Relax and socialize around a fire pit

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 9, 2013
- Contributed Photo

The useful days of my 27-foot above-ground pool are long over, and I want to modify the area for some different recreational purpose. I could just turn the area back over to the lawn, but that would mean more ground maintenance - mowing, fertilizing, watering and more weed-killing. As for recreation on the additional lawn, I can't remember the last time I had a rollicking game of croquet with family and friends.

I have come up with an alternate use that can provide more enjoyment with more functionality. I have memories of our family and friends sitting around an outdoor fireplace, cooking hot dogs, making s'mores, telling stories, and just enjoying the glow. I am thinking of bringing a version of that to my backyard.

When chimneas arrived on the scene, they made it easy for a homeowner to create a social centerpiece in their backyard or even on a patio. Many home stores and garden centers sell chimneas. They are relatively inexpensive, and can be set up pretty quickly, providing a cozy place to sit and chat while watching and experiencing the fire.

More recently, fire pits have gained popularity, and now have taken on several forms. The quickest entry point is a prefabricated unit that, like the chimnea, can be quickly implemented at a fairly low cost (often less than $100). Most are round or square and made of steel.

The other options will take a lot more time and effort to implement, unless you have someone do it for you, and that will add even more cost. I gave some thought to creating a circular "fire patio" paved with stones and a fire ring made of stone, raised about 12 inches. To me it certainly would be the more attractive alternative, and it should last a long time as well. But this alternative involves some excavation and ground preparation, as well as some non-trivial stone work. Depending on your location and terrain, you might need to include a gravel drain in the middle to carry off any water that would naturally accumulate.

One of the first decisions you will have to make is whether you want to fuel your pit with wood or liquefied propane gas (LPG). For me, that decision has already been made. I remember seeing fake logs, fed by natural gas, in the fireplace at my grandparent's home. "What's the point?" I remember thinking to myself. So I'll be burning wood in my backyard.

High on the list of concerns for anyone with a fire pit is fire safety and local regulations. Wild fires are not just incidents in other states that show up on the national news. Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) limits open burning for public health and safety reasons. Local governments and fire departments add to those safety regulations. Residents are allowed to burn "clean brush" - up to 3 inches in diameter - on their property, as long as they have an open burning permit from the town.

Common sense is the guiding rule when it comes to open burning fire safety. Whatever applies to your outdoor grilling and barbecuing should also apply to any outdoor fire.

Create a spot that is about 30 feet from your house and any other buildings. Set aside an area that is about 18 feet in diameter to contain the fire pit, free of readily combustible materials.

Talk to your local fire department before you start to find out what applies in your town. Also ask about any possible issues with your town's building department.

Before you light that fire, check the DEEP website ( to get current conditions for the Air Quality Index and the Forest Fire Danger Index. Keep yourself and your neighbors safe and happy.

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