Hot summer nights
Bring light and heat to your yard with a DIY fire pit
Retaining wall blocks are cheap and easy to use
photo by Wendy Guild Swearingen
Backyard fires are a wonderful way to extend a day spent outdoors into the evening. People seem naturally drawn to the light and warmth of flames and a functional and attractive firepit offers a spot to gather while adding hardscaping interest to your property.
A wood-burning fire pit is easy to make yourself. It can be as simple as a ring of stones or as elaborate as your creativity allows. We recently built one in our backyard that took less than an hour to assemble and cost less than seventy dollars in materials.
Before you get started, visit eCode360.com to search for codes and laws pertaining to open burning, bonfires, and barbecues in your town or city. For instance, in the city of Buffalo, open burning and bonfires are not allowed without a permit. Consult with your homeowner association if you belong to one. Be aware that disclosing your backyard fire pit could be a requirement of your homeowners insurance policy.
Select a location a safe distance from structures like your house, garage, shed, or outbuildings, and away from low-hanging trees. If you plan to dig or excavate your firepit, first make sure there are no buried utility lines in the chosen location. Call 811 (Call Before You Dig) or visit call811.com/Start-Here/Homeowners to be guided through the process of creating an inspection ticket. Once you get the all-clear from utilities, you’re ready to rock.
Determine a size for your fire pit that’s compatible with the scale of your yard. Too large and it will dominate your landscaping; too small and there won’t be enough room for people to gather around. We built a thirty-two-inch interior/forty-five inch exterior round pit. It’s twenty feet from flowerbeds lining our patio, twelve feet from our vegetable gardens, and twenty-five feet from the trunk of the nearest tree. There’s plenty of space for chairs around the fire and no danger of an errant spark damaging plants or trees.
Whether you want a round or square pit, concrete pavers or blocks make the job simple. Visit big-box hardware store websites to peruse available colors and styles. From Home Depot, we chose pewter-colored trapezoidal shaped pavers and corresponding bricks to put between each one to create a circular pit. The shapes fit snugly together; we did not fix them in place with cement or construction adhesive because we wanted flexibility to move the firepit as we add more gardens or a chicken coop. If you are sure you’ll want the pit in the same place for a long time, adhesive ensures a sturdier structure.
Fire pits typically measure three to four feet across. We purchased twenty-four each of trapezoidal blocks and rectangular bricks to create two rows. A square fire pit uses rectangular blocks and can be constructed in a variety of patterns with blocks of different shapes and sizes.
Mark the outline of your fire pit footprint. We laid out one row in our chosen spot and dug around the outside of the bricks with a spade, then removed the blocks and excavated the sod from the space.
Pack the dirt solidly before laying the blocks; a hand tamper comes in handy for this. Our soil has a lot of clay, so we didn’t add gravel to the base, but that’s an option for loamy or sandy soil. (If you are building your stone fire pit on top of an existing backyard patio, cement the first layer of blocks onto the patio to prevent shifting.)
Use a level to make sure the ground is even and lay out your first layer of blocks with the sides touching, then check the level again; add or remove dirt/gravel as needed. Tap the blocks with a rubber mallet to achieve a tighter fit. Next, assemble the second level, making sure to stagger joints between rows. A fire pit typically has three or more rows of blocks and more rows can be added any time. If you are building higher than two rows, it’s a good idea to cement them together for safety. No one wants a hot block falling on their foot.
Fire bowls, insert rings, and grills are available, but we just threw in some wood and had a fire.
Don’t DIY? You can still bring the heat to your back yard or patio with these options:
Chimeneas. Essentially portable furnaces, these Spanish fired-clay vessels have traditionally been used in homes for heating and cooking for more than 400 years. Now popular for outdoor usage, chimeneas are increasingly made from cast iron or aluminum to withstand the elements. (bestnest.com; wayfair.com)
Hire a pro. Contractors and designers who create fireplaces, chimneys, and fire pits will be sure to build something that is durable, attractive, and safe. Check out Black Hat Chimney in Buffalo for wood, gas, and electric options. (blackhatchimney.com)
Fire bowl kits: Like a hibachi’s rounder cousin, these kits feature metal bowls on legs or stand, generally with a mesh cover. They’re a good option if you’re short on space and don’t want a permanent structure. Pros: portable, easy to clean and care for. Cons: on the small side, subject to rust.
Available at many big box stores like Loew’s, Tractor Supply, or Walmart.