Outdoor fire pits create a warming focal point
Whether it’s a simple portable fire ring or an elaborate built-in bonfire, fire pits attract attention. The welcoming glow of an open flame is inviting as the sun sets and its warmth is a natural draw as the temperature drops. Much like the kitchen during an indoor party, the area around a burning fire pit eventually becomes the central gathering place for conversations on a cool night. In addition to taking the chill off, the dancing flames illuminate the space and create a magical ambiance. With supervision, kids can even toast marshmallows and make s’mores.
Choose between propane fire pits, natural gas, bio-ethanol or wood-burning versions
If you have plumbed natural gas, you can connect some firepits to the existing line. This is the lowest cost option in the long run but there may be some up front costs to hire a licensed contractor to make the connection. There are also propane fire pits if you prefer the ease and flexibility of tanks that are readily available at most large hardware, home supply or grocery stores. Gas fires are smokeless and the flame is controlled, but you’ll need the area to be well-ventilated. If you don’t like dealing with hoses and storing tanks, wood-burning fire pits or bio-ethanol fires> are good alternatives. While wood is cheap and plentiful, the downside is that there is often a lot of smoke, sparks and burning embers that may make things unpleasant or dangerous depending on the wind and surrounding flammable materials. Ethanol firepits burn cleanly without smoke, toxic fumes or much odor. However, the heat generated is much lower than wood or gas options.
Firepits integrate with virtually any outdoor setting
Beaches, backyards, gardens and patios can all accommodate fire pits. You can hire a mason to create a masterful brick firepit that blends seamlessness with the landscape or is built-in to a stone barbecue area. Or, you can set a freestanding fire bowl wherever there’s little fire hazard. In either case, you need to be sure that you’re in compliance with any local fire ordinances. Once in place, surround your fire pit with fire-retardant seating and tables to complete your outdoor lounge set.
Frequently Asked Questions - Fire Pits
How do you reduce smoke from a fire pit?
A wood-burning fire pit provides warmth and a welcoming outdoor focal point. However, all it takes is a little smoke to ruin a good thing. While you cannot completely eliminate smoke from a firepit that burns wood, here are some ways to minimize the amount it produces.
- Clean your fire pit regularly - Debris can cause additional smoke and impede you ability to light and maintain a healthy fire. Once your fire is out and fully cooled, be sure to clean out any remaining ash, embers, coals and dirt. Cover or store your fire pit indoors to prevent it from collecting dirt, leaves or twigs.
- Choose the right type of wood - Hardwoods are much better than softwoods for fire pits, because they are denser - allowing them to burn longer at higher temperatures with less smoke. Some common hardwoods include: oak, ash, maple, birch, hickory and beech. While softwoods like pine, spruce, redwood and evergreens burn, they are less dense and have a higher sap content than hardwoods. The organic sap produces a lot of smoke and the air gaps between the wood fibers increases the airflow, quickens combustion and shortens the burn time.
- Make sure the wood is dry - Firewood should be cut, split and dried. Moisture increases the smoke generated, so the drier the better. Green wood is wood that has between 30-40% moisture levels, which is not recommended as it is more difficult to burn and leads to a lot of smoke. Fresh cut wood is usually dried in one of two ways: Seasoning (air drying for 6-18 months) and Kiln-Drying (heated in an oven for up to a six days at 120-200° Fahrenheit. Both seasoned wood and kiln-dried wood have moisture levels well below the target of 20%, although you can expect to pay up to 30% more for kiln-dried than seasoned.
- Properly store your wood - Regardless of the season, it’s important to keep firewood dry and safe from the elements to minimize smoke. Keep it elevated at least 6-inches to prevent moisture from the ground or pooling water from seeping into the wood from below. A log rack is a great way to keep everything organized and prevent wood from shifting or falling. Ideally, you have space to keep the woodpile in a shed or garage but the lee side of a structure with an overhang will also work. Some racks also have weather-resistant covers.
- Avoid burning other debris - Aside from tinder and kindling, you should not burn other materials. As tempting as it may be to throw pine cones and needles, leaves, grass or newspaper on a roaring fire, it will increase the amount of smoke. Compost the organic materials and recycle paper and plastic - it’s good to be “green.”
- Build your fire correctly - The quicker a fire heats up and the hotter it burns, the less smoke is produced, so properly constructing it for optimal burning is important. There are a number of ways to arrange your kindling, tinder and wood but the key is to ensure that the fire has adequate airflow from every direction. This will feed the fire oxygen to increase the temperature quicker and help maintain it. The Tee-Pee and Log Cabin styles both provide ample room for housing tinder and kindling and keep air flowing.
- Make sure there is proper ventilation - A healthy fire needs airflow to burn properly but too much wind can impede lighting it and blow smoke and fumes in your face and eyes. Ideally, there should be a natural or man-made wind shield on the side of your fire pit from which the wind typically blows.
- Consider smokeless options - Since no wood-burning firepit is smokeless, you might look at alternative fuels that burn cleanly. Fire pits that use plumbed natural gas, liquid propane, gel or bio-ethanol don’t produce smoke. The tradeoff is that you don’t get the same crackle or familiar smell.