How to Build a Backyard Fire Pit

Are you looking for a way to build your backyard more interesting? A fire pit will add to your outdoor living space on cooler nights and provide a cozy spot to wrap up with a blanket.

The good news is that fire pits are relatively easy to build, so why not transform your latest backyard feature into a labor of love?

To build your backyard fire pit, follow these steps:

1. Contact the local fire department for more details

Before you start building your backyard fire pit, check with your local fire department to see any restrictions on open fires outside. If you choose to have a fire out — even a tiny one — you may need to apply for a permit or alert officials if you live in a dense city or in a part of the world where wildfires are common. The National Fire Protection Association recommends calling your local fire department to find out how to safely and legally light an outdoor fire.

2. Gather Supplies

The next step is to gather all of the materials you’ll need to build your fire pit:

  • Paving stones, concrete blocks, wall blocks, bricks, etc.
  • Gravel
  • Wire liner or fire bricks
  • The stake
  • Shovel
  • Tamp
  • Elevation

You could spend anywhere from zero to about $500, depending on the materials you already have. Lowe’s, Home Depot, and sell fire pit kits that range in price from $399 to over $1,000.

A circular fire pit with a diameter of about a yard is a good size, and the walls should be at least 12 inches tall. You’ll need to figure out how many pieces you’ll need based on the type of bricks or stones you use for the walls. The circumference of a fire pit with a diameter of 36 inches, for example, is 113.1 inches.

You can make your fire pit larger if you like, but Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes for Belgard, a landscape design firm and hardscape manufacturer located in Atlanta, recommends keeping the diameter to about 42 inches. “If you go larger than that, you’ll have to create a very large fire to feel any heat around the edges,” he says.

3. Build a Backyard Fire Pit

Choose a location in your yard to create your fire pit. It should be set back from any structures (yours or your neighbor’s) and free of any overhead trees or other plants.

Open fires must be 15 to 25 feet away from all buildings, including a wood deck or patio, according to many municipal codes. “It’s still best to err on the higher side of that if you have space,” Raboine advises.
To mark the middle of the fire pit, drive a stake into the ground. Make an 18-inch string and tie it to the stake. Outline the larger circle of the fire pit with paint, chalk, or another marker, using the string as a guide to keeping the circle even.

4. Dig about 6 inches down

Remove the steak and dig out the grass and topsoil from your designated fire pit area with your shovel. All the way around, you can dig about 6 inches underneath the surface. Dig down 12 inches for a deeper fire pit.

5. Level the Ground

Level the soil with your tamp, a hand tool with a long handle and smooth bottom used to flatten surfaces. Check to see if your level is even all the way around the board.

6. Gravel should be poured in and leveled

Next, dump in your gravel until it reaches just below the hole’s surface. Pack down the gravel and level the surface with the tamp. This may be straightforward or complicated, depending on the size of gravel you use. The trick is to cram it in tight enough so that the gravel doesn’t move around and you have an even surface to create your block wall on top of.

7. Build the First Block Circle

Lay the first circle of paving stones, bricks, or blocks, making sure to keep your level across to keep the surface even. As you work, you will need to add more gravel underneath the blocks to keep them level.

8. Make sure your wall stacks are at least 12 inches tall

To finish your fire pit wall, add the second and third layers of stones or bricks. Offset each brick as you add layers to create a more stable structure.

You don’t need to use fire-safe mortar or masonry adhesive to cement the blocks together if your paving stones or blocks are strong enough to stand on their own. If you do decide to use mortar, make sure to leave a couple of gaps in the circle for air to flow in — the more airflow, the easier it will be to keep the fire burning.

9. Set up a fire with fire bricks or a fire ring

While the pit and walls you constructed with bricks or pavers are safe to use in your backyard, spending the extra money and time to line the pit with either fire bricks (which require high-heat mortar) or a metal ring will make the backyard fire pit last longer. Otherwise, Raboine predicts, “it would deteriorate over time.”

Fire rings can be bought separately for about $35 at places like Lowe’s and Home Depot. They can run the length of the inner circle of the fire pit, or they can extend all the way to the gravel, with walls constructed across the perimeter of the liner.

Fire bricks should be inserted after the outer walls have been completed, and mortar should be used to adhere them to the inner circle of the pit. Lowe’s sells a six-pack of fire bricks for $30. Leave a few gaps in the fire pit, much like you would on your outer wall, to allow air to circulate more freely.

10. Be Safe When Preparing for a Fire

Make sure you follow fire safety protocols before lighting the first fire in the pit. A garden hose is a simple safety measure, or you may hold a fire extinguisher or bucket of sand or dirt nearby to quickly extinguish the fire.
Hold fire to a level that is less than the full size of the pit. “It can only take up about 60% to 70% of the fire pit — you don’t want to just pile logs in there and light it,” Raboine says.

Keep in mind that anything that comes into contact with the sun, from skewers and sticks to marshmallows and hot dogs, should be handled with caution when tending to your flames. “Never shake a roasting marshmallow,” advises the National Fire Protection Association in its campfire guidelines. It has the ability to turn into a fiery ball that can fly.”

When there are young children or pets present, you can never leave a fire unattended. Often leave a responsible adult in charge of the fire until it is fully extinguished. A fire can be put out with water, sand, or dirt if necessary.

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