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The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Fire Pits [Expert Insights & Safety Tips]

The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Fire Pits [Expert Insights & Safety Tips]
By Jordan Henrie
November 8, 2022

All-in-one fire tables are an ideal way to add ambiance to your garden or patio. Alternatively, fire pits are also great for spending a cozy night by the fire with your family, entertaining friends, or providing a relaxing evening for two. While there are many reasons to add a fire pit to your backyard, one of the best reasons is that a well-built fire pit can add value to your home and improve the usability of your backyard landscaping.

Before starting construction on your fire pit, you will need to consider a few things, like local ordinances regarding fire pits, location, what kind of fire pit you want, how to build your fire pit, and even what to put in the bottom of your fire pit.

Next, learn about the best rocks inside your fire pit, including how to use lava rocks for a fire pit and how fire pit glass rocks can add an extra touch to your backyard feature. Then light a fire, grab a book, pull up some outdoor furniture, and enjoy your new backyard addition.

Research Your City Code

An outdoor fire pit

Different cities will have different building ordinances regarding backyard fire pit construction. Make sure you know the local requirements before building, or you waste time and money when moving your fire pit to a new location. Depending on where you live, you may not be allowed to build any open fire pits. Check your city code to find out if all open flames are banned or if using a cover or screen on your fire pit would make it possible to comply with regulations.

You can call your local fire department or Google fire requirements for your area to learn if there are restrictions on the size and location of fires. For example, if you build an in-ground fire pit, a quick 811 call before you dig can save you the headache and expense of disrupting underground utilities. Also, ensure the hole is built at least 10 feet from trees, overhanging branches, fences, bushes, or flammable structures on your property.

How Are You Going To Build?

The first thing to consider when planning a fire pit is to decide how portable you want your fire pit to be. A traditional in-ground fire pit is the perfect option if you want it to be a permanent fixture in your backyard landscaping. However, consider purchasing a pre-built fire pit or atable if you want to move it around.

Try our favorite pre-made fire table: Sedona 58’ Fire Table by RST Brands.

You will also need to decide whether you want an above-ground or below-ground fire pit and how you will build it. Once you've decided on the type of fire pit you'd like to build, you can purchase the needed materials.

Next, you'll need to know the best rock for inside a fire pit and how deep to make it. Most DIY fire pits are below ground because they are the most basic and easiest to build. Some tools and materials you'll need to build your fire pit are:

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel
  • Garden rake
  • Tape measure
  • Work gloves
  • Hand tamper
  • Garden hose
  • Level
  • Firebricks
  • Retaining wall blocks
  • Lava rocks for the fire pit
  • Construction adhesive

There are great guides on DIY construction for backyard fire pits, with step-by-step instructions to help you get started. If you prefer an extravagant fire pit design or want something more complicated, a contractor is faster and easier than building a fire pit yourself. Hiring a contractor to build your fire pit is also a great idea if you're looking to add more value to your home because of the quality of the craftsmanship.

Does A Fire Pit Need A Liner?

Two men enjoying a campfire

Fire pit liners have several benefits, such as preventing underground root fires and providing essential structure and support if you want your fire pit to be permanent. In addition, a good liner will give your fire pit the structure it needs to last for years. Different liners include stainless steel, mild carbon steel, concrete, tile or stone, copper, and cast iron. The most common fire pit liners are made of stainless steel or fire-rated bricks and are designed to withstand high temperatures.

Fill Your Pit With The Right Materials

Learning what to put in the bottom of your fire pit takes more planning than you may have considered. Some materials like hard rock, gravel, or sand weren't meant to reach high temperatures and can spark and explode if your fire gets too hot. So instead, use lava rocks for your fire pit or lava glass beads as a filler for your fire pit. They are a safe way to create drainage and make your fire pit look nice.

While some people choose to forgo a fire pit filler and use a concrete or stone base, filler adds a nice aesthetic to your fire pit that can enhance your backyard landscaping. Place a thin layer of sand on the bottom of the fire pit and add the recommended 2-6 inches of filler. If you don't prefer what kind of filler to use, irregular crushed lava rock or small volcanic ash tends to cost less overall.

Sandstone, river rocks, natural rocks, and gravel are not ideal fill for fire pits because they are more likely to crack or explode under high heat. No matter what type of fill you use, ensure the fill is dry when you light the fire. Rocks can absorb a lot of water, especially river rocks, and rocks that get too hot near a fire can (and sometimes do) explode. Even wet lava rock can explode.

What Kind Of Rocks Explode In Fire?

Nearly any kind of rock has the potential to explode - especially if it is porous and wet. When wet rocks heat up, the trapped air and water expand very quickly and forcefully break the rock apart, sometimes causing it to explode. 

