Backyard Fire Pits: The Ultimate Guide to Safe Design, Sizing and Construction (2024)

Postedby Chase Coates on in

  • Landscape Construction

Imagine the glow of a fire warming your face as you chat with friends on a crisp fall evening. Or, what about enjoying the taste of roasted marshmallows as you tell stories around the flames?

The ways you can enjoy your backyard fire pit are pretty endless — if you have the right design, fire pit size, location and construction from the start, that is.

So before you start imagining all of the ways your fire pit will enhance your outdoor space, here are some important things you better think about first.

What Are Backyard Fire Pits, And How Much Do They Cost?

At the most basic level, a fire pit is a container where you can make an outdoor fire.

The name itself seems pretty self explanatory, but there are actually a few different types of fire pits you can choose from: in-ground, permanent above-ground and portable fire pits.

These are less-expensive options if you want to add a fire feature to your backyard, compared to a fireplace. A fire pit can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand, depending on the size, materials and type you want installed — whereas an outdoor fireplace can be anywhere from $5,500 to $10,000.

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Fire pits also give you a 360-degree view of the flames and can create a center focal point for you and your guests to gather around. They are more versatile and give you a wider range of options when it comes to where they are installed.

To get the most from your fire feature and ensure its safety, here are seven things to think about when constructing a backyard fire pit.

Why Are Fire Pits So Popular in Idaho?

Fire pits are one of the most popular outdoor features in Idaho Falls and in the Western US in general. That shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise considering our chilly temps during the fall and winter. Plus, rustic outdoor features are especially popular in this area, and there are plenty of fire pit materials and types that will complete that rustic look. A fire pit can also be constructed in less than a day — longer if you want additional features like a sitting wall, landscape lighting or other outdoor features.

But fire pits aren’t just trending here, this is a trend you’ll also see nationwide, especially in colder-weather areas.

Are Backyard Fire Pits Safe And Legal?

We’ve all heard the saying about what happens if you play with fire. So, it’s only natural that you would wonder how safe fire pits really are.

Backyard fire pits can be a safe feature for your outdoor space if you take certain precautions. Here are some ways to ensure your fire pit is safe:

  • Keep fire pits at least 15 feet away from your house, other structures and combustible materials (ex. leaves, wood, chemicals, etc.). It should be in an open space, like on your patio or a cleared part of your landscape. Don’t put it on a wood deck.
  • Avoid lighting the pit during extremely windy weather, as the embers might go somewhere you don’t want them.
  • Make sure you have a bucket of water, hose or extinguisher nearby before lighting the fire.
  • Watch children near fire pits so they don’t get burned.
  • Keep the flame small: The larger it is, the bigger chance you have for it to get out of hand.
  • Never use gasoline to start the fire.

Beyond being safe, you also want to make sure your fire pit is legal. The city of Idaho Falls allows fire pits and other enclosed outdoor fire features (ex. fireplaces) that are at least 15 feet away from structures and combustible material. They also require that they are used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

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(Each city’s fire and burning codes are different, so check with your local municipality before you install a fire feature.)

What Size Fire Pit Do I Need?

Besides thinking about the safety and legal aspects of owning a fire pit, you’ll probably also wonder what size fire pit you need and how deep the fire pit should be.

If you choose a portable fire pit, the size will be predetermined. However, if you’re putting one in the ground or having it constructed, you’ll need to set the fire pit dimensions. Here are some things to think about that will affect the size of your fire pit:

  • How many people do you want to be able to sit around it?
  • Are you creating a more intimate space, or is it meant to entertain large groups?
  • How big is your patio or landscaped space where you will add the fire pit?

For a more intimate gathering space, a 3-foot-wide fire pit would work. Or, you go up to 6 feet wide (including the thickness of the walls) to accommodate six or more people.

Fire pit size also includes the depth (in-ground) or height (above-ground) of the fire pit. If you have a fire pit that is in the ground, the depth just needs to be enough so that your wood or fire ring fits in it.

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The height of your above-ground fire pit takes a bit more thought, however. If you make the pit too high, you won’t be able to prop your feet on it comfortably. On the other hand, if it’s too low, you’ll end up bending over just to be close to the flames. The exact height you choose for your fire pit will depend on how you plan to use it.

