to a new home, there is really nothing you can do about the in-ground fire pit and you will need to refill the hole.

Above ground fire pits, on the other hand, come in different types, from basic to extravagant, and a lot of them are surprisingly portable (although expensive as well). This would mean you can constantly change the location of your fire pit and enjoy it anywhere in your outdoor space. One night you can create a fire in your backyard, the next time on your front porch, and the next will be at a beach or at a campsite somewhere.  

Can I Dig a Hole Anywhere for My Fire Pit?

You can dig a hole for a firepit almost anywhere you want, but you need to ensure they out in the open, far away from buildings, trees or anything else that may catch fire. It’s also important to dig your pit in sand, not gravel, where possible. A fire pit dug in gravel may have roots growing that can remain lit even after the fire is put out, and create a new fire later on.

An extremely basic way to build a fire pit is to simply dig a hole in the ground and create one yourself! All you need to do to begin is dig a hole approximately 20 centimetres deep. If you dig much deeper than that it may be too deep to enjoy watching the flames. However, many people like to add a layer of gravel, sand, or small rocks beneath the fire, which means you may need to dig an additional 15 centimetres. 

Regardless of whether you opt for a fire pit above the ground or in the ground, make sure it is situated at least 3 metres away from dry leaves, trees, or your neighbors’ yards. The latter is especially true if your fire produces a large amount of smoke.  

Are Fire Pits Safe?

There are a number of safety factors you should consider before deciding if a fire pit will be suitable for your home. Obviously, open flames can potentially be very dangerous. You will need to ensure that you can adequately control any flames and embers from your fire to avoid spreading the flames. You will also need to make sure any children or pets in your home will be safe around the fire. 

The first thing you should do when installing a fire pit in your home is ensure that any children or pets can be kept from getting to the fire. You should ensure that any children living in or visiting your home understand the importance of fire safety and implement clear rules surrounding paying and being around open flames. 

The same should go for pets. You should ensure you adequately train your pet and implement strong rules regarding behaviour around the fire. Additionally, it may be necessary to install a sturdy physical boundary such as a fence to ensure everyone’s safety. 

If you choose to allow pets and children around your fire pit, then like a lifeguard in a public pool, you should keep a sharp eye out for them and never leave them unattended. If ever you have to go to the bathroom or briefly excuse yourself for another reason, ask a friend to watch over them for you. Otherwise, watch them like a hawk and play it extra safe such as not lighting a fire during windy conditions, especially when a child or pet (or anything flammable for that matter) is down wind. 

Having kids or pets around is another incentive to keep the fire at a manageable size. It does not take much for a fire to get too big and accidentally hurt someone. Make sure you also have fire extinguishers or other retardants on hand in case something happens to go wrong.  

Lastly, make sure that when the festivities are over the fire is properly put out. This can be done by dousing the fire in water. However, even once the flames have been put out, kids or pets should not go near the area as there still could be hot embers or coals. 

Professional vs DIY Fire Pit: Which is Right For You? 

The next thing you will need to consider when installing a fire pit is whether you will tackle the project yourself or hire a professional. While it was said earlier that you can make a fire pit by yourself, many people opt to hire professional landscapers to make theirs. This decision will depend entirely on your skill set and budget. 

Like any professional tradesperson, a professional landscaper knows best when it comes to your fire pit; whether that means style, substance or safety, a landscaper will do all of the thinking and heavy lifting for you. Of course, their service will come at a premium price, so be willing to shell out some extra money.

For many people, a DIY landscaping project is simply out of the question because they lack the required skills and equipment. If you want to hire a professional landscaper to install your fire pit, you may end up getting the best value for money on your investment, and it’s always safest to get a professional to create a fire pit for you. 

If, however, you are a handyman or DIY queen who knows their way around the outdoors and has a toolkit, you can go the do it yourself route and build and install your own fire pit. There will be no need to spend an arm and a leg on professional landscaping services, but you would have to exchange that for your time and effort. As for what you need to spend on, all you will need to pay for is the tools and the materials.  

Should I Hire a Digger for my Fire Pit ? 

If you do decide you want to install your own fire pit, you may need to consider whether your capabilities will allow you to dig a big enough hole for your fire. 

For many people you can easily dig a hole big enough for a fire pit by hand. As said earlier, all you need is time, a willingness to work, and a good shovel for the job. However, if time does not allow but budget does, you can hire a digger to mechanically do the job for you.  

As explained earlier in this article, a hole for the fire pit should only be 15 to 20 centimetres deep, with a few more inches added in case you want to put gravel at the bottom. This is easily within the range of most able-bodied people. However, if your budget allows it, hiring a digger can save you time and effort. The digger can also help with the clean-up, moving the excavated earth, stumps, or rocks out of your way.

What Type of Materials Can I Use for a Fire Pit?

There are two main types of building materials you can choose to make a fire pit: stone (or bricks) and metal. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so there’s no one-size-fits all solution. Instead, you’ll need to consider your circumstances and make the right decision for your yard.

Generally speaking, if you want a fire pit that is light and portable, metal is a great option. If you want a larger, more permanent fire pit that can serve as a great decorative piece for your back yard or patio, then fire pits made of stone or bricks are the way to go.

If you opt to use stones or bricks for your fire pit, then make sure you choose ones that are of high quality and can safely stand up to high heat. Field stone and landscaping blocks are great examples of what you can use; while porous stone, untreated rocks, and cinder blocks should be avoided as they can explode if their temperatures get too high.

If you choose metal fire pits, you have several forms to pick from, but with each choice remember that metal is a conductor of heat and so the container itself can be very hot to the touch. The following are the most common types of metal used for building steel fire pits. 

