Adding a fire feature to your outdoor space makes it a destination. Like moths to a flame, you and your guests will be drawn to a fire pit in the evening to relax, enjoy food and drinks, get warm, and enjoy one another's company. While portable fire pits are a good choice for some situations, stone fire features are more permanent and likely to complement a home, landscape, and the surrounding terrain.
For ambitious do-it-yourselfers who can follow instructions, building a fire pit shouldn't take lots of time or cost. It can even be a good beginner's project for an outdoor building enthusiast. If the fire pit needs to be installed on an existing patio or deck, consult a professional. Think about materials and flammability before locating a fire pit on a wood deck.
Where to Put the Pit
An obvious place for a pit is a backyard, on or adjacent to a patio, in a pea gravel area of a yard, near a pool or spa. Some custom-built pools and spas include fire and water features, but these would not be a DIY project.
With safety in mind, select a site that is a reasonable distance from your house or other buildings, away from fuel storage, supply lines, and clear of low-hanging tree or shrub branches. Also, be aware of the ease in entertaining: would you be more likely to use a fire pit that is near other outdoor activity zones or across the lawn at the edge of the woods?
Size of Pit
The size of the pit should be considered when scouting a location. Of course, there is no ideal size for a fire pit or its proportions. You'll need to dig a hole that is two to three feet wider than the desired finished size.
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Wood or Gas?
The smell of wood burning in a fireplace or pit is usually a positive association--we think of summer camp-outs, bonfires at the beach, and good times spent with loved ones during colder months. Smoke from burning wood is consists of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles, which are known as particle pollution or particulate matter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Outdoor recreational fires are a source of fine-particle air pollution, especially in some metropolitan regions. Children and teenagers, older adults, and people with heart or lung disease–including asthma and COPD–can be especially vulnerable to the health effects of particle pollution in wood smoke.
The EPA's Burn Wise program educates consumers about best burn practices, EPA-certified wood-burning appliances, cleaner alternatives, and other recreational fire-related issues.
If you opt to burn wood, the EPA recommends taking these steps to reduce particle pollution:
- Only burn seasoned, dry wood, which burns hotter and cleaner.
- Use a moisture meter to check firewood; moisture content is best at about 20 percent.
- Cover stacked wood, but allow good air flow so it can dry.
- Never burn wood during air quality alert days, when air pollution is already higher.
- Never burn green wood, construction waste, plastic, garbage, or yard waste. They create more smoke and can be toxic.
- Take extra care if you live in a region where brush fires are of concern.
Many local governments have adopted ordinances to restrict backyard recreational fires, which includes fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. Check with local authorities before choosing a wood-burning feature.
Now that you're aware of the scope of a fire pit project and wood vs gas, it's time to get inspired with these gorgeous fire pit designs.
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Camp-Style Fire Pit
British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll as the inspiration for a hillside home in Seattle. The renovation, designed by Kim Rooney Landscape Architecture, includes stone walls, gravel paths, a terraced rose garden, a perennial garden, and a bluestone patio. Located in Seattle's Magnolia district, the homeowner requested a private hideaway in the garden that could be an informal gathering space. Rooney positioned the fire pit behind a big Japanese maple tree, about four feet below the main patio, yet high enough to offer a peek-a-boo view of Puget Sound. The campground style was achieved with a wood-burning steel log and Montana ledge stone fire pit on pea gravel.
Types of Stone
When shopping for stone, you'll come across words and terms with which you might not be familiar. Some may sound like they are terms for the same stone. Words to know:
- Ashlar: Stone that is cut into a square or rectangular shape. This is also a term for a pattern used for laying courses or layers of rectangular pieces of stone.
- Chinkers: Stones that are small, irregular in size, and used to fill in gaps.
- Cobblestone: Small, round stones that can be used for paving.
- Cut Stone: Stone that has been milled or worked by hand to a specific size or shape.
- Face: The exposed or "right" side of the stone.
- Fieldstone: Stone that appears as if it was found in its natural setting.
- Flagstone: Stone that has been milled to a thickness of one to two inches. It is often used for patios and walkways.
- Pavers: Stone milled to a certain size and shape, usually about the size of a brick. Pavers are often used for paths and patios.
- Rough stone: Stone that looks like it came from the quarry.
- Rubble: Stone blasted on a construction site or pieces left over from a quarry. Rubble is also a low-grade stone used for fill in a wall-building project.
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A fire pit designed with stones clustered in a circle is a classic and authentic look for this Palm Springs home designed by Charles DuBois for the Alexander Construction Company in 1958. Located in the popular Vista Las Palmas neighborhood, the home, called La Vie en Rose, received an updated by designer Christopher Kennedy that was respectful of its Midcentury Modern roots but gave the current owners more living space. Like the furnishings throughout the yard, the fire pit is low, simple, and considerate of the desert landscape, which includes beautiful skies and sunsets.
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A San Francisco area homeowner wanted a fire pit with plenty of seating for her home's outdoor makeover. Black Diamond Landscape designed and built a stone fireplace with a half-circle built-in wall and seating that is made more comfortable with colorful accent pillows. Blue fire glass complements the orange pillows and upholstery.