For example, if you want to be able to prop your feet on it, go with one that is about 12 to 14 inches high. If you plan to use the edge of the fire pit as a sitting wall, you’ll want it to be about 20 inches. You won’t want to go much higher than that, or you won’t really be able to enjoy the flames and warmth.

Just remember: The larger the fire pit, the bigger the chance is for the fire to get out of hand. So, stick to safe parameters when constructing your pit.

In-Ground Vs. Portable Fire Pits

When deciding between installing an in-ground fire pit or portable fire pit, think about the differences in the two and which fits your lifestyle best.

For a more permanent, out-of-sight feature, try an in-ground fire pit. These will give you that bonfire-type look and feel, and they could even be covered up if needed. If you have children, just make sure they can’t fall into the pit if you go the in-ground route.

A portable fire pit gives you more versatility, which is great if you have trouble making decisions about exactly where you want the pit to go. Having a fire pit that is higher up will help the heat better reach you when you’re sitting or standing near it. A fire pit above ground will also help give your landscape a focal point and create visual interest. Your landscape needs at least one thing that draws people’s eyes, and a portable fire pit could be it.

Stone Or Brick Fire Pits: Which Material Is Best?

When it comes to picking out the best fire pit material, you’ll probably be deciding between natural stone or brick.

If you want a more rustic look, use natural stone to construct your fire pit. For traditional brick homes, brick fire pits will better match the veneer. You don’t want to use the exact same brick color as your house, but you can use something that ties into the color scheme.

Both materials can withstand the heat and will give your fire pit a long life.

You can complement the hardscape materials used to construct the fire pit with a similar patio material, which will help it all come together.

Natural Gas Vs. Wood Burning Vs. Propane Fire Pits

Do you want to throw sticks in the pit to keep it burning, or do you want to just flip a switch? Those are things to consider when choosing if you want a natural gas, wood burning or propane fire pit.

Here’s how these three types of fire pits compare:

  • Natural gas fire pit: It lights easily and quickly and doesn’t produce smoke or sparks. However, it isn’t the best for cooking and doesn’t provide as much heat as wood.
  • Wood burning fire pit: This option will give you a campfire feel, put off a lot of heat, cook food and be the cheapest of the three options. But, it puts off smoke, sparks and be difficult to control.
  • Propane fire pit: Like natural gas, propane also lights quickly and doesn’t produce embers. You’ll need to refill the propane when it runs out, and its fire rings may clog.

You can convert a wood burning fire pit to gas by installing a gas line and fire ring.

Who Builds And Installs Fire Pits

Maybe the biggest decision that comes with the installation process is who you’ll hire to build the fire pit.

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Landscapers who offer design/build services (and have actually installed several fire pits) will be the most qualified professionals to construct your fire pit. Plus, if you want to install any additional landscape features — like a stone patio, plants or landscape lighting — at the same time, they can help you with that, too.

Before you hire a landscaping company to install your fire pit, take a look at some of their past fire feature projects to see if their work is up to your standards. You can also get ideas for your fire pit project by looking at their past work.

At Outback Landscape, we start by talking with you about how you’ll use the fire pit and entertainment area, your ideas and desired style to create a professional design that incorporates it all. Once you approve the design, we’ll move forward to install your fire feature.

Call us at 208-656-3220, or contact us online to get one step closer to enjoying your fire pit.

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Backyard Fire Pits: The Ultimate Guide to Safe Design, Sizing and Construction (2024)


What is a good size fire pit for backyard? ›

Small fire pit dimensions should measure 3 feet wide, while a large pit can go up to 6 feet wide. Ideally a fire pit should be between 36 and 44 inches wide (including the width of the walls) in order to comfortably seat multiple people around it whilst still maintaining an intimate setting.

How big of a seating area do you need for a fire pit? ›

Make room for everyone

In terms of space, you will want to plan for seating that will allow for both group settings or cozy, intimate one-on-one time. A fire pit itself is rarely larger than four or five feet across. The patio space around it should be an additional four to six feet on all sides.

How deep should a backyard fire pit be? ›

In-ground fire pits are a permanent feature that can add a touch of rustic charm to any outdoor space. Let's look at how depth and diameter play a crucial role in designing these fire pits. Depth: A good depth for an in-ground fire pit is between 6 to 12 inches.

