When I think of fire pits, I’m instantly transported back to my childhood and hours spent around a campfire with friends or family, whether it was with the girl scouts making s’mores or with my high school pals at a bonfire on the beach. All good memories. As an adult, it has the same hypnotic power. Staring into the flames, there’s a deep emotional connection with the fire element. Very much like the electrical charge you feel when you connect with another person, fire builds warmth, not just physically but emotionally, within your personal relationships. Sure, you can get it with a fireplace if your home has one, but there’s something primal about bringing it outside.
And these days, as fire pits explode with popularity, you can create all kinds of settings for you and your family to enjoy. You can find a small, ready-built, portable fire pit that you can move around your yard or even drag into your driveway, where neighbors can congregate. Or, you can build one a’la DIY style for less than a few hundred bucks. You can even spend thousands having one professionally built to add value to your home. The possibilities truly are endless. Just search fire pit ideas online, and you’ll find all kinds of options at all price ranges. We’ll break those down here and help you decide what’s right for you and your family.
But before we get into all that – just a little reminder. Fire can be dangerous; it kills more people every year than any other force of nature. So, be sure to follow your local ordinances on how far a fire pit needs to be from your home and when you’re allowed to use it (i.e., not a windy day when sparks can fly off and start a bigger fire). The last thing we want is for something meant to bring enjoyment to end up being anything but.
When deciding what kind of fire pit you want, you first need to think about just how big you want it. Do you want to be able to move it to different spots around your home, or maybe even take it with you camping? Because that’s possible these days, with some of the portable options. Or, do you want something permanent? Do you want to run a gas line to it to make it as easy as flipping a switch, like some fireplaces inside the home are? There are tabletop options for those that are stunning. How big is your budget? And are you designing it for warmth and entertainment, or do you want to actually be able to cook meals on it? That’s possible, too, and I’m not just talking s’mores with marshmallows on a stick.
Buying a smaller fire pit is likely to be the easiest way to go. The fire pit market is red-hot, with options you can pick from and at any price point. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of companies creating fire pits that fit any style of your home. Some are meant to last forever, while others will rust pretty quickly if you leave them out year-round and allow water to collect in the bowl area meant for firewood (don’t ask me how I know).
Brands include Tiki, Bali Outdoors, and Breeo, among others. There’s Solo and even Hampton Bay. You can find them in big box hardware stores and smaller ones or online with retailers like Wayfair and, of course, Amazon.
What should you look for? Well, you want something heavy-duty enough that it won’t tip over with the next gust of wind. You can get small models, like the Solo and Yukon, that are easy to travel with for your next camping trip. It doesn’t exactly give the “gather around the campfire” vibe you may be searching for, but it’ll do the trick if you keep it intimate. The bigger ones should offer a deep basin and great airflow. And it’s totally up to you whether you’d like to run it on a propane tank like your barbecue grill or a gas line, making it super simple to flip a switch each time you want to feel the flame.
Of course, you can go with neither and embrace your outdoorsy self by sticking to the basics and just buying a fire pit that you just throw the wood into, along with some kindling, and start with a match. It’s truly your choice. It just depends on your budget and the feel you’re going for.
After my $100 portable fire pit rusted out (yeah, that was me I was talking about earlier), I gave up the fire pit game for a while. But I missed having something to gather around on a chilly night, and, honestly, I had done some tree trimming and needed something to help get rid of the limbs and brush collecting in my backyard. I had the perfect corner for putting a fire pit, and a quick search online for a how-to gave me the confidence to go DIY. If you have no desire to build your own, just go ahead and skip this and head to the next section. But if you’re even the slightest bit handy, this is an easy project.
A word of warning: Don’t even try it if you don’t want to carry fifty-pound bags of gravel from your car to the spot in the yard where you’re placing the fire pit (assuming you want to surround your pit with gravel, though that’s not required, but felt safer to me). I ended up needing 32 of those 50-pound bags, and it was the worst part of this project. The rest was a breeze.
To build my pit, I cut out a piece of cardboard in the diameter I wanted my fire pit to be, then placed it on the ground and marked the perimeter with spray paint, so I knew what to dig up of the grass that was there. Aim for a level section of your yard, and be sure it’s the proper distance from your home (in my state, that’s 25 feet). Going for a level section means you’ll have a good foundation and won’t have to use too much sand to fill it and make it level. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be close because it’ll matter when you stack your pavers. Just use your shovel to move the old grass aside and get down to the dirt. Then, use your feet (or, if you’re fancy, a stamper from the hardware store) to pack the dirt down. You can use the level to make sure it’s good and even.
Then grab your pavers, and start stacking around your diameter. Once you get the first level in, stack the next. I found it best to stagger the stacking, allowing more air to fuel your fire later. And I suggest at least three levels high, especially if you’re going to be like me and burn brush later. It’s just safer to have it deeper. Once that’s all set, you simply cover the ground inside the pavers with pea pebbles and then add lava rock. In my case, it took two bags.
That was it for the actual fire pit. I decided to get fancy and add the gravel around the base because I wanted something for the chairs to sit on to surround the pit. They were heavy, no doubt, but easier than putting down concrete, in my opinion. And that was it. In total, I spent about $100. And it’s held up well (with no chance of rust).
Experts say a well-designed and properly maintained outdoor living space can increase your home’s value by as much as 20%. A built-in fire pit can play a major role in your outdoor space, making it one of the best outdoor improvements to add value. In one survey of more than 6,000 realtors, a natural stone gas fire pit with a 10-foot diameter was said to yield an average of 67% ROI. That means if you spent $10,000 on your fire pit, you’d get $6,700 in value for it when you sold. Beyond that, it makes it much more marketable. The fire pit, or backyard fireplace as the bigger ones are referred to, top the American Society of Landscape Architects’ list of the most popular outdoor design elements. It even outranks lighting, seating, and dining areas (according to a 2018 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey).
How do you find someone to build a quality fire pit instead of a money pit? Go online. Read all the ratings and reviews you can find. Ask your friends on social media who they use and whether they’re happy with them. There are, of course, sites like Houzz.com and Homeadvisor.com to help guide you, but again, it’s going to come down to reviews from past customers to help you choose.
Keep in mind that wood fire pits will cost you less than a gas one because, with gas, you have to hire professionals to run the line and provide power. You can avoid that by just going with wood. Consider using pavers instead of flagstone. And remember, the more customized you get, the more you will pay. If you have the budget for it, by all means, go wild, but know that it’s not necessary if you don’t. A prefab, modular unit can look fabulous and cost half as much as a specially-designed pit.
The bottom line is the options truly are endless. Do a little soul searching and figure out what your priorities are for your fire pit. For me, that meant closing my eyes and imagining the ideal night under the stars, with my fire to not just keep me warm but set a mood. Turns out I was good with the basic look, and my budget was all the better for it. But if you want something more extravagant, go wild. It’ll extend the time you can spend outside and could be the centerpiece for some memorable evenings with those you love.