Outdoor Fire Pits and Fire Pit Safety

A fire pit can add ambiance to a cool outdoor evening, and you can get one for less than you think.

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, fire pits, or outdoor fireplaces, are the No. 1 requested design feature today. Why not? They add ambiance to a cool evening, and it's nice to just sit and stare at a burning fire. Plus, you can have one for a lot less than you might think.

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The simplest fire pit of all is little more than a metal bowl, which may or may not come equipped with a grill top — just in case you want to do a little outdoor cooking — and a protective screen cover. They're great for small patios and courtyards.

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This fire bowl is the perfect size for a patio. The top prevents rain from getting into the fire pan, and its open sides allow you to add wood easily. Plus, you can get a stick close to the fire for roasting marshmallows. During the summer, these fire pits make great planters.

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Chimineas arrived on the scene back in the 1980s, and they remain as popular as ever. They don't give off much heat, but the smell of burning wood adds a certain something to outdoor living.

Good firewood includes pinion wood, alder, cedar, oak, hickory, mesquite, pecan and even fruit woods, such as apple and cherry. Don't burn pressure-treated wood in a chiminea or any other fire pit or fireplace because it may contain harmful toxins.

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This pit is nothing more than a ring made from mortared limestone. Although you can't see it, there's a drain in the center that's connected to a pipe running underground and out into the lawn so that rainwater doesn't collect in the pit.

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This fire pit also has a drain. It's designed so that the fire actually sits below the level of the stone patio, and the sight of flames shooting up from below is very cool. During the summer, the pit is a great place for a large potted plant.

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Fire pits can be very simple and inexpensive to install. This one, from start to finish, took two people just a couple of hours to complete, and the cost of materials was less than $100.

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Fancier fire pits like this will cost you more, but do-it-yourselfers can easily handle the installation.

Fireplaces are a different matter. They can get rather pricey, especially for custom models, but modular kits are available as well for less than a third of the cost. And there's no getting around the fact that they add a special touch to outdoor living, with or without a fire burning in them.

More Inspiration: 12 Fire Pit Ideas

Fire Pits With Style

A gas- or wood-burning fire pit can quickly become the heart of a backyard.

Fire safety 

When it comes time to actually start a fire, there are a few things to keep in mind, the most important of which is to keep your fire small. There's no need for a blazing bonfire, and the bigger the fire, the greater the potential for disaster.

First things first, your fire pit should be at least 10 feet away from any structure or combustible surface. Before lighting an outdoor fire, check the weather forecast. Avoid windy conditions that can blow embers. Also stay up to date on any burn bans or burn ordinances that might be in effect at different times during the year. Doing some house cleaning, like picking up leaves and other combustible materials, around the pit is important to ensure the fire doesn't accidentally spread. Always have a container of water nearby and a garden hose on standby before starting the fire.

More Fire Pit Design Ideas

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Private Fire Pit

A secluded seating area becomes prime real estate for a fire pit setup. A grouping of weather-resistant chairs surround the fire feature, while a living privacy wall surrounds the entire space.

Photo By: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Built-In Fire Pit

Indoor/outdoor living can be enjoyed year round in this California community. Here, a spacious atrium is the perfect gathering spot for family and friends. Modern rattan furniture placed near the built-in fire pit adds plenty of space for relaxation. Design by Kevin Smith

Limestone Fire Pit

This built-in fire pit is veneered in house brick lined with a fire brick interior and finished with a four-piece thermal bluestone coping. Design by Bob Hursthouse

Sunken Fire Pit

This Maui vacation home features more than stunning ocean views; it also comes with a stone patio and sunken fire pit to make alfresco relaxing that much better.

Marble Fire Pit

A marble fire pit warms up this covered outdoor living room and makes the space perfect for year-round lounging. Design by Adam Miller

Four-Unit Fire Pit

Four separate gas units comprise the modern fire pit design of HGTV Dream Home 2012. The Utah limestone-clad column is topped in a surface of limestone. A clear glass surround protects gas flames while contributing to the deck's open fire experience.

Open Fire Pit

Set in the Santa Monica Mountains, this adobe-style home encircles a large pool and courtyard with an open-flame fire pit situated right in the middle. Design by Lewin Wertheimer; Photo by Douglas Hill

Bluestone Fire Pit

This natural stone fire pit features a fire brick interior and is capped in Pennsylvania bluestone, which can quickly turn into additional seating when more party guests arrive. Design by ACM Design

Photo By: Frontier Group ©Photographed by Frontier Group

Stacked Stone Fire Pit

This contemporary outdoor space is a destination for every season with lush foliage that peaks in the spring and summer and a cozy fire pit for cold-weather months. Design by a Blade of Grass Landscape Design

Old World Fire Pit

This outdoor patio is designed to bring a contemporary look to an Old World-style house. Adjacent to the pool, a built-in stone fire pit becomes the centerpiece to a cozy lounge area. Design by Paul Wrona

Flat Stone Fire Pit

Landscape designer Chris Lambton transformed his own backyard into an outdoor oasis complete with a custom-made picnic table, bluestone patio and fire pit area finished with Pennsylvania flat stone. The fire pit is surrounded by upcycled whiskey barrel stools and wooden Adirondack chairs for ample seating options.