The most common rocks you should avoid in fire pit construction include sandstone, limestone, pumice, gravel, and river rocks because of their porous nature and tendency to hold water.

Hard rocks like granite, marble, or slate are much denser and less likely to absorb water and explode when exposed to heat. Other safe stones around and in your fire pit include fire-rate brick, lava glass, lava rocks, and poured concrete. This is one area where you can use lava rocks for fire pit safety.

If you have rocks in or around your fire pit, be cautious when lighting fires after it has rained. Wet rocks are much more likely to explode than dry rocks. If you frequently use your fire pit, consider covering it in adverse weather to keep it dry and safe.

RST Brands fire table and arm chair

The Sego Lily™ 32x20 Fire Table is a beautiful alternative to DIY fire pits and is loved by customers: “We love our new firepit! It is of the best quality, most attractive, and most accommodating. We are 110% satisfied.”

How Deep Do Fire Pits Need To Be?

For in-ground fire pits, it's generally recommended that you dig down 6 to 12 inches. Make sure the ground is as level as possible before adding in your layer of lava rocks or fire pit glass. If you decide to dig a deeper fire pit, ensure you have ventilation so your fire gets enough air to burn. You may need a fire bowl on top of your stonework to keep the fire elevated.

Higher walls around a fire pit can be convenient if you have small children or pets and want to protect them from the flames. Of course, a higher wall is no substitute for a watchful eye, but it can certainly create an extra level of safety for families.

Distance Your Fire Pit From Possible Dangers

Outdoor fire pit table with plastic chairs

Safety is paramount when selecting your fire pit location. Keep your fire pit at least 10 feet away from trees, overhanging branches, fences, bushes, and flammable structures. Clear away any dry brush around the fire pit, and ensure your fire pit complies with local regulations before building. Also, call 811 to check for underground utilities.

One of the most common dangers to watch out for is root fires. While you might think you've built your fire far enough away from a tree, it's important to remember that the roots of a tree spread out, and building a fire too close to a tree can cause the roots to burn long after the embers in your fire pit have died.

If you decide to keep your fire pit on your deck, you must purchase a fire table designed for a patio setting. Consider consulting with a contractor to prepare a fireproof surface under your patio fire pit, and you will need to keep a screen on your fire pit as often as possible to prevent sparks from causing any fires. Wherever you place your fire pit, ensure it works well with the traffic flow in your yard, so it's not a tripping hazard for guests and family members.

When enjoying your outdoor fire pit, you should always keep safety in mind. Keep your fire contained, and always keep a bucket of water nearby so you can put out any stray flames. Always ensure your fire is cold before leaving it for the night.

Gas vs. Wood

Man putting wood logs on fire pit

There are benefits to both gas and wood fires. While you won't enjoy the classic smell of a campfire, a gas-burning fire makes it easy to start up your fire pit and enjoy a night outside, whereas gathering and lighting wood every time you want to use your fire pit is time-consuming and labor-intensive. So first, consider what you intend to use your fire pit for.

If you plan to cook, a wood fire is hotter and helps food cook faster. However, if you simply want a warm area to chat with friends or enjoy a night outside, a gas fire has a consistent flame and heat without smoke blowing in your face or your fire dying down. You can easily enjoy an entire evening of entertainment with a simple 20-pound tank of propane that will fuel your gas fire for up to 12 hours.

Gas fire pits can also be more decorative and use fire pit glass rocks that won't be faded by smoke and soot. If you can't make up your mind, consider a dual-fuel fire bowl that uses gas and wood. However, remember that they tend to cost more and require complex construction to build.

Whether you go with gas or wood, always keep safety in mind and keep a fire extinguisher handy. Regularly check gas fires for leaks, make sure you add the best rock for inside your fire pit, and to keep you and your guests safe, never add additional fuel to a gas fire.

Size Up The Space

After you've found the perfect place for your fire pit and decided what materials you would like to use in its construction, you will need to decide how big of a fire pit you want. Keep it proportional to your backyard or porch size, so it doesn't feel like it's taking over your space. Your fire pit should suit the design of your backyard landscaping, and you should provide enough space for the type of outdoor furniture you want to use around your fire pit.

Regarding the size of the fire pit itself, it's typically recommended to plan for a bigger fire pit rather than a smaller one. Small fire pits are usually around 3 feet wide, whereas large fire pits are up to 6 feet wide. Fire pit dimensions are measured from the outside of the ring, so keep in mind that the interior of the fire pit will be smaller than 3-6 feet, depending on the thickness of your fire pit ring.

Whatever outdoor furniture you use around your fire pit, you will want to ensure you have at least three feet of space between the seating and the fire. Sitting too close can be unsafe because of sparks and flames. Leaving extra space and planning for a larger fire pit also allows you to upgrade your furniture or pull up a few extra chairs when visitors come over.