How do I figure out how many blocks I need for a fire pit? ›

First, you'll want to measure the estimated circumference of your fire pit. Once you've got a number, you can figure out approximately how many blocks you'll need to wrap around the space. Ten to twelve will give you a pretty good-sized pit.

Can a fire pit be too big? ›

A large fire pit may look impressive, but it can overwhelm a smaller patio or deck, making the space feel cramped and uncomfortable. A fire pit that is too large can also be a safety hazard if it is too close to furniture, plants, or other combustible materials.

How to pick an outdoor fire pit? ›

The fire pit you choose should strike a balance between quality and cost. Better quality will cost more, so size, style, fuel, and materials will influence the price tag. However, if you plan to use your fire pit often and for years to come, a solid design with durable materials will eventually pay for itself.

How much ventilation does a fire pit need? ›

Some recommend a minimum of 18 square inches of opening to provide adequate air flow and cooling for a gas burner system. Be sure to also check to see if there are any local requirements or regulations for fire pits.

How close can a fire pit be to a house? ›

Place your fire pit at a safe distance (10-25 feet) from any flammable structures or surfaces. This includes your house, trees, shed, vehicle, neighbors' property, and wood deck, among other things. Keep your fire pit away from overhanging branches. A 21-foot clearance is standard for most municipalities.

How much room do you need around a firepit? ›

When you are planning your outdoor living space, you will want to carefully plan your fire pit to make sure there is enough room around it for everyone to be comfortable. A good guideline is to have about 7 feet of space around the fire pit.

Should I dig a hole for my fire pit? ›

Another advantage of a fire pit dug into the ground is that the fire will be better contained. If the fire is in a hole, it will not spread, provided that you do not have a lot of dry leaves around the area and you are not in a bushy area during the dry season.

Where is the best place to put a fire pit in your backyard? ›

To ensure safe and optimal fire pit placement:
  • Adhere to local regulations and avoid placing during fire bans.
  • Keep fire pits at least 10 feet from buildings and trees.
  • Install on a non-flammable surface and away from overhead structures.
  • Check wind patterns to prevent smoke issues.
Nov 10, 2023

What should I put in the bottom of my fire pit? ›

What Do You Put in the Bottom of a Fire Pit? To create a safe, sturdy foundation for a fire pit, we use a gravel paver base. Other common materials used for the bottom of a fire pit are sand, lava stones, dirt, fire glass and concrete slabs.

Are cinder blocks ok for fire pits? ›

A big problem we see in fire pits is that they are often designed using only CMUs (concrete blocks) that are not intended for fire use. The heat-up and expansion of the aggregates could theoretically pop or blast. Fire bricks and fire clay mortar should lined all fire pits.

What is the best block for a fire pit? ›

Concrete blocks are highly durable and have the ability to endure high temperatures, making them an excellent material choice. They also offer design versatility since they come in different shapes and sizes, allowing you to create your ideal fire pit.

How to plan a fire pit? ›

  1. Plan Location and Layout. A fire pit should be built at least 15 feet from any structure and close to a water source. ...
  2. Determine the Size. The size of your fire pit will be determined by your metal fire ring. ...
  3. Dig a Hole. ...
  4. Line Hole With Sand. ...
  5. Add Base Row. ...
  6. Place Metal Ring. ...
  7. Insert Bricks Into Fire Pit Floor. ...
  8. Add Pea Gravel.

How big of a space do you need for a fire pit? ›

When you are planning your outdoor living space, you will want to carefully plan your fire pit to make sure there is enough room around it for everyone to be comfortable. A good guideline is to have about 7 feet of space around the fire pit. But that number may change depending on the type of seating you have.

Are backyard fire pits worth it? ›

Are fire pits worth the money? In short - yes, absolutely. The main reason they're worth the investment is that they've got multiple uses and they make your patio a multi-season space.

What is a good size for a backyard patio? ›

We recommend a minimum of 25 square feet per person. So, if you plan to host 15 people- plan for a space around 375 sq. ft. We recommend a patio around 550 square feet for comfortable entertaining.

What's a good height for a fire pit? ›

A good rule of thumb is to make an above-ground fire pit 12-14 inches tall. This is a few inches shorter than standard patio furniture seat height. If you want to be able to sit on the edge of the pit itself go a bit higher, 18-20 inches will be comfortable.


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