Outdoor Fire Pits

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Fire pit

A free standing outdoor fire pit

Outdoor fire pits refer to preconstructed structures meant to enclose a fire to allow for safe outdoor fire burning. Fire pits are often also decorative acting as part of the patio furniture and enhancing the landscaping. In common usage fire pits refer specifically to outdoor fire enclosures, as opposed to fire places, which are for indoor fires. It is, however, possible to have a fire pit indoors, particularly in very large spaces.

While most modern discussion of fire pits refers to a structure that one can buy, the term is also applicable to a hole in the ground, often lined with stone or metal. For example, most commercial campsites have a pit with a metal ring surrounding a hole in the dirt. This kind of fire pit is very different from the kind that you would find in a suburban backyard.

Fire pits are sold commercially at most lawn and garden centers, as well as at big box stores that include a lawn and garden seasonal section. These products are often priced in the $100 – $200 price range, considered the low end of the decorative fire pit market.

Higher end fire pits can be sold for thousands of dollars, and are usually part of the furniture, such as tables in which a stone ledge surrounds the fire area on which drinks can be set.

Types of Fire Pits

The design possibilities of fire pits are nearly limitless; however, they can be roughly categorized based on what they are intended to burn. Broadly speaking you can split the substance of fire pits into two categories:

  • Solid Fuel: most fire pits are intended to burn solid fuel, typically as wood-burning fire pits. In addition to wood they can also be used to burn charcoal for a more controlled and sustained fire. Solid fuel burning fire pits are the most commonly sold type.
  • Gas Burning: a less common kind of fire pit is designed to burn gas in an open flame. This kind of fire pit requires some kind of natural gas line (usually underground or within a porch or patio structure) or to make use of a propane tank or similar fuel source, which can be turned on or off. The advantage of gas burning fire pits is the safety of not having to deal with flaming embers, and a cleaner more consistent flame. The downside is that you lose the appealing burning wood smell, and you introduce the possibility of the gas being left on. Outdoors this isn’t the hazard that it would be indoors, but it can be very costly.

Outdoor fire pits are normally constructed from some kind of metal that is capable of resisting prolonged heat. This can include stainless steel, cast iron, and copper. Usually the metal type is chosen for appearance, rather than practicality, and as such copper is a very popular metal used to construct fire pits.

Outdoor Fire Pit Safety

Outdoor fire pit table

An outdoor fire pit as a piece of furniture

Aside from its decorative nature, the primary function of outdoor fire pits is one of safety. The pit is meant to enclose the fire and very importantly the burning embers and charcoal of the fire. Another safety aspect of fire pits is that by simply creating an enclosed fire space it prevents users from overloading the fire with too much fuel in an effort to produce a larger blaze. By simply using a smaller fire pit the safety factor increases enormously because the fire and amount of embers will be proportionately smaller.

However, outdoor fire pits still have hazards, as is always the case when dealing with open flame. In particular even with the fire contained within a fire pits, a stray breeze can easily send burning embers adrift that can settle and start a fire elsewhere.

Some fire pit designs try to mitigate this danger by enclosing the fire area in a wire mesh that prevents any but the smallest of embers from becoming airborne. This is a valuable safety feature; however, it then introduces the danger of a user accidentally burning themselves on the mesh cover when trying to remove it (such as to add more wood to the fire).

Over all outdoor fire pits have a good safety record, and are certainly a safer way of managing an outdoor fire than the traditional rock-lined hole in the ground. The enclosed sides of the fire pit serve much better for containing the embers and hot ash and preventing them from blowing away to cause damage elsewhere.



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