How to Buy a Fire Pit | Fire Pit Buying Guide
There’s something deeply primal yet peaceful about gathering with friends around a fire and gazing up at the stars. We’ve come a long way from the crude stone hearths early man built for warmth and companionship (and, probably, grilling up some mammoth steaks), so much so that fire pits now have a massive product category all to themselves. While early humans relied on fire as part of survival, modern models serve different purposes depending on their style. They can be serenely warm and cozy gathering places, elegant additions to a backyard, or the true focal point of an outdoor space. Tall fire urns, meanwhile, impart a sense of majesty, while fire bowls boldly pop in any backyard and fire pit tables make for inviting dining and lounge areas.
As you can see, there are few limits to the form and function of fire pits, which makes them pretty tricky to wrap your head around. We know firsthand just how many shapes, sizes, and styles are available — we’ve been helping homeowners design luxury outdoor spaces for over 20 years, after all. Using that experience, our experts put together this guide for everything you need to consider when shopping for an outdoor fire pit. Ready to stoke those embers of curiosity?
Fire Pit Fuel Types
Cavemen burned wood in their fire pits, but today we have a few other options. Gas has joined wood as a primary fuel, with a few new choices appearing here and there. Wood-burning models allow you to recreate family camping experiences in your own backyard, while gas units are known for being more customizable. Gas models must be filled with some kind of media, and you can choose the color, type, size, and texture of fire pit filler. Though fire glass is the most common media, your filler can be mixed and even supplemented with fire pit décor to add an aesthetic flair. There are more differences between gas fire pits and wood fire pits, but we should first discuss each fuel type in greater detail.
Wood Fire Pits
The rustic charm of a roaring campfire in your own backyard sounds appealing, right? That’s exactly what you get with wood fire pits, which are usually the least expensive option in this category and come in many different shapes and styles. They also tend to be lightweight, meaning you can move them where warmth is most needed. Perhaps most importantly, wood-burning fire pits can produce larger and hotter fires than their gas counterparts (winter bonfires, anyone?) and are safe to cook on when using hardwood. Roasted marshmallows and caveman steaks aside, you’ll need to start your fire from scratch and clean up ash with each use. Never place wood fire pits below a structure, and never use them on wooden decking or other combustible surfaces.
Gas Fire Pits
Easy to ignite and mostly mess-free, gas fire pits are the more convenient option by far. Natural gas fire pits and propane fire pits are quite similar, but they differ in terms of mobility — propane models are portable when attached to standard, 20-pound tanks, whereas their natural gas brethren are hooked up to gas lines and fueled by utility companies. Note that a select few propane units can actually be connected to bulk tanks on your property, but they ultimately sacrifice mobility and must be inspected and installed by a licensed plumber. Natural gas models also require professional installation, even if you take advantage of how easy it is to build one using a DIY fire pit kit. Whatever you decide, remember that gas fire pits are never to be used for cooking.
Other Fire Pit Fuel Types
Wood and gas get all the shine, but there are a few innovative brands out that didn’t settle for conventional fuel types. The Blaze pellet fire pit, for instance, burns compressed wood heating (important: not “eating!”) pellets to pump out intense amounts of heat that keep you warm and cozy when the temperature drops. Why heating pellets? Well, they burn both hotter and longer than standard wood — in fact, a 20-pound bag of heating pellets can last approximately 8 hours in a Blaze fire pit. The other notable “other” fuel type in this category is the ethanol-free fluid used by Lovinflame tabletop fire pits. This non-toxic fuel burns extremely cleanly and puts off no harmful fumes, which our good friend the environment will certainly appreciate.
Fire Pit Styles
Remember up top when we said outdoor fire pits come in a variety of styles? Yeah, we weren’t kidding. As you’ll see below, there are 6 popular styles that stand out in the current market. Each lends a different aesthetic to an outdoor space, and some are even surprisingly practical. Read on to see which style (or styles!) best fits your backyard.
Standard outdoor fire pits are usually rectangular, though they’re available in many different shapes and sizes. This style also includes a variety of materials and fuel types (making it even more diverse), and it’s fairly common to see models with legs and some form of interior storage. From a design standpoint, these fire pits bring a familiar and classic aesthetic that works best in rustic or traditionally styled spaces.
With rounded bodies and beautiful contours, fire bowls are trendy and well suited to modern or European-style outdoor spaces. Their streamlined design doesn’t allow for much or any storage, though some propane fire bowls have hidden tank compartments. This style is about innovation and making a statement, which is apparent in Fire & Water Bowls that combine fire and water features to create a striking piece of outdoor décor.
Tabletop Fire Pits
These small-scale models are designed to be centerpieces for a dining table or anywhere else that might need a bit of light, warmth, and ambiance. Lovinflame makes some of our favorite tabletop models, a few of which can be used either indoors or outdoors. They’re usually fueled by either a liquid or gel fuel that burns very cleanly, not to mention they give you all the charm of a fire pit while exerting only a tiny footprint.
Fire Pit Tables
No need to overthink this one. Fire pit tables are exactly what they sound like — a table with a built-in fire pit! Perfect for nighttime meals or wine tastings on cold evenings, these models come in different heights to fit your preference or current patio furniture. You can also purchase a complete fire pit set with chairs at the appropriate height, and there are even units with interchangeable pit and ice bucket inserts.
Fire Pit Grills
OK, now this is just cheating. With a wood-burning fire below and a cooking surface above, you can enjoy a cozy campfire, prepare a meal on the grates, or do both at the same time! Some fire pit tables and sets have a cooking grate insert that lets you convert them into a grill, but just be sure to use hardwood like oak or pecan when grilling. Softwood species like pine contain bad-tasting and potentially harmful chemicals.
