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5 Different Types Of Fire Pits And Their Main Differences

A fire pit in the backyard makes your outdoor space more functional and more fun. However, with so many choices and options available, choosing the right fire pit can be a daunting task.  But don't worry — in this article, we'll explore five different types of fire pits: Propane, Wood, Gel Fuel, Natural Gas, and DIY (Do-It-Yourself). We'll delve into the unique characteristics, advantages, considerations,...

different types of fire pits

A fire pit in the backyard makes your outdoor space more functional and more fun. However, with so many choices and options available, choosing the right fire pit can be a daunting task. 

But don't worry — in this article, we'll explore five different types of fire pits: Propane, Wood, Gel Fuel, Natural Gas, and DIY (Do-It-Yourself). We'll delve into the unique characteristics, advantages, considerations, and various design options for each type to help you make an informed decision for your outdoor space.

Propane Fire Pits

Propane fire pits are known for their convenience as well as their versatility. They are powered by propane gas tanks, making them easy to light and control, and they generally cost between $150 - $5,000. 

Propane fire pits produce minimal smoke and virtually no ash, making them an excellent choice for those who want to enjoy a fire without the hassle of dealing with clean up. It also means you won't experience the characteristic smoky odor associated with wood-burning fires — which can be a pro for some people and a con for others.

Many propane fire pits are small and portable, allowing you to move them around your outdoor space or even take them on camping trips. Since the portable models typically come with a propane tank compartment or a hose connection, you can easily transport and use them wherever you desire. Their versatility makes propane fire pits a flexible and adaptable choice for various outdoor settings.

Pros:

  • Propane fire pits offer instant ignition and adjustable flames, providing immediate heat and convenience.
  • They can be portable, do not produce smoke, and leave no ashes, making them ideal for smaller outdoor spaces.

Main considerations:

  • Propane tanks require refilling, so it's essential to factor in the cost and availability of propane.
  • They are not recommended for enclosed areas due to gas emissions.

Variations

Propane fire pits come in a wide variety — the sky is the limit!

Size

Propane fire pits come in many sizes to accommodate space and preference. The size of a propane fire pit is typically measured in terms of its diameter. 

Small or Compact: Small propane fire pits typically have a diameter of around 18 to 24 inches. These are ideal for smaller outdoor spaces such as balconies or small patios. A compact size provides a more intimate and focused heat source.

Medium: Medium-sized propane fire pits usually have a diameter ranging from 30 to 36 inches. They are popular choices for average-sized decks, patios, or backyard settings, and they offer a good balance between heat output and space utilization.

Large to Extra-Large: The larger propane fire pits can have diameters from 36 inches to 48+ inches. These larger fire pits are suitable for spacious outdoor areas, such as large patios, backyards, or even commercial spaces. They provide substantial heat and can accommodate a larger group of people around the fire.

Custom or Built-In: Some propane fire pits are custom-built or designed to be integrated into outdoor kitchens. They can vary widely in size and depend on the specific design and requirements of the outdoor area.

Keep in mind that the size of your propane fire pit should be chosen based on the available space, the number of people you want to accommodate, and your heating needs. Additionally, safety clearances required by the manufacturer and local building codes need to be considered when determining the placement and size of your propane fire pit.

Design

Propane fire pits come in a variety of shapes, allowing you to choose one that fits your outdoor aesthetic and space requirements. Here are some common shapes of propane fire pits:

  • Round
  • Square
  • Rectangular
  • Oval
  • Urn or Bowl

Custom or unique shapes are also possible. If you have a specific vision for your outdoor space, you should explore custom-made propane fire pits. These can be designed in virtually any shape or configuration to match your preferences and the layout of your outdoor area.

Remember, when selecting the shape of your propane fire pit, consider the overall style of your outdoor decor, the available space, and how the fire pit will fit into your seating arrangement. Choosing wisely will contribute to the ambiance and aesthetics of your outdoor environment.

Materials

Propane fire pits are available in a wide range of materials, each offering its unique appearance, durability, and maintenance requirements.