Photo By: DarrenMcCollester/Getty Images © 2012, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Stacked Stone Fire Pit

A band of composite decking in a lighter shade visually separates the fire pit area from the rest of the entertainment deck. Photo courtesy of Trex

Covered Fire Pit

A colorful, two-tiered deck and adjacent fire pit adds function, depth and layers to the back of this home. Design by Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri

Photo By: Chris Amaral © 2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Stacked Stone Fire Pit

The freestanding fire pit is the focal point for outdoor gatherings and is incorporated into the design by extending the existing deck area into an organic shape. Design by Jamie Durie

Natural Stone Fire Pit

Lush landscaping combined with a built-in barbecue, large seating area and fire pit create the ideal place to entertain family and friends. Design by Kevin Smith

Stone Fire Pit

Just off the crescent-shaped pool, a fire pit provides an additional lounge space for evening entertainment. Design by Joseph Vassallo; Photo by Mary Vail, OSG Publicist

Stone Fire Pit

A built-in stone fire pit anchors this streamlined patio with a circular layout that facilitates conversation. Design by Andreas Charalambous

Photo By: Geoffrey Hodgdon ©Geoffrey Hodgdon

Contemporary Fire Pit

A small, contemporary fire pit is the showpiece of this shaded outdoor seating area. An expansive pergola makes the fire pit area more intimate. Design by Jamie Durie

Mobile Fire Pit

A small backyard becomes a magical garden with lush landscaping and a C-shaped seating area surrounding a fire pit. Design by Jamie Durie

Fire Pit Bowl

A Gabion bowl was used for a fire pit feature in this luxurious and modern backyard design. The fire pit deck is sunk below the height of the infinity pool to keep the benches level to the pool. Design by Jamie Durie

Patio Fire Pit

An in-ground fire pit lights and warms up this patio sitting area. A pair of wicker sofas flank the fire pit, offering a convenient spot for chatting with family and friends.

Fire Pit With a View

Take a dip in the hot tub, then cozy up by the fire pit for a view of the magnificent waterfront sunset. This British Virgin Islands home's patio offers ample space and seating, making it an ideal setting for entertaining guests.

Photo By: Smiths Gore Limited, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

Gray Stone Fire Pit

This private backyard patio renovation includes gray stone and boulders throughout, including the cozy fire pit area. An outdoor dining table with a neutral umbrella provides a lovely place for enjoying afternoon lunch, while long wood steps lead to a deck area that overlooks the surrounding tree-lined property.

Garden Fire Pit

Surrounded by lush perennials, this outdoor lounge is relaxing whether the fire pit is in use or not.

Reflecting Fire Pit

The fire pit in this cool contemporary space is adorned with black tile that reflects the flames.

Concrete Fire Pit

The simplicity of this Asian-inspired design helps create a tranquil setting on the deck. The fire pit is surrounded by comfortable cozy seating and a unique privacy wall.

Photo By: Tomas Ovalle / Associated Press

Geo Fire Pit Patio

This patio was made for entertaining. On those cooler evenings, four geometric wooden armchairs circle a stone fire pit, while warmer evenings allow for a dip in the glowing infinity pool.

L-Shaped Fire Pit

This Yard Crashers backyard renovation included adding a water feature, a cooking area and this custom, L-shaped fire pit.

Photo By: Tomas Ovalle / Associated Press

Tabletop Fire Pit

A tabletop fire pit in the middle of the bar adds some unexpected pizazz to this outdoor kitchen.

Half Fire Pit, Half Epic View

This cozy sitting area looks out over a vibrant blue ocean. A built-in fire pit ensures a relaxing spot, keeping the space warm from the cool ocean breeze.

From: Mark Scott Associates

Photo By: Anthony Gomez

To get a fire started, put a crumpled piece of paper or a store-bought fire starter in the pit, and cover one or both with small sticks — the smaller, the better. As the fire begins to burn, add larger and larger sticks until you're finally able to add a log or two. But whatever you do, don't try to start a fire with gasoline. It's way too dangerous.

The best way to extinguish a fire is to take the ashes, spread them over a larger surface area and let them cool down for a little bit. Then take your small container of water and gently pour it over the ashes, but monitor it. Don't just throw some water on it and go to bed because it can flare up in the night. If you have a fire that escapes your fire pit and moves into a nearby pile of kindling or a combustible surface, immediately call 911.

There's no getting around the fact that wood smoke is a pollutant and that outdoor fire pits and fireplaces are completely unnecessary. In fact, in some cities, both indoor fireplaces and outdoor fire features of any kind are illegal. This isn't just because of the potential for fires, but because of the pollution they produce. That said, the decision to burn or not to burn becomes, for many people, a personal rather than legal one. Regardless of how you feel about the subject, we can all agree that fires are far more decorative than functional.

Alternative sources for outdoor heating

Although they provide heat on a cold winter night, there are alternative sources for outdoor heating. The most popular are gas-powered heaters, which burn propane or butane. They look nice, and they heat a fairly large area, although if it's windy outside, the heat seems to blow away in the wind.

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But the heat that emanates from infrared heaters isn't affected by the wind, and there are no fuel tanks to mess with. You simply plug it in, and you get instant, penetrating heat.

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