The Popularity of Fire Glass
Colored tempered glass chips or pieces are an increasingly popular alternative to wood-for outdoor fire pits. The colored squares or rounds of tempered glass come in a variety of colors and replace gas- or wood-burning logs. Of course, the glass itself does not burn; it's used as a filler for the fire pit. Sources of fuel for fire glass are natural gas or propane. Tempered glass can withstand heat, keeps its color, and does not emit pollutants or carbon toxins. While they are pretty to look at--lit or unlit--they don't give off as much heat as logs from traditional wood-burning pits, nor can you roast hot dogs or cook marshmallows over those lovely amber bits of glass. In mild climate regions, glass fire features still provide some warmth.
If you decide to go the glass route, know that there are basically two types: recycled and tempered reflective glass. Each requires a different process for processing. Recycled fire glass--a more environmental choice--is made from glass bottles and window scraps. The glass from these products is melted and processed using a special type of furnace for repurposing the glass.Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Indiana Limestone Pit
A round fire pit built with Indiana limestone is capped with pewter mist limestone that was custom cut with a rock-face edge and a honed top. Designed by Marti Neely Design and Associates the space includes a patio made of lilac bluestone.
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Constructed of granite bars set in a rectangular pattern, this wood-burning fire pit and outdoor space was designed by Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes of Portland, Maine. Most builders and stone masons describe stone according to geological type, trade names, or the sizes and shapes used in construction and landscaping. Granite is actually a trade name fo a specific type of igneous rock. For landscaping projects, granite is sold as blocks, ashlar, pavers, steps, stones, rubble, and crushed rock.
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Family Fire Pit
A young family that spends lots of time at home but loves the outdoors requested that J. Montgomery Landscape Architects design a "staycation" resort with something for everyone. It just so happens that the father is a professional chef, the mom loves to spend free time perfecting her tennis game, while the children also enjoy tennis, swimming, and goofing around on the lawn. Montgomery created a vegetable and herb garden for the chef, along with a small fruit orchard and an outdoor kitchen cabana. When everyone's done doing their various activities, they congregate on the flagstone patio and enjoy roasting marshmallows in the fire pit, which is filled with lava rock.
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Boise Outdoor Living
In a place with lots of land and a big, open sky, you want to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and spend as much time as possible outside. J. Truex Architecture designed a large mountain home in Boise, Idaho, that's big on space and outdoor features, like a fire pit made from tumbled paver blocks with a steel ring insert. Stone pillars and boulders surround the landscape and a paver patio is nice and large, which matches the proportions of the house.Continue to 9 of 16 below.
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Although the climate is often ideal, outdoor space for many properties in Southern California is limited. For ras-a, a Los Angeles-based design and build studio, a flagstone patio surrounded by low-to-the-ground, stylized Adirondack chairs was the perfect setting for a simple stone fire pit. Filling in the spaces among the flagstone is silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae), a drought tolerant ground cover that has a neat, compact growing habit.
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Fire Pit Zone
A newish home in an equally new neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, received a brand new yard with the help of Paradise Restored, a local landscape designer-build firm. Starting almost with a clean slate (bare yard), Paradise gave the Finch family a yard with various activity zones that are all connected by paths or paving. In addition to an outdoor kitchen, bar, dining area, living room, semi-private spa, trees and planting beds, the landscape design firm created a cozy fire pit area in a corner of the yard. Constructed of stone, the pit is situated on a stone patio and encircled by wood chairs, with small tables for drinks or food.
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Granite Stone Veneer
Warming things up on a chilly Chicago evening is a custom-built gas fire pit made with an American granite stone veneer and a bluestone cap. Designed by Kemora Landscapes, the space allows the homeowners the opportunity to hang out together or entertain outside. Other family-friendly features designed by Kemora include an outdoor kitchen, a dining space, fireplace, and room in the future for a basketball court. Back to the fire pit: it's filled with amber fire glass.
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Sunbrella-upholstered seating surrounds a sandstone stacked fire pit situated on sone paver patio. Designed by Stacye Love Construction and Design the home is located in Louisville, Kentucky.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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Fire and Water
A half-circle seating wall allows the owners of this home in Warren Township, New Jersey, to enjoy the stone fire pit on chilly evenings. Designed by Parker Homescape, the wall and fire pit are built of masonry with cultured stone veneer on a natural cleft bluestone random-pattern patio.
The adjacent pondless water feature was built with Delaware river boulder and moss rock. At night, soft LED lighting illuminates the pond, seating and fire pit.
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This San Francisco area home is actually owned by the designers, Fautt Home. Instead of having to build their own, the stone fire pit was already in place--all they had to do was replace lava rock inside the pit with amber glass rocks. Of course, being designers, they did have to add their touch to the space, building trellises around the pit to add some structure to that part of the yard to balance out the heaviness of the nearby cabana.
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Blue Ridge Patio
Located on a hill overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Keowee, a palatial English manor home features a stone-covered bluestone patio with a round built-in fire pit. Interiors for the view estate were designed by Studio ID of Greenville, South Carolina.
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Craftsman with Fire Pit
Offering a look at a fire pit before it is filled, you can see all that goes into a project. Built with bricks, the round pit features a flagstone veneer and mortar. It is then capped or edged with level flagstone. This particular project was designed and built by DRS Lawn & Landscape for a Craftsman-style house in New York.