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Fire Pits - For Looks and Comfort

By Rob Muller Published 10/24/2007 | Home Improvement

It's tough giving up a summer of spending leisurely evenings on the patio,  winding down under the stars.  Fire pits are a great way to extend the outdoor use of your yard or patio, as well as creating a laid back, relaxing atmosphere. They can be as extravagant as a bulky, stone wood burner or as delicate as a ceramic fire pot for your patio table. They've come a long way from the  campfire pits, enjoyed by those with large, backyards. Now, just about any home can safely install a fire pit and the choices are endless; here are some things to look for:

The In ground Fire Pit: This is the wood-burning, marshmallow eating version; usually surrounded by a brick or stone ledge and dug into the ground. This is a great way to enjoy a fire, but you have to have the space to locate it away from the house or dry vegetation.

The Above ground Fire Pit: Almost the same as above, except it can be built into a stone or cement patio; the actual pit is elevated, allowing your feet to rest on the ledge and sit closer to the heat. The only digging involved is for the trench for the footings, and the bed is lined with gravel. When deciding on the size of the circle, imagine the size of fire you want to build. A small ring limits the size of the logs you'll be burning, a larger ring will allow for a larger fire, but you may have to sit further back. A good recommendation is an interior diameter a minimum of 3 feet with walls about 12 inches thick and 12 to 18 inches high.

Portable Fire pits: Portable fire pits have increased in popularity, especially now that outdoor living spaces have become so fashionable. They are available in a variety of different sizes, and the  price starts at about 120, going up from there. Generally, they are made of steel, copper  or the chimineas; a Mexican style made from fired clay or cast iron.

The fire table top, where you have a large bowl inserted into a table, can be fueled by propane or natural gas, allowing for seating around the fire. The tops are usually made of a glass fiber reinforced concrete. Some of them even convert into an ice chest and grill.

Some units such as the table top burners or the glass enclosed luminariums use ethanol as a fuel which provides the look and feel of a wood fire without the smoke or ash. 

Safety: In all situations, research your local fire regulations, whether the portable versions are allowed on a wooden deck, the guidelines for building a fire pit and whether you'll require a permit.  It needs to be situated well away from the house, overhanging trees, power lines or other structures. It's good practice to use a spark screen and never leave a fire unattended. A fire extinguisher or garden hose should be kept nearby.

Burn compressed logs or wood with a low resin content, using only 1 or 2 at a time, in a portable fire pit. 

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