Luxury styling with a hint of mystique, these show-stopping pieces call to mind ancient cities and forgotten ruins. Fire urns are essentially tall versions of fire bowls, with a shape loosely based on the Greek amphora urn. Most are propane-fueled and have a hidden access hatch to conceal your tank (see, mysterious!), though this sub-category is available in natural gas or bulk propane with no access doors for a cleaner look.
Fire Pit Materials
Fuel type? Easy enough. Style? No problem. Materials? Here’s where things may get a little more complicated. The material you choose will make a big difference in terms of longevity, maintenance, and overall cost. Simply put, this isn’t a choice you want to make lightly. A powder-coated steel fire pit, for example, will have a much shorter lifespan than one made from concrete or cast aluminum. And if weather is a constant issue where you live, the best options would be highly resistant materials like stone, concrete, or GFRC. Now that we’ve scared the daylights out of you, let’s take an in-depth look at each kind of material on the market. That pit in your stomach will be gone in no time!
There are several types of steel, most of which are stained, that form a wide range of price and quality. Unprotected steel rusts over time, while powder-coated steel maintains its appearance.
It can cost more than other materials, but stainless steel is highly resistant to rust, weather, and heat. This lightweight metal will also remain in good condition for years with proper care.
Aluminum has plenty going for it, especially in outdoor applications. It’s low-maintenance, very lightweight, and — perhaps most importantly — will never rust even when tested by the elements.
The best material for outdoor enthusiasts, cast aluminum will never rust and is designed for outdoor use in all climates. It’s not quite as lightweight as aluminum but can still be easily moved.
Copper is durable and won’t rust, placing it among the best materials. Its shiny surface will develop a classic green patina over time, but surface treatments can preserve the original color.
Faux Stone & Concrete
This material is quite heavy but offers durability and weather resistance. The stone and bricks are applied to a solid steel frame and mesh body using masonry techniques, making them sturdy.
This durable material provides sturdiness and imitates the look of natural stone, but it weighs and costs less than faux stone. As you can see, polyresin checks many boxes for budget builders.
Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (or GFRC) is the preferred material of American Fyre Designs. Lightweight and strong, GFRC boasts the same strength of concrete at a fraction of the weight.
Fire Pit Shape
This choice isn’t quite as important as the ones before, but it still plays a big role in the style you want to create in your outdoor space. As you know by now, fire pits come in many different shapes and sizes, from the very tiny to the absolutely gigantic to seemingly every geometric shape imaginable. Squares and rectangles are popular choices for fire pits tables or stand-alone centerpieces for seating areas (look for one with a wide ledge to prop up your frigid feet on a nippy night). Round shapes, meanwhile, make for dazzling show pieces that offer breathtaking displays of dancing light to dazzle partygoers. See below for the shapes available to you, then pick your favorite!
Fire Pit Décor
Don’t forget the finishing touches! Fire pit décor refers to anything you can put inside the pit, as well as ornamentation usually placed on top of or used in conjunction with filler. The sky’s the limit when it comes to customization and artistic expression, especially when fire glass gets involved. It’s simply tempered glass rated to withstand extreme heat without popping or cracking, but it makes a big impression in a variety of colors, textures, and sizes. Choose one for a particular look, or mix and match for more complexity. Other types of décor include geometric shapes, stone branches, or shaped glass to help you create beautiful and diverse firescapes bathed in flames. If what you find here doesn’t quite stoke the fires of your curiosity, then visit our Fire Glass Buying Guide for more information.
Final Considerations for Buying a Fire Pit
Is your fire still burning? There are just a few more things to consider when buying a fire pit, and we don’t think you should leave this article without giving them some serious thought. Below, we briefly touch on both the popular DIY options available and the importance of warranties despite the longevity of most fire pits. You’re almost there!
DIY Gas Fire Pits
While there are hundreds of fire pits available for purchase off the shelf, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of a home improvement project well done. Fire pits fall into this category, and they’re relatively easy to DIY. With a comparatively small investment, some know-how, and elbow grease, you can build your own gas fire pit in no time! (You’re on your own with the elbow grease and bankroll, though.)
With so many fire pit pans and burners to choose from, the DIY route affords you the ultimate level of customization when building. You’ll need to eother purchase the main pieces for your pit — pan, burner, and fire glass or other media — as well as the gas plumbing pieces and necessary ignition system for installation, or you can go with a convenient fire pit kit or ready-to-finish fire pit.
You’ll also have to run a bulk propane tank connection or natural gas line to the spot you’ve chosen, making placement extremely important. The distance from your fire pit to the bulk tank or natural gas main determines how much gas volume and pressure you need to fuel it. Even if you have an additional supply of gas running to the installation site, you still must ensure there’s enough pressure at the source for the gas to flow at the proper rate.
An over- or under-pressurized gas fire pit can be extremely dangerous. Always enlist a licensed plumber to inspect your gas lines prior to installation, and be sure to read the owner’s manual in full.
Fire Pit Warranties
Fire pits can last an exceptionally long time before any kind of maintenance is required. Fire pit Accessories like wind guards, lids, and covers can protect your investment and extend the lives of these appliances by years. In fact, we’re confident a properly cared for fire pit can last a lifetime. That being said, it’s important to purchase yours from a trusted brand that offers excellent customer service. Nobody wants their breathtaking outdoor centerpiece to become completely useless when a single component fails, so check out our Fire Pit Warranty Chart for more information about which brands have the most robust and long-lasting warranties.
At last, it’s time to snuff out this article’s flame. You, on the other hand, should still keep the fire going! Here’s how: visit our Free Outdoor Living Design Service, which offers 3D renderings and awesome advice, or call one of our home heating experts at 1-877-743-2269. No matter which you choose, we’re sure you’ll be enlightened even further — just like your backyard under the glow of a gleaming fire pit.
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