Victoria Araj7-minute read
UPDATED: August 31, 2022
From the crackling logs to the melty goodness of a freshly made s’more, there’s nothing quite like the comfort of a campfire. However, this experience doesn’t have to be limited to the occasional camping trip. In fact, you could get the same experience just a few steps from your home by building an outdoor fire pit in your own yard. Along with adding warmth, light and entertainment, a fire pit can help to boost your home’s value.
But if done wrong, a fire pit could result in costly repairs or even health and safety hazards.
Follow these tips to learn how to build a fire pit without getting burned.
The first step you need to take when building a fire pit is to make sure that you’re even allowed to have one in your yard. Some cities or counties don’t allow fire pits or only allow certain kinds, so you should check all building codes and guidelines to confirm that you live in an area that allows these structures.
Once you know you can have a fire pit in your yard, you’ll want to pick a good location for it. Make sure it’s a safe distance from your home and any other structures on your property. You’ll also want to check your property lines to make sure your stone fire pit isn’t encroaching on your neighbor’s property.
Next, you’ll need to decide the type of fire pit you want.
When choosing the type of fire pit you want, consider the purpose of the pit itself. Is it going to be used for aesthetic appeal? An outdoor heat source for cold nights? Or will it simply be a spot to make s’mores? Figuring out how you’ll use the fire pit will help you choose the best option for your home.
There are four main types of fire pits:
With a wood-burning fire pit, you’ll get the full, natural experience – the crackling of wood, the smoky smell and flying embers.Like their name suggests, these pits require wood pieces to fuel the fire and a constant supply of wood to stay burning and produce smoke, soot and ash.
Of all the fire pit options, this one will most likely produce the most heat, and it’ll require more effort to put out.
Gel fuel fire pits use an alcohol-based gel as their source of fuel. These fire pits don’t provide a ton of heat, but they do burn clean with no smoke, smell or soot. Once the fire burns up the fuel, the flame burns out.
This type of fire pit hosts fires that are fueled by propane, which is stored in a tank typically found below the pit. The fire is ignited and extinguished with just the flip of a switch, which provides or cuts off the propane supply.
Propane pits usually include fire pit media, which fills the structure to give it a certain aesthetic appeal. Such media types include fake wood, lava rocks, fire glass or stones.
Natural gas fire pits work the same way as propane ones, but instead use a gas line connected to the pit. With this connection, you won’t run out of fuel or have to replace it. However, since these are connected to a line, they can’t be moved. These pits also use fire pit media.
Later on in this article, we’ll go over how to build a fire pit with pavers or bricks. But building a fire pit from scratch is just one way to go about it. There are also prefabricated fire pits and fire pit kits.
A prefabricated fire pit is built by a manufacturer and purchased online or in-store. These are the best option if you need the pit right away, or if you don’t want to build your own. You can use most prefab kits the same day you purchase them because they require very little assembly, or are already put together and ready for use.
Fire pit kits are the perfect option between a prefabricated fire pit and one that’s built from scratch. They’re a good option for the person who wants a little more customization without too much work required. That said, fire pit kits require more effort than a prefabricated structure, but don’t require you to buy all of the materials separately and build your pit from scratch. Instead, the kit will provide the exact amount of stones or blocks you need, the liner (or ring) and step-by-step instructions for building.
Landscaping DIY projects, including a fire pit, come with their own advantage of allowing you to create a yard unique to your home. However, this means you’ll need to do the measurements, purchase the raw materials and assemble it on your own. If you’re a hands-on, project-driven person, you’ll likely love building a fire pit from scratch. Feeling the accomplishment of completing this task from scratch may even inspire more backyard (and front yard) landscaping ideas.
When you’re building your fire pit from scratch, remember that different shapes will also require different materials. The most common are a basic square/rectangle or a circle. Prefab fire pits and fire pit kits come in these shapes.
Circular fire pits are built with trapezoidal blocks. These blocks can vary in size, though a common size is 4 inches x 11.5 inches.
For a fire pit ring or bowl with a 36-inch diameter, you’ll need roughly 12 of these per level around the pit.
These types of pits call for rectangular bricks. They typically require blocks with a length of eight inches.
For a 36-inch-wide square pit insert, you’ll need 18 bricks per level.
Let’s say you’ll be building a circular backyard fire pit. This fire pit will be three layers of bricks with a 36-inch ring insert. This particular example, when finished, falls under the wood-burning fire pit category – perfect for all of your marshmallow-toasting needs. You’ll be making it permanent by using crushed gravel and construction adhesive.
If you’re hoping to save some money and want to know how to build a fire pit cheaply, you might make this structure less permanent by forgoing the gravel and adhesive. Your fire pit will still work for a while, but as the ground beneath it shifts, it may require maintenance.
Here are some tools and materials you’ll need to build the ideal, permanent fire pit from scratch.
Most of the grunt work you’ll be doing when you build a fire pit is the physical moving of the pavers. For the trapezoidal pavers you’re using to build your circular pit, each one weighs about 25 pounds. To reduce any risk of injury, here are some additional products to consider using:
These, along with your wheelbarrow and the help of a friend, will allow you to move your pavers with less difficulty.
Lay out your first layer of pavers. Sink your shovel into the ground around the outside of the ring to mark the area where you need to dig. Once you’ve made it around the edge, move the pavers out of the way.
Dig out the area until it’s about seven inches deep. Dispose of any grass or sod in a lawn bag or yard waste container for trash day. Keep the depth uniform, making sure to remove any roots.
Note: If you’re building the pit on a patio, you won’t need to dig a hole or create a base. Instead, consider cementing the first row of blocks to the patio to keep the pit from shifting. Skip to Step 8.
Make sure your base is flat by using a level. If it isn’t, add or remove dirt.
Pour the crushed gravel paver base onto the flat surface, continuously tamping it down and wetting. Add more crushed gravel and water until the tamped base is about five inches thick.
Lay your first layer of stones onto the paver base. Try to keep them as uniform as possible. Small gaps are OK and will help with air circulation, but the more uniform it is, the better it will look.
Level the pavers to check that they’re even. Make small adjustments as needed by tapping the pavers with your mallet. Put your fire pit ring in the middle to make sure it fits.
Once you have the first layer down, run two beads of construction adhesive on top of the layer. Stagger the next layer of pavers so they’re on top of two pavers each. Press down firmly into the adhesive. Use a level and a mallet to make everything even.
Repeat this same process for the next row, then place your fire pit ring inside. Once the adhesive has dried, you can fill the bottom of the pit with lava rocks. They can withstand intense heat and look great.
Once you’ve completed this process, all that’s left to do is to start your campfire and enjoy some s’mores with friends!
Building a fire pit should only take you a few hours, but when done right, you can enjoy it for decades to come. It’s a physical job, so you should take the proper precautions and ask for help if you need it. The biggest factors to consider while completing this project are that the fire pit’s the right size, and that you’ve leveled the pavers before bonding them with adhesive.
By learning how to build a fire pit with bricks or pavers, you’ll be bringing your backyard to the next level. Plus, it may inspire you to upgrade the rest of your backyard, or even DIY your patio for the upcoming fall season!
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