Prepare For The Cost

Three people roasing marshmallows

The type of fire pit you decide on will greatly impact your wallet. Complex designs built by a contractor can run into the thousands, whereas portable fire pits typically run between $50-$200. However, a DIY fire pit is your best option if you're looking for a high-quality design at a low cost. In addition, you can purchase fire pit kits for around $100-$200 to make your job easier.

To keep up the value of your outdoor fire pit, ensure you fill it with fire pit glass or rocks and surround your fire pit with good quality outdoor furniture. Although good quality outdoor furniture can cost more, it's worth the investment because it lasts longer and maintains its value. For example, one of our most popular collections ranges in price from $900 - $5000 — but it's top quality. 

Can You Put A Fire Pit On The Grass?

Temporary fire pits can easily move from one place to another. If you intend to move yours frequently, you want to avoid unsightly dead patches of grass all over your lawn or the danger of dried grass starting a fire. Thankfully, there are ways to protect your grass from portable fire pits.

Before you start your fire, you will need to prepare the ground underneath and around the fire pit. First, clear away any dead grass or vegetation within 10 feet of your fire pit and wet down the grass underneath the fire pit. Once the grass is wet, you can start your fire, and the water will protect your grass - to a degree.

If your grass needs additional protection, you can simply place brick pavers on top of your grass as a heat shield. They will help protect your grass from high temperatures and keep it from drying out.

Get That Added Value

RST Brands stand alone fire table
Avoid all the hassle with the Portofino® Comfort Stone Top Fire Table - Espresso

A beautiful, well-built fire pit adds value to a home and backyard. Patios with a fire pit are especially valuable because they create a beautiful space for entertaining and visiting with guests - especially if that space is not available inside the home. As a result, fire pits remain popular with home buyers and don't cost much for the value they add.

To get the most value from your fire pit, make it a central backyard feature and invest in quality landscaping and outdoor furniture, which adds to your space's overall design. There are even stand-alone fire tables and fire table and chair sets that create a quick and easy focal point if you prefer a more temporary option.

If you want your outdoor space to feel like an extension of your indoor space, make sure to use similar design elements as you transition from inside to outside. It will make your home feel larger, especially when entertaining guests.

Complement Your Fire With Ambient Lighting

Create the perfect entertaining space for your backyard with ambient lighting. While it might seem like your lovely fire pit provides sufficient light, you'll wish you had another light source after the sun goes down.

Additional light allows you to check on the status of your marshmallows as you make s'mores - unless you like them burned to a crisp. Simple string or bulb lights are the perfect accompaniment to an entertaining deck area. Of course, if you need a different style than string lights, you can always opt for torches or light posts.

Remember that a good light source will also increase safety for your family and guests because they are less likely to trip over something they can't see.

Find The Right Furniture

RST Brands fire table and seating set
Portofino® Comfort 8 Piece Motion Fire Seating  for enjoying a great time with your friends in comfort.

The outdoor furniture you choose helps dictate your outdoor design. To make your home feel larger, ensure the design from inside the home flows over into your backyard furniture. This will make your space feel more cohesive, like one large space from inside to outside.

You should also consider the quality of your furniture's materials. By far, the best (and most popular) material is aluminum. High-quality outdoor furniture will last you for years to come.

Check out our Luxury High-End Outdoor Furniture Brands buying guide!

No matter what outdoor furniture you purchase, make sure it is safe for use around the fire and non-flammable. Remember to keep all furniture at least 3 feet from your fire pit for added safety.

Don't Forget the Extras

The extras make a fire pit area memorable and a great place to relax. If you live in an area with lots of bugs and mosquitoes, citronella candles are great for keeping them at bay. A couple of roasting sticks on hand at all times makes whipping up some s'mores a breeze. For safety purposes, you should always have a fire extinguisher and fire pit cover on hand to tame any adventurous fires.

Wood fires require a fire stoker to safely move logs without risking burns, and you should keep a cleaning broom on hand to clean around gas fires. Once you've compiled the basics, you can kick back and safely enjoy your fire pit.

Enjoy Your New Fire Pit

Your backyard fire pit is an excellent addition to get-togethers, parties, and family events. Proper planning on how big to make your fire pit, the best rocks for inside your fire pit, and what kind of outdoor furniture to use around your fire pit can help your fire pit add a lot of value to your home. Remember to consider how fire pit glass rocks can impact the look of your outdoor fire pit.

Now that you know what to put in your fire pit, you can enjoy the outdoors year-round and create memories that will last a lifetime. Don't forget to pick up some RST Brands outdoor furniture to complete your landscaping look and environment, and share it with your family, friends, and colleagues.