When autumn arrives, cooler temps (hopefully) offer a welcome respite from this summer’s heat. Enjoy your backyard time better—and extend your evening dining and drinking window—by adding a fire pit to your arsenal of backyard embellishments. Use it as a common rallying point for socializing, roasting marshmallows, playing guitar or other revelry with family and friends, all while enjoying its warmth and mesmerizing flames. Start with the basics, first factoring the different types of fire pits available, from wood to gas and even pellet, and then balance buying considerations to transform your outdoor space into a true gathering hotspot.
Study your outdoor space before playing Johnny Storm and saying “Flame On!” Determine your needs and goals for the fire pit, starting with where you have to place it (enclosed vs open-air, proximity of neighbors, and user capacity), and your budget. Next, when it comes to fuel, ask yourself if you mind procuring and chopping wood (and the smoke it creates), or if you’d rather have something easier you can control with a switch? Finally, do you want a permanent pit in the ground, or a portable option you can move around? Nail down these variables to lead you to the right light.
Outdoor fire pits burn through a wide gamut of fuel options, from wood to propane, natural gas and pellets.
- Wood: Great for DIY self-starters who like to build fires, watch flames and listen to the wood crackle; they’re more work, requiring you to make (and extinguish) the fire every time, and come with certain restrictions. You also can't use them on covered porches, under low branches or when it’s windy. And, if it’s dry, they’re often restricted by local fire laws (check with your homeowner's association, city, or county for restrictions before buying), plus there are some health risks associated with inhaling smoke from wood-burning pits.
- Propane/Natural Gas: Both propane- and natural gas-fueled fire pits are easy to use (simply turn on the gas and start with either a built-in igniter or lighter), offer immediate temperate control, and work well on open porches with overhead roofs. They’re also generally neater (no need to deal with a pile of wood, ashes, smoke, or debris). Gas models burn cleaner with fewer emissions than wood or pellets, too.
- Wood pellets: Easy to use and load, pellets burn clean and smokeless. They also produce minimal ash, meaning little post-fire cleanup. Though not as efficient as gas, they have less moisture than wood and do burn more efficiently, providing up to 45 minutes of vibrant flames and good heat, where you won’t end up smelling like smoke. Bonus: No jacket holes from errant sparks.
Like your indoor fireplace, outdoor fire pits can be a focal point of your deck or backyard. Consider your furnishings, gardens, siding, and overall exterior space to get one that complements your existing outdoor décor. Styles range from simple metal bowls, squares and rectangles to elaborate, fancier models at coffee table height with surface area for plates, drink holders and other features (need a pizza oven?).
There’s a range here, impacting everything from price to performance. Popular options include stainless steel, which is rustproof and withstands fire heat well; galvanized steel, which is less expensive but less durable; cast aluminum, which is lighter and rust-resistant; copper, which is aesthetic but more expensive and can stain; and cast iron, which is solid and durable but heavy. Decide how often you’ll be moving it and how it augments its surroundings before making your purchase.