Steel is a popular choice for propane fire pits due to its durability and versatility. It can be shaped into various designs and finishes, including rustic, modern, or industrial looks. Plus, steel fire pits are often coated with heat-resistant paint or powder coating to protect them from the elements giving you long-lasting enjoyment.

Aluminum is lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and easy to maintain, making it an excellent material for portable fire pits. It is often styled into a more contemporary or sleek design.

Copper propane fire pits offer a stunning visual appeal with their natural patina that develops over time. They are known for their elegance and can become a focal point in your outdoor space. However, copper fire pits are typically more expensive and require regular cleaning to maintain their shine.

Concrete is a versatile material that can be used to create a wide variety of outdoor features including propane fire pits. It is low maintenance and durable while also offering great flexibility in design. 

Surroundings

When creating a propane fire pit, you have many options for the materials used in the surroundings. Your choice will likely depend on your design preferences, budget, and the overall aesthetic you want to achieve. 

Here are some common materials used for the surrounds of propane fire pits:

  1. Concrete: As mentioned earlier, concrete is a popular choice due to its durability and versatility. It can be molded into various shapes and textures or colors to achieve different looks.
  2. Stone: Natural stone, such as granite, limestone, or slate, can create a rustic and elegant appearance. You can choose to use stacked stone for a traditional look or cut stone for a more polished finish. Just remember to avoid river rocks or other stones that absorb a lot of moisture as they can explode when heated.
  3. Brick: Brick surrounds offer a classic and timeless look. They can be arranged in different patterns, such as herringbone or basketweave, to add visual interest.
  4. Metal: Metal — namely steel or aluminum — can provide a modern and industrial aesthetic and is often used in contemporary fire pit designs.
  5. Tile: Tiling the surround of your propane fire pit can add a decorative touch. You can choose from a wide variety of tile materials, colors, and patterns to match your outdoor decor. Just be sure to stick to the heat-resistant variety.
  6. Wood: While wood can not be in direct contact with the flames, it can be used to create a wooden deck or seating area around the fire pit. Wood complements a rustic or natural setting.
  7. Glass: Glass surrounds can be used to create a contemporary and visually striking fire pit design. Fire glass, in particular, is often used in modern propane fire pits to enhance the visual appeal of the flames.
  8. Corten Steel: Corten steel is a weathered steel material that develops a unique rusted patina over time. It can create a distinctive and industrial appearance for your fire pit surround.
  9. Mosaic: Mosaic designs involve arranging small pieces of colorful glass or ceramic tiles to create intricate patterns. This can add a decorative and artistic element to your fire pit.
  10. Pavers: Pavers or concrete blocks can be stacked or arranged to create a surround for your propane fire pit. They are relatively easy to work with and come in various styles and colors, and they are often a budget-friendly option.

Wood Fire Pits

Traditional wood burning fire pits rely on wood logs for fuel and offer a natural and rustic feel. They typically range from $50 - $2,500.

The use of wood fire pits for warmth, cooking, and social gatherings dates back thousands of years. Humans have been burning wood as a source of heat and light since ancient times! 

However, careful attention and maintenance to ensure safety is required with a wood-burning fire pit. Sparks and embers can escape from the pit, posing a fire hazard to nearby structures and vegetation. It's crucial to maintain a safe distance between the flames and flammable materials. Additionally, the ashes generated from wood-burning fires can remain hot for an extended period, so proper disposal and storage of ashes are essential to prevent accidental fires.

Pros:

  • Wood fire pits create an authentic campfire atmosphere with crackling sounds and a pleasant, smoky aroma.
  • They are cost-effective and can be fueled by readily available firewood.

Main considerations:

  • You'll need to store and season firewood, which can be bulky, requiring a reasonable amount of space.
  • The ashes produced need to be cleared out regularly.

Variations

Wood fire pits come in diverse designs, from traditional to more decorative shapes. Materials also vary, and there are multiple ways you can build the fire pit surrounds. 

