A backyard fire pit is a perfect addition to any Australian home, and a great entertaining feature that can be used year-round. Whether you’re enjoying a glass of wine by the flames during summer or toasting marshmallows in winter, a fire pit is an inclusion you won’t regret.
What are the types of fire pits?
There are a number of different fire pits you can choose from and your choice will largely depend on your personal preference and style. While you can get creative and construct your fire pit in any style and with any materials that strike your fancy, there are generally four types.
Chimineas are a type of fire pit with enclosed sides, an open front where the fire is built and a chimney to let smoke out. Generally constructed out of ceramic materials, they are a common choice, easily found at home and garden stores and can be customised in various colours and designs. The design of a chiminea is helpful in reducing smoke blowing into your eyes as you enjoy your fire pit.
Wood burning fire pits are essentially contained campfires and can be constructed in a variety of ways. You can purchase a container in a fire-resistant material, such as cast iron, to hold the fire, with bowls and dishes being a popular choice, or construct a pit out of brick or stone to contain the fire. Cinder blocks, stones or bricks are all suitable for this purpose.
Natural gas fire pits are permanent fixtures and require installation, but a huge advantage of these is that they don’t run out of fuel. Again, natural gas fire pits can be constructed in a variety of ways. This includes raising the fire pit with a stone, brick or copper design, or setting a sunken fire pit into the ground for an eye-catching feature.
Gel fuel fire pits are a way to recreate the feel of a fire pit without producing smoke or scent. The gel fuel logs can be used in any fire pit setup (excluding natural gas fire pits) and can also be used indoors or to create smaller tabletop fires.
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What buildings codes are in place for proper speculations and regulations?
The codes relating to building a fire pit vary depending on your area and you’ll want to check these before you make your decision, but they generally relate to the type of fire pit you choose to use and where you plan on building.
Building codes will take into consideration:
- If your fire pit is in a position where smoke can disturb or harm your neighbours.
- The distance between the fire pit and the nearest vegetation, residential or commercial structure.
- The intended fuel to light a fire in your fire pit, such as wood or gas.
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How much are you willing to spend?
Fire pits can be constructed fairly cheaply if you go the DIY route, with a small pit coming in under $100 if you source cheaper stones and dig your own pit. You can also cut costs by getting creative with the materials you use to create your fire pit, with old wheelbarrow trays, steel barrels, grills, and even strips of steel roofing all able to be repurposed into a fire pit.
On the other end of the spectrum, a fully installed fire pit and custom seating will run into the thousands. Consider what you’re willing to spend on your project while in the planning phase and look where you can cut costs if necessary.
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Is it permanent or portable?
Consider whether you want a permanent feature or if you want your fire pit to be moveable as this decision will limit which style and material you can choose from. Fireplaces using a fixed gas source or those built out of heavy stone can make a striking feature in your backyard, while dish or bowl fire pits give flexibility to move to different points around the yard.
You might also want to consider how much use you’ll get from your fire pit. If you don’t want to use it year-round, a portable style will allow you to pack your fire pit away during warmer months. You can also consider a style that will let you cover and repurpose the fire pit as a table on nights you don’t want to use it.
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Wood or gas? What fuel type suits you?
While many people are drawn to the traditional wood fire there are other options on the market. Burning wood evokes the nostalgia many people associate with sitting by the fire, as well as giving off a pleasant smoky scent and the highest heat output. Wood fires can be messy and take a longer time to get a good flame going.
Gas fireplaces are easy to use and provide a good amount of heat, but often require complying with strict council requirements that can be off-putting. However, gel fuels can allow for a fire without the smoke and smell, which can be a big advantage with children around, but generally produce the lowest heat.
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What surface would you like to set your pit on?
Fire pits are best constructed on natural surfaces including concrete, stone, gravel, brick, slate, or fire-resistant composite. Avoid placing your fire pit on timer surfaces, such as a wood deck, in case of flying embers, and make sure you have a level surface to construct your fire pit on.
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Where should you set up your fit pit?
As a general rule you’ll want to keep your fire pit at least 3 metres from your house or neighbouring houses, but always check with your local council if they have restrictions on the placement of your fire pit.
Fires leave soot and ash so choosing an appropriate location for a fire pit, particularly a permanent one, is an important decision to avoid ruining paving or nearby outdoor furniture. Creating a bed of sand or gravel beneath the fire pit creates a level base and allows water to drain freely when it rains, or position the fire pit partly over a garden bed that doesn’t contain any flammable mulches or plants.
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How do you create the right vibe and enjoy the most out of your fire pit?
The most essential addition to creating a vibe for your fire pit is your choice of seating. Solid timber or stone seating can withstand weather and outdoor conditions, as well as the effects of the fire itself, while moveable seating allows you to get closer to the warmth in the cold or further away in warmer weather. Importantly, make sure seating is available all around the fire so you can move to avoid smoke.
You might also want to consider whether your space will need additional lighting at night or if you’ll need places for guests to place drinks, such as side tables or a shelf built into the firepit. You can also burn some aromatics such as cinnamon sticks or dried orange to create even more ambience.
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Particularly in Australia, fires can get out of control quickly and having a fire in your back yard requires attention to safety. Pay attention to fire warnings in your area, particularly during summer, and never light a fire during fire bans. Some other things to remember are:
- Check the wind direction before lighting a fire, and never light a fire if there is a strong wind towards flammable structures.
- Don’t use flammable fluids to light or relight your fire, including gasoline or lighter fluid.
- Avoid wearing flammable or loose-fitting clothing.
- Avoid using soft woods in your fire, such as pine or cedar, as these can ‘pop’ and spark.
- Always know where your closest water source is in case of emergency.
- Know how to dispose of ash safely.
Words by Danielle Austin
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