Cast Iron 

The most affordable metal commonly used to construct fire pits is cast iron. Cast iron fire pits conduct heat especially well and on a cold night night, they can do a great job warming up an entire space. It is also less likely to corrode, but the colour it comes in may fade over time but this can be easily remedied by applying heat resistant paint. It is also among the heavier materials used for metal fire pits, which may pose a problem if you want your fire pit to be portable. 

Steel 

Steel fire pits will be lighter and more durable than iron ones, but they are slightly more expensive. Even within this metal type, there are several types that you may consider. As far as steel pits go, the painted ones are usually the more affordable varieties. The paint will last maybe a year, but applying heat resistant paint can make it look good as new.

Stainless steel fire pits resist corrosion and stains very well, and they have a high melting point. Their polished shine is also easy to maintain with little effort. Rusted steel fire pits are popular with outdoor enthusiasts who want to get that old worn look and feel. The strength of the steel is not a concern however, as the rusty look is only superficial. However, this type of fire pit will have a shorter life span as the weathering will continue. 

The most expensive, and longest lasting, of the steel fire pits are the ones with a powder-coated finish. Powdered paint is actually melted onto the steel, creating a hardy shell that resists chipping and other wear and tear. Additionally, this type of paint finish makes them look rather elegant and high end, because the finishes come in a wide palette of outdoor friendly colors like various shades of red, brown, and black. 

Copper 

The most expensive of the metal fire pits tend to be the ones made of copper. Being very malleable, copper can be formed into many shapes and designs and therefore a wide variety of styles for copper fire pits exist on the market. The beautiful and durable metal is also an excellent conductor of heat, and so a copper fire pit can easily warm up a decent sized room. However, they can dull over time, but this can easily be remedied by a little diligence in the clean-up and maintenance.

Gas vs Wood Fire Pits 

When choosing a fire pit for your home you will also need to choose what kind of material you want to use to fuel it. There are two main types of material used to fuel fire pits: gas and wood. 

Gas fire pits use natural gas or liquid propane to get the fire going, while wood fire pits are powered by burning dry wood. Each of these materials has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to understand which fuel will better suit you and your fire pit. 

Pros Of Gas Fire Pits 

As you might expect, wood fire pits often take up a lot more space than gas fire pits due to the need to contain the logs that burn, plus they will likely require more storage space on your property to keep the stockpile of wood you need. A gas fire pit will only need a line going to it from a propane tank, which depending on the size of the tank and space on your property may or may not take up much space. 

As far as maintenance goes, wood fire pits will require you to clean out the ash, soot, and left over logs every now and then. Gas fire pits, on the other hand, burn clean, so there is no need for any maintenance work besides giving it a wipe every now and then.

Cons Of Gas Fire Pits

Installing a gas fire pit will require a professional since you will have to install gas lines from your tank to the pit’s location. This also requires more time. Wood fire pits are the ones that you can build yourself if you choose to, although a professional is recommended to make sure you comply with all safety regulations.  

Pros Of Wood Fire Pits 

What makes many people choose wood over gas fire pits is the experience. When you use wood fire pits, you are treated to that unmistakable campfire smell accompanied by the cracking sound of burning wood and the sight of the embers on the logs. Unfortunately, this simply cannot be recreated by a gas fire pit that burns clean and therefore does not emit odors of any kind. 

Cons Of Wood Fire Pits 

An electric gas fire pit does require electricity to operate; however, you can light and maintain the fire with the touch of a button with a gas fire pit. Wood fire pits, on the other hand, require the same effort as you would in building a campfire. You need to constantly watch and maintain the fire, and leaving it too long means you’ll have to start the whole process over again.

No one is better than the other, you just need to consider why you want to install a fire pit. If you want a fire pit for the fun and authentic campfire experience, a wood-fueled fire pit is probably your best option. However, if you want something more simple and desire a fire pit simply for heating purposes, a gas fire pit may be better for you.


Related Questions

Can I Put the Fire Pit Near Grass? 

For the safety of everyone enjoying your fire pit, you should not position it on the grass. Not only does it pose risks to the people around the fire but it can also be damaging to the grass itself. An on-the-ground fire pit will not be completely stable if it is positioned directly on the grass. Most grass surfaces are not level, so this can pose the dangerous possibility of the fire pit tumbling over and spilling its contents.

If you want your fire pit to be positioned on a grassed area you should lay down a concrete slab first. Whether you want your fire pit in your front or back yard it should only be lit in a safe place far from anything combustible such as dry grass or leaves, branches, or anything that can be set ablaze by floating cinder or by the flames from the fire pit itself. 

How Long Will It Take To Dig a Hole for a Fire Pit? 

Digging a firepit by hand can take less than 3 hours, depending on the size and style of your pit. How long it will take to dig a hole for a fire pit will be a factor in choosing how you go about choosing one. If you can schedule a day or a set hour or two for any particular day of the week to work on the hole for your fire pit, then go right ahead and use just a shovel and some elbow grease. A bit more time-constrained but you still want to do it yourself? Hiring a digger means you can create a good sized hole in less than an hour.  

What Size Fire Pit Should You Get? 

There are many factors affecting the ideal size of your fire pit, including but not limited to the size of your yard, your goals for the fire pit (such as wanting it as a permanent fixture or a portable one to take where you would like), and any local council rules regarding fire pits. Ideally, the fire pit should be a size that would allow a robust fire while still keeping your guests close enough to chat. Between 90 and 110 centimetres should be optimal.

Sam Christie

Sam Christie is the owner and operator of Christies landscapes, founded in 2013 Sam and his team of landscapers and designers have many years experience in the landscape construction industry. Over the years they have developed and refined a broad range of skills, qualifications and techniques to deliver outstanding projects throughout the Canberra region.

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