Size

Wood-burning fire pits come in a variety of sizes to suit owner preferences. While specific sizes may vary among manufacturers, here are some common sizes you can typically find:

  1. Small or Portable: These are often around 20 to 24 inches in diameter. 
  2. Medium-Sized Fire Pits: Medium-sized fire pits are usually around 30 to 36 inches in diameter and can accommodate a moderate amount of firewood.
  3. Large Fire Pits: Large fire pits can range from 40 to 48 inches and create a larger and more impressive fire.
  4. Custom or Built-In Fire Pits: Some people opt for custom-built or built-in fire pits that can vary widely in size.
  5. Extra-Large Fire Pits: For those who have extensive outdoor spaces or want to create a focal point in their landscape, extra-large fire pits with diameters exceeding 48 inches may be available. These can be substantial and may require more significant amounts of firewood.

Be mindful of local regulations and safety considerations when selecting the size and location of your wood-burning fire pit.

Design

Wood burning fire pits come in similar shapes as their propane counterparts — round, square, rectangular, oval, and bowl. However, there are a few other shapes often found in the wood-burning variety:

  • Hexagonal 
  • Octagonal
  • Trough
  • Sculptural

Materials

Similar to propane, wood fire pits are made from a variety of materials, each offering its own unique aesthetic and functional characteristics.

In addition to the materials listed for propane fire pits (steel, aluminum, copper, and concrete), common materials used in the construction of wood-burning fire pits include:

Corten Steel: Corten steel is a type of weathered steel known for its rusted appearance.

Cast Iron: Cast iron fire pits are known for their traditional and timeless appeal. They are excellent at retaining and radiating heat, making them a good choice for cooler evenings. Cast iron fire pits may require periodic maintenance to prevent rust.

Brick: Brick fire pits provide a traditional and classic look. They are often constructed using fire-resistant bricks and can be a DIY project for homeowners with masonry skills.

Stone Veneer: Some fire pits are constructed with a steel or concrete core and then adorned with a stone veneer to achieve a natural appearance without solid stone's weight and cost.

Fire-Resistant Composite Materials: Some manufacturers produce fire pits made from composite materials that mimic the appearance of wood or stone while offering better resistance to heat and weather.

The choice of material will depend on factors such as your aesthetic preferences, budget, climate, and maintenance considerations. Additionally, it's essential to ensure that the material used is fire-resistant and suitable for outdoor use to ensure safety and durability.

Surroundings

While you don't necessarily need surrounding materials for a wood-burning fire pit that differ from a propane pit, it's advisable to have materials in place to enhance safety and create a comfortable and functional area.

The area around the fire pit should have a non-combustible base to prevent the risk of fire spreading. Common options include gravel, pavers, concrete, or fire-resistant materials designed for this purpose. The base material should extend at least a few feet out from the fire pit, and if you are putting the fire pit on a wooden deck or another combustible surface, you need a heat-resistant mat or pad underneath it.

To prevent accidents and keep people at a safe distance from the fire, consider installing a safety barrier or boundary. This can be a wall, fence, or even a ring of large stones. It should be sturdy and at a safe distance from the fire pit.

The specific surrounding materials you choose will depend on your design preferences, budget, and the space available for your wood-burning fire pit. Always prioritize safety when planning your fire pit area, and be sure to follow any local regulations or guidelines regarding fire pit construction and placement.

Gel Fuel

Gel fuel fire pits are a modern alternative to traditional wood or propane fire pits. They use gel fuel canisters to produce controlled smokeless flames. They typically range in price from $100 - $800.

Gel fuel is a great option for those who want to add a fire pit to their indoor or enclosed spaces. They are usually portable, although the outdoor versions can be made from sturdier materials.

Due to the versatility of gel fuel fire pits, they can be purchased in a tabletop format for a very intimate experience. 

Pros:

  • Gel fire pits are smokeless, odorless, and easy to light, making them clean and hassle-free.
  • They are highly portable and can be used indoors or outdoors.

Main Considerations:

  • Gel fuel canisters can be expensive, and the flames may not provide as much heat as wood or gas.
  • Gel fuel fire pits may not be as visually impressive as traditional fire pits.

Variations

Gel fuel fire pits often feature contemporary designs and are made from various materials. They can be placed on tables or stands.

Size

Gel fire pits typically come in compact or portable sizes. You can even find a very small tabletop version, roughly 10” x 5”. The more expensive end of the price range will be the large exterior options. 

