Published July 19, 2022

How To Build The Perfect Outdoor Fire Pit For Your Home Or Cottage

Spend your evenings outside by the fire
Backyard fire pit

This Barrie 360 content is brought to you by United Lumber Home Hardware

If you enjoy outdoor entertaining, a fire pit is a must have. They elevate your space, make large yards more welcoming and provide a focal point. They’re also a great way to extend the seasonality of your backyard so that you can gather outside any time of year. 

Best of all, you can easily install an outdoor fire pit yourself. But before we take a look at how to create your own fire pit, let’s cover some building basics. 

Choosing A Location 

The first thing you need to do when you start to build your outdoor fire pit, is find a safe place to put it. This means you’ll need to contact your municipality and/or residential association to find out what they allow. 

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Many places have bylaws that outline size limits, required clearances and the type of fuel or material you can burn. Some will even require burn permits for recreational use or have specific times when you can burn. 

Barrie residents can find information on open air recreational burning on the City of Barrie’s website

You may also want to check with your insurance company. Some need homeowners to disclose fire pits for home/rental insurance. 

General Guidelines 

If you live somewhere with little to no open air burning restrictions, you still want to be sure your fire pit is in a safe place. 

As a general rule, you want the pit to be at least 20 feet from structures, property lines and anything combustible. This includes wood sheds, bushes, trees, long grass and more. If you can easily add even more space around your pit, it’s highly recommended. 

Prevailing Winds

Before you commit to your fire pit’s new home, you’ll want to consider prevailing winds. This will tell you what direction wind usually comes from. This will help you prevent smoke and embers from blowing towards your home or something flammable. 

In Barrie and most of Canada, the prevailing winds come from the west but there can be local differences. This has to do with air pressure, hills, valleys and nearby bodies of water. 

To determine the direction of prevailing winds at your home or business, make note of the wind direction over a few days. Chances are it will come from one direction more often than others. You can use a weather vane or simply stand outside and turn your face to the wind to determine its direction. 

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What Size Should Your Outdoor Fire Pit Be? 

Generally, you will want the inside diameter of your fire pit to be between 3 to 4 feet. But it can be bigger if you'll be entertaining more people. 

But again, local ordinances may limit the size of your fire pit, so be sure to do your research. Many only allow a 2 to 3 feet diameter. 

The height of most fire pits is 12 to 14 inches. If you’d like people to be able to sit on the edge of the pit, when safe to do so, you’ll want the sides to be at least 18 inches for comfort. 

You’ll also want there to be at least 30 inches between the fire pit and any seating. 

PRO TIP: When looking for outdoor furniture to use by the fire, look for fireproof and fire resistant materials. 

What Materials To Use When Building An Outdoor Fire Pit 

Aside from being non-flammable, you also want the materials you use for your fire pit to be non-porous. That means that they shouldn’t hold water. This is important because materials that hold water can trap steam and explode. 

You also want to consider the shape of your fire pit. If you want a round fire pit then you’ll need tapered bricks. Another option is a square fire pit. These pits tend to look more modern and formal. For a square or rectangular shape, regular bricks and square-cut stone will work. 

Wall Materials 

For the wall of your fire pit, you’ll want to use fire brick or hard rocks like slate. You may also want to consider a fire ring or insert. They’re commonly made of steel so that they can prevent wall materials from drying out and crumbling. This will extend the life of your pit and also reinforce the structure. 

You can also add an outer wall to your fire pit. This gives you more creative freedom to change the aesthetic.

If you plan on finishing off your fire pit with an outer wall, you don't need the materials to be fireproof. But you still want to look for heat resistant materials. This includes materials made from concrete, stone, granite, or brick, as well as heat resistant outdoor stucco. 

Base Materials 

Gravel is a popular choice for the base of fire pits but it isn’t the best choice. That’s because there’s a risk that gravel can crack and explode under high temperatures. Instead, for the base of your firepit you can use:

  • Granite
  • Marble
  • Slate
  • Firebrick
  • Lava glass
  • Lava rocks
  • Poured concrete
  • Sand

All these materials are non-flammable and absorb little to no water. 

Materials For Around Your Fire Pit 

If you have built your fire pit properly then it’s okay to let healthy green grass grow around it. If the grass is dead and dry, you will have to remove it as it’s much more combustible. You also need to remember that fire pits can do extensive damage to nearby grass. 

That’s why you may want to consider adding materials around your fire pit. It can help improve safety and make your space look more complete. 

Popular materials for laying around fire pits are river rock and pea gravel. You can do a narrow perimeter (6 to 18 inches) around the pit to give it a finishing touch. Or, for a grander look, you can pour the material several feet out from the pit to create a fire pit area large enough for chairs and other furniture. 

Another idea is to tile, pave or lay stones around your fire pit. Whichever you choose, remember to remove sod from the area where you will be placing the finishing material. This will help prevent grass from growing up through the rocks. 

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How To Build A Backyard Fire Pit 

Once you know where your fire pit will go and how big you want it, it’s time to build. You’ll need the following tools and materials, though the amount of each will depend on the size of your pit. 

