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How to Plan an Outdoor Firepit

firepit created using granite blocks

This is my daughter’s brand new never-used firepit. She didn’t ask for my advice and I think her plastic chairs might melt if the fire gets too big. Copyright 2023 Tim Carter

Outdoor Firepit Planning Tips - Don't Get Too Close!

Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the eye candy Mother Nature hands out here in the great Northeast USA. Add the fragrant aroma of a crackling outdoor fire feeding on seasoned oak and you have, in my opinion, the perfect outdoor setting. Breathing in a light wisp of this aromatic elixir takes me on a time-travel trip to my Boy Scout campouts, cooking on an open fire, and roasting marshmallows.

Two Kids Only One Asks For Advice

This past year two of my children built new firepits. My son’s was part of a new clay paving brick patio project. My oldest daughter was finally able to get her entire yard landscaped. She incorporated a stunning granite firepit on one of the uppermost tiers of the backyard. I know this is hard to believe, but I’ve yet to sit around either one to enjoy a late-afternoon fire.

You may not think you have to do much planning for a firepit. If so, you might make the mistake my daughter made. While the firepit is the correct diameter, 4 feet, the outer circle of gravel where you sit is too small. There’s less than 2 feet between her composite plastic chairs and the edge of the granite stones that surround the pit. She didn’t ask for my input in the planning phase.

My son did ask for my advice. Having built quite a few firepits for clients and having three firepits of my own, I know a thing or two about how hot fires can get and how close you should be so that your clothes don’t ignite or the soles of your shoes become softened globs of rubber!

One day while we were finished laying patio brick, my son asked, “Dad, can you give me a few ideas about my firepit? How big does the gravel pad need to be so the chairs don’t end up in the grass?”

I took a pencil and a piece of cardboard and started to make a quick sketch. The first thing we decided on was the diameter of the firepit. It’s my opinion that a 4-foot-diameter one is ideal. This measurement should be the outside of the fire-containment border no matter what material you use.

Beware of Thermal Shock

There are quite a few ways to create a fireproof ring. You can use a steel collar, simple small boulders, or precast concrete brick you might get at a home center. Be aware that real rocks and precast concrete will almost always crack over time. They don’t do well with the rapid and repeated thermal shock should you build a roaring fire on a cool or cold afternoon. For this reason, if you use those materials and cement them together, there’s a very good chance you’ll be tearing your firepit apart and starting over in a few years.

How To Size the Firepit Area

While my son and I were enjoying a lemonade, I completed my sketch. I started with a 4-foot circle then created a concentric ring around the firepit with a 30-inch space. Next, I drew a 4-foot-wide concentric circle that would be the area where chairs would be placed. I finished with a smaller 18-inch-wide circle of space behind the chairs.

When you add up all those numbers, you discover you need a circle that has a 10-foot radius. While you may scoff at this, I urge you to take one of your lawn chairs out onto your lawn and re-create the above dimensions I shared with my son.

You may not need 4 feet for your chairs because you’ll use a different style than the Adirondack chairs my son intends to use. But trust me on the 30-inch space between the chair and the outer edge of the firepit. Get too close to a roaring fire and you’ll soon be backing up.

Smoke, Embers, and Permits

Put some thought into the location of your firepit. Think about the wind. Do you have a prevailing wind direction in your yard? If so, embers and smoke can bother you or your guests that are downwind of the firepit.

Think about nearby combustibles. The last thing you want is to start a neighborhood grass or wildfire. Trust me, the Internet is littered with stories about fires caused by popping embers that ignite dry grass, low bushes, dry leaves, and mulch on fire.

Use common sense, lots of it, when you do have a fire. Have a pre-charged garden hose just feet away from the firepit. If something goes wrong, all you have to do is squeeze the handle and put out the spreading fire. If a hose is not practical, then have several 5-gallon buckets of water nearby. Be responsible and enjoy the warmth and aroma of a magical outdoor fire.

Finally, check with your local government. You may have to get a fire permit each year. I have to do this here in New Hampshire. In some locations, you’re not able to have a fire in the middle of the day. Volunteer fire department resources can be stretched very thin during the primary daylight hours.

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