Design

Gel fuel fire pits come in a variety of designs. Some common styles of gel fuel fire pits include:

  1. Bowl or Dish Shape: These fire pits are shaped like a bowl or a dish and are a popular choice for outdoor gatherings. They come in various sizes and may have decorative patterns or designs on the outer surface.
  2. Tabletop: Tabletop gel fuel fire pits are smaller and designed to sit on tables or countertops. They provide a cozy ambiance for dining or socializing.
  3. Rectangular or Square: Some gel fuel fire pits have a rectangular or square shape, making them suitable for placement in corners or along walls. These can be a stylish addition to a patio or deck.
  4. Column or Pedestal: Column or pedestal-style fire pits have a tall, vertical design and can be placed as standalone features in outdoor spaces. They often have a sleek and modern appearance.
  5. Chiminea: While traditional chimineas are wood-burning, some gel fuel fire pit designs mimic the shape of a chiminea but use gel fuel instead. These provide a rustic and charming look.
  6. Wall-Mounted: Wall-mounted gel fuel fire pits are designed to be affixed to walls or fences. They can save space and create a unique focal point in your outdoor area.

Materials

Gel fuel fire pits can be made from a variety of materials, with each material offering its own unique advantages and aesthetics. The most common materials used in the construction of gel fuel fire pits include:

  • Metal
  • Cast Iron
  • Stone
  • Ceramic
  • Glass
  • Copper

Another option for a gel fuel fire pit construction is resin. Not as durable as metal or stone, resin fire pits can still provide an attractive outdoor ambiance while also being budget-friendly models.

Surroundings

Gel fuel fire pits are a versatile and relatively safe option for adding a fire feature to your outdoor space. However, there are certain surroundings and considerations to keep in mind when using a gel fuel fire pit:

Level Ground. Place the gel fuel fire pit on a stable and level surface. This helps prevent accidental tipping and ensures that the fire burns evenly.

Fireproof Surface. Place the gel fuel fire pit on a fireproof surface, such as a fire-resistant pad or a non-combustible base. This protects the ground or surface underneath from heat and potential damage.

Steady Base. Ensure that the fire pit is placed on a steady and non-slip surface. This helps prevent accidents and tip-overs.

Remember, Gel fuel canisters don't extinguish themselves so a snuffer or lid is needed to ensure the fire is out and that the canister can be reused later.

Natural Gas

Natural gas fire pits are a permanent and eco-friendly option, connected to a natural gas line. They cost upwards of $400 but usually tap out at around $5,000.

Natural gas fire pits use clean-burning natural gas as their fuel source, and they are often allowed in areas where wood-burning fire pits may be restricted due to air quality concerns.

Natural gas is often more cost-efficient than propane, making it a more budget-friendly option in the long run. 

Pros:

  • They offer a continuous and reliable heat source without the need for refilling fuel tanks.
  • Natural gas fire pits are eco-friendly, producing minimal emissions and waste.

Main Considerations:

  • Installation requires a gas line connection, which can be costly and may limit the fire pit's placement.
  • They are not easily movable, making them a permanent fixture.

Variations

Natural gas fire pits come in various designs and materials, and they can be integrated into outdoor kitchens or placed on custom-built surrounds. 

Size

The size of a natural gas fire pit is typically determined by its dimensions, including the diameter or width, height, and sometimes depth. Here are some common sizes of natural gas fire pits:

Small to Medium-Size: These fire pits generally have a diameter ranging from around 20 inches to 40 inches. They are well-suited for smaller patios, decks, or intimate gatherings, offering a cozy fire feature without taking up too much space.

Large: Large natural gas fire pits can have diameters exceeding 40 inches and can be as large as 60 inches or more. These are designed for larger outdoor areas and can accommodate more people around the fire. They are great for entertaining guests and creating a focal point in a spacious backyard.

When selecting the size of a natural gas fire pit, consider factors such as the available space, seating arrangements, and the intended use. Ensure that you have enough clearance around the fire pit to maintain safety and that it is placed on a stable and level surface. 

