Building a Back Yard Fire Pit
Building a fire pit in your backyard provides a cozy and inviting atmosphere for socializing and relaxation, and can extend the use of your outdoor space into the cooler months. Whether it serves as a focal point for outdoor gatherings or offers a warm anbiance for entertaining friends and family, a fire pit is a fun way to add value to your home and enhance its overall appeal.
Prioritizing safety should be your primary concern when deciding on a location for your fire pit. You’ll want to choose a spot that’s away from any flammable objects, such as trees, fences, or buildings. It’s also important to look for an area that’s away from any low-hanging branches, as sparks from the fire can easily set them ablaze. Additionally, check to see if you need any permits or local ordinances in your area that regulate fire pits before you start building.
When picking a spot, consider how much room you’ll need for your fire pit. The optimal size for a fire pit is between 36 and 44 inches inside diameter, which will give enough room for a healthy fire while keeping everyone close enough to chat. If you’re looking to create a larger area for outdoor gatherings, you can always build a larger fire pit. Just be sure that it’s not too close to any flammable items or structures.
If you're looking to add a fire pit as the cherry on top to your patio, read our suggestions in How to Plan the Perfect Patio.
Once you’ve chosen the perfect spot for your fire pit, you’ll need to dig a hole for the fire pit walls. Start by marking a circle with a diameter of between 36 and 44 inches. Start digging into the ground with a shovel, making sure to reach a depth of approximately 8 inches. After finishing the trench, add a 3/4-inch layer of gravel to the bottom. Spread it evenly until it reaches a depth of approximately 2 inches below the soil line.
Once the gravel is in place, it’s time to start laying the first course of retaining wall blocks or stones. Use a 2-foot level and a 4-foot level to check if the blocks or stones are level. Then use a caulking gun to apply masonry adhesive to the bottom of each block or stone and press it into place. Make sure to keep all of the blocks or stones tight together, as this will help prevent heat from escaping. You can also use a steel fire ring to reinforce the first course of blocks and keep them from shifting over time.
To continue, you will need to fill the space around the fire pit with a combination of gravel and sand. Start by filling the area around the blocks or stones with 3/4-inch gravel. Make sure to fill it in evenly and tamp it down firmly with a hand tamper. After placing the gravel, add a layer of sand that is approximately 2 inches deep on top of the gravel. Tamp the sand down firmly, as this will ensure that the blocks or stones stay level and provide a flat surface for the next layer of blocks or stones.
Once the gravel and sand are in place, you can start laying the second course of blocks or stones. Just like with the first course, use a 2-foot level and 4-foot level to make sure that each block or stone is level and that the seams are tight. Make sure to leave small gaps between the blocks or stones to promote air circulation around the fire.
The final step is to add the capstones, which will help to give your fire pit a finished look. Capstones come in different shapes and sizes to fit your fire pit’s design, so be sure to find one that will fit your fire pit’s dimensions. For concrete block fire pits, you can use masonry adhesive to glue the capstones onto the top of the blocks. For natural stone fire pits, you can use mortar to attach the capstones to the top of the wall. Once the capstones are in place, your fire pit is ready to use.
Firebricks or refractory bricks are also an option if you’re looking for a fire pit that can handle high-heat situations. Firebricks come in both curved and rectangular shapes, so you can find one that fits your fire pit’s design. Once the firebricks are in place, your fire pit is ready to use.
You can’t dig out a fire pit without a shovel. As you dig, you can also use the shovel to move the gravel and sand around the area, which will create an even and secure base for the fire pit. When choosing a shovel for digging the fire pit, opt for a durable material like steel or aluminum to ensure it won't bend or break. A wide-bladed shovel is also ideal for moving materials around, making it easier to create a level base for your fire pit.
Gravel and sand are essential when it comes to building a backyard fire pit. Not only will they fill the gaps, but they prevent the stones or bricks from shifting over time. Choose materials that are fire resistant that don't crack or explode when exposed to high temperatures. Crushed granite, lava rock, or pea gravel are popular choices for gravel. Silica sand is commonly used for fire pits because of its ability to withstand high temperatures. Never use beach sand or sandbox sand in your fire pit, as these types of sand can contain moisture that can cause it to explode when heated.
The style of the fire pit can vary depending on personal preference and the overall aesthetic of your outdoor space. The type of stone or brick you choose for your fire pit will have to depend on your personal taste and budget. Some popular options for fire pit materials include:
Natural stone: This can include various types of stone such as fieldstone, river rock, or granite. Natural stone can create a rustic, earthy look for your fire pit.
Concrete pavers: Concrete pavers come in a range of colors and shapes, making it easy to create a custom look for your fire pit.
Fire bricks: These bricks are specifically designed to withstand high temperatures and can be used to line the inside of the fire pit to protect the surrounding materials from heat damage.
Retaining wall blocks: These blocks are similar to concrete pavers but are designed to be used for structural purposes. They can be used to create a more modern or industrial look for your fire pit.
Safety is paramount, so make sure you’re building on flat ground and at least 10 feet away from any buildings. This will allow for proper air circulation and will reduce the risk of any accidental fires. Check local ordinances to make sure that a fire pit is allowed in your area before beginning construction.
Don’t risk allowing branches to hang directly above the fire pit. Even if a tree or shrub is not touching the fire pit, the heat from the fire can cause nearby vegetation to dry out and become more susceptible to catching fire.
Never leave a fire unattended. Have a fire extinguisher or a water source nearby when enjoying an evening around your fire pit. This way, if anything goes wrong you can quickly put out any fires.
Flammable liquids can easily create a large and uncontrollable fire that could cause serious damage. It's best to avoid using gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid, or other accelerants to start your fire pit. These substances can cause unexpected and dangerous fires if they come into contact with flames or embers. Instead, use dry wood and kindling to start your fire safely and effectively.
Remove any ashes and debris that may have been left behind from previous fires. This will help keep your fire pit in good condition and help make sure it doesn’t become a hazard. Have a metal bucket and a pair of gloves handy when cleaning the fire pit. Scoop out any ashes you can see and dispose of them appropriately. You can even use a shop vacuum for the same result.
A good scrubbing with some hot, soapy water will remove build-up of soot or dirt that’s accumulated. Use a steel brush or other cleaning tool to help remove any stubborn dirt or grime.
It’s important to regularly check your fire pit for any signs of damage or wear. Look for cracks, chips, or warping of the metal, which could be signs that the fire pit needs to be replaced. Additionally, check for any signs of rust, which may indicate that the fire pit is deteriorating. If you find any damage, it’s best to replace the fire pit as soon as possible.
For wood-burning fire pits, keep an eye out where the wood may have started to splinter or break, which could be a sign that the fire pit is becoming unsafe.
Check the connections and valves for any signs of leaking or corrosion on gas fire pits.
Keep your firewood dry and prevent it from becoming a hazard by storing it in a shed or a covered area away from the fire pit. Bring wood to the fire pit in small batches to keep the fire contained. Only use dry and seasoned wood. If the fire is getting out of control, cover it in water or smother it with a blanket.
By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can easily create a backyard fire pit that will be a safe and enjoyable gathering place for family and friends. With the right tools and materials, you can create a beautiful and functional backyard oasis for everyone to enjoy.
If you're looking to spruce up your living space but don't want to break the bank, DIY home improvement projects are a great place to start. Read 7 DIY Projects to Improve Your Home for easy and affordable inspiration.
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