  • Shovel 
  • Hand tamper 
  • Out wall blocks 
  • Base material 
  • Block adhesive 
  • Optional: Sand 
  • Optional: Fire Ring or Insert 

Instructions To Build A Fire Pit:

  1. Outline The Perimeter

    Temporarily lay out the first layer of blocks for your pit. Make sure the blocks fit snugly together, then use a shovel to outline the outer perimeter. Remove the blocks. 

  2. Clear The Area

    Remove the sod and dirt from the area you marked. You want to dig down 6 to 12 inches and try to keep the area level. Pack the dirt with a hand stamper once you have finished digging. 

    Call Before You Dig: Whenever you start a project that requires you to dig, you should request a locate. This will prevent any damage to buried infrastructure such as lines, cables and pipes. This service is free and relatively quick. 

  3. Fill The Hole 

    Choose a material for your base and pour it into your hole. You want the base material to be approximately 2 inches from the top of your hole. You also want to keep it level. Stamp the base material down with your hand tamper and add/remove material as needed to level it out. 

    PRO TIP: Some base materials can be expensive. To help reduce costs, you can put a few inches of sand and top with 2 inches of your desired material. 

  4. Install First Row Of Wall Blocks

    Lay out the first layer of blocks on your base material with sides touching. 

    You will want to use a large level to make sure the blocks are even all the way around your pit. 

    For blocks that are too low, add base material/sand underneath. If they’re too high, tap them with a rubber mallet to push them down. If this doesn’t work, remove some of the base material from under them.

  5. Install Second Row Of Wall Blocks

    Put the second layer of blocks on top of the first. Make sure that you stagger the joints between rows and that the blocks are touching. 

  6. Make Sure Insert Fits Properly 

    If you’re using a fire ring or insert, put it into place to ensure the lip rests on the edge of the wall. Adjust block positioning as needed.

  7. Adhere Second Row To First 

    Remove the second row of blocks 2 or 3 at a time. Add adhesive to the top of the first row of blocks and replace the removed blocks. This will keep everything in place.

  8. Install Additional Rows of Wall Blocks 

    Repeat steps 5 to 7 for each additional row until you reach your desired height.  

  9. Set Up Fire Pit 

    Allow the adhesive to fully cure before using your pit. If you have one, place your fire ring or insert into the pit. Do not glue it in place. You want to be able to remove it for cleaning. 

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Want to add a second wall on the outside of your pit to better suit your backyard’s aesthetic? You can add it once the adhesive has cured and before you place the fire ring or insert. The installation process will depend on the material you used. 

Patio Fire Pits 

If you want to build your fire pit on a patio or deck, there are a couple of extra things to consider. 

The first is the patio/deck material. You want to be sure that the material is not flammable. If it is, you need to build in a non-flammable space for the fire pit to sit on.

If you’re putting the fire pit on a patio, you need to cement the first layer onto the patio to stop it from shifting. You also want to be sure that there’s at least 6 ft of patio on each side of the fire pit. 

Fire Pit Safety 

If you decide to install an outdoor fire pit on your property, you should be aware of required and suggested safety practices. 

Many municipalities have extra open air burning rules to keep you and your community safe. These rules usually restrict the type of materials you can burn, such as clean dry wood, yard waste, etc. 

Rules can also include:

  • Time of day that you’re allowed to burn
  • Whether you can burn when there’s rain, fog or smog 
  • Wind speeds which restrict burning 
  • Extinguishing devices that must be present 

General Fire Safety 

While you always need to be sure to meet your communities requirements, there are also some general fire safety practices to consider:

  1. Never leave a fire unattended. 
  2. Always have safety gear nearby. For example, you may want a fire extinguisher, fire blanket, water packs, bucket of sand, etc. 
  3. Don’t use lighter fluid or gasoline as accelerants. They’re toxic and can cause explosions.
  4. Make sure wood is the right size for your pit. Pieces should be no bigger than ¾ of the inside diameter of the pit to avoid wood overhanging the walls.
  5. Stop adding wood to the fire approximately 1 hour before going inside so that embers can die down and the fire can be put out more easily. 
  6. When ashes are cool and dry, remove them - this will make your next fire better. 
  7. Never burn plastic, metal or non wood/paper products as they can put toxins into the air.
  8. Don’t burn construction materials that can release toxic fumes like plywood and composite woods.
  9. Only cook over clean wood and firestarters with food safe materials. 
  10. To avoid sparks and floating embers, use hardwoods. 

When your fire is over, always make sure it’s properly extinguished. It’s best to put out a fire once all the wood has burned. If you do have logs that aren't completely burned when you’re finished, special care should be taken. While it may look like the logs are out, the centers can remain hot and reignite the logs once you’ve left the pit.

An Outdoor Fire Pit Is The Perfect Addition To Your Home 

Fire pits can be a great addition to your backyard space. So much so, that they can even increase property value. 

To make the most of your fire pit, be sure to research local bylaws, find the right materials and burn safely. That way you can enjoy all the benefits of your fire pit, without the stress.

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