Design

Natural gas fire pit designs run the gamut in design styles! You can find them in most of the shapes listed for the other types of fire pits, but there are also a few shapes more commonly found in the natural gas variety. These include:

  • Linear or Fire Table - elongated rectangular fire pits that double as outdoor tables 
  • Low Profile - closer to the ground, these designs are often sleek and modern
  • Fire and Water Features - incorporate water elements like cascading waterfalls or fountains alongside the fire feature
  • Traditional or Rustic -  stacked stone, wood-like textures, and earthy colors

Materials

Natural gas fire pits can be made from all of the common fire pit materials, but there are some building materials that should not be used in or around your natural gas fire pit. 

Plastic materials are highly flammable and can melt or warp when exposed to high heat. Using plastic components in a natural gas fire pit can lead to safety hazards and rapid deterioration of the pit.

Particleboard and plywood are not heat-resistant materials and can easily catch fire. Using these materials for any part of a natural gas fire pit is unsafe and should be avoided.

While fiberglass is used in various applications, it is not suitable for use in or near the fire area of a natural gas fire pit. It can become damaged or emit toxic fumes when exposed to high temperatures.

While wood can be used in the construction of fire pit frames or tables, untreated wood is not suitable for areas directly exposed to flames or high heat. It can catch fire easily, and its use should be limited to areas where it won't be in direct contact with flames.

Surroundings

The choice of surrounding materials for a natural gas fire pit depends on your aesthetic preferences, the overall design of your outdoor space, and your budget. However, here are some popular and practical materials often used for the surroundings of a natural gas fire pit:

  • Natural Stone
  • Pavers
  • Brick
  • Concrete
  • Tile
  • Wood
  • Composite Decking
  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Stucco

When choosing surrounding materials for your natural gas fire pit, consider factors like heat resistance, maintenance requirements, and the overall aesthetic you want to achieve. It's also important to follow safety guidelines and ensure proper clearance and ventilation for the fire pit to operate safely. Consulting with a landscape designer or professional can help you select the best materials for your specific outdoor space.

DIY

DIY fire pits offer a unique and customizable option, allowing you to build a fire pit using various materials and designs. Obviously, the cost of your DIY firepit will depend on the specifics you choose and the tools you need in order to build it, but you should expect to pay somewhere between $50 - $500.

Pros: 

  • DIY fire pits provide endless creative possibilities, allowing you to personalize your outdoor space.
  • They can be budget-friendly if you repurpose existing materials.

Main Considerations: 

  • Safety is paramount when building a DIY fire pit, as improper construction can lead to accidents.
  • DIY fire pits may lack some conveniences found in pre-made options.

Variations

The variations are literally endless when you are creating your own fire pit! Your DIY project only knows the limits of your own imagination — with safety in mind, of course.

Size

DIY fire pits can be built to suit any size you wish. A typical fire pit is around 36 inches, but you are not held to what’s typical when you create one yourself.

Design

While you are free to make your DIY fire pit out of any material you wish, there are a few materials you need to avoid for safety reasons.

Gasoline, Kerosene, or Other Flammable Liquids: Never use gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid, or any other flammable liquid to start or fuel a fire in your fire pit. These substances can lead to uncontrollable fires, explosions, and severe injuries.

Charcoal: Charcoal briquettes are designed for use in charcoal grills and should not be used as fuel in a fire pit. They can produce excessive heat and emit harmful fumes when burned in an open fire pit.

Pressure-Treated Wood: Pressure-treated wood contains chemicals, such as arsenic and chromium, which can release toxic fumes when burned. Avoid using it as firewood or for constructing your fire pit.

Plastic, Rubber, or PVC: Burning materials like plastic, rubber, or PVC releases toxic fumes and can produce pollutants that are harmful to the environment and your health. These materials should never be used in a fire pit.

Painted or Treated Wood: Wood that has been painted, stained, or treated with chemicals should not be burned in a fire pit. The combustion of these materials can release toxic chemicals into the air.

Surroundings

DIY firepits allow you for diversity. You can construct the surrounds out of any type of materials you prefer — even upcycling or recycling! Just be sure to check with local authorities (or your HOA) about possible restrictions in design and materials. 

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