Fire Pits for Decks
Fire pits and decks are not always ideal partners. Learn what you need to do in order to use a fire pit safely on your deck.
If your deck is a favorite gathering spot, you may want to enhance the ambience with a fire pit. Today’s portable pits seem a natural fit for decks—or are they? Choosing fire pits for deck use is trickier than selecting one for backyard burning. Learn what you should consider before embracing a fire pit on deck.
Deciding whether or not to add fire to your outdoor living spaces isn’t just a matter of preference. Your local municipality likely has ordinances in place that dictate the use of open flames, including specifics about fire pits on decks. Many city or county codes stipulate that open flames aren’t permissible on wooden decks and not within 20 feet of your home.
The concern with having a traditional wood-burning fire pit on a deck is that sparks and flying embers can ignite nearby surfaces. An undetected spark that lands on some dry leaf bits wedged between deck boards or clinging to roof shingles can be the start of a larger blaze, even after you’ve doused the fire pit. Another big concern is fire pits that sit low to the ground producing enough radiant heat to damage the deck surface beneath.
If you want to use a fire pit on a deck and you’ve received the all-clear from the city code, choose a gas-fueled pit for the lowest fire risk. A properly installed gas fire pit doesn’t produce sparks that can ignite nearby surfaces. Look for gas fire pits designed for deck use. This should be stated in the instruction manual. If you’re uncertain, call the manufacturer to inquire.
Also make sure that your deck is strong enough to support the fire pit, especially if you’re building a custom gas-fired pit. If you’re tackling the project yourself and are unsure, check with a local contractor before construction begins. Try to find someone with expertise in fire pit design. Depending on the complexity of your design, you may need to consult with a structural engineer.
To use a wood-burning fire pit safely on a flammable deck, start by creating a no-burn zone beneath and around the fire pit. Position the fire pit away from furniture, railings, or plants that could catch fire. Install some kind of a flame-resistant surface to hold the fire pit and catch sparks.
You can purchase a fire pit pad designed to protect deck surfaces from temperatures as high as 1,400º F. Or create your own fire pit pad using metal, pavers, or bricks over a wooden deck. Another option is to build a pad by covering cement fiber board with tile. A fire pit pad should extend at least 24 inches beyond the fire pit in all directions. Always make sure your deck can handle the weight of the fire pit and the pad.
If your fire pit comes with a screen, keep it closed as much as possible when you’re burning to reduce the chance of jumping sparks.
Despite taking all safety precautions, accidents can—and do—occur. Always keep a fully-charged fire extinguisher, container of water, and/or a hose nearby to deal with any mishaps that occur. If a burning ember lands on a wooden or composite deck, extinguish it immediately. Sparks can damage the surface of composite decks, marring the appearance.