How to Build a Fire Pit in Your Backyard: a Step-by-Step Guide
Follow these 10 simple steps to transform your backyard into a rustic retreat.
Once you build a beautiful fire pit for your backyard, make sure to take safety precautions when enjoying it.(Getty Images)
Looking to add some fun to your backyard? A fire pit can enhance your outdoor living space and provide a place to cozy up outdoors with a blanket on cooler nights.
The good news about fire pits is that they’re relatively DIY-friendly, so why not make your new backyard fixture a labor of love?
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Follow these steps to build your backyard fire pit:
Before you go through the process of building your own fire pit, be sure to check with your local fire department for rules on open fires outside. In dense cities or parts of the country that are prone to wildfires, you may have to apply for a permit or notify officials whenever you want to have a fire outside – even a small one. The National Fire Protection Association advises contacting your fire department to verify how to set up an outdoor fire safely and legally.
The next thing you’ll need to do is obtain all the materials you’ll need to build your fire pit:
- Concrete blocks, wall blocks, bricks or paving stones.
- Fire bricks or metal liner.
- Tape measure.
- Spray paint, chalk or other marker.
- Fire-safe mortar (optional).
Depending on the materials you already have, you may spend anywhere between nothing and around $500. If you opt for a fire pit kit, they range from $399 to over $1,000 at Lowe’s, Home Depot and eFireplaceStore.com.
A round fire pit about a yard in diameter is a fairly manageable size, and your walls should be at least 12 inches tall. Depending on your choice of bricks or stones that you use for the walls, you’ll need to calculate how many pieces you’ll need. For a fire pit with a diameter of 36 inches, for example, your circumference is 113.1 inches.
You can make your fire pit bigger if desired, but it’s best to limit the diameter to around 42 inches, says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes for Belgard, a landscape design company and hardscape manufacturer based in Atlanta. “If you go bigger than that, you’re going to have to build a really big fire to feel much heat around the edges,” he says.
Pick the spot in your yard where you’ll build your fire pit. It should be a good distance away from any buildings (yours or your neighbor’s) and clear of any trees overhead or other plants.
Many local ordinances require open fires to be 15 to 25 feet from any structures, including a wood deck or patio. “If you have the space, it’s better to err on the higher side of that,” Raboine says.
Drive a stake into the yard to mark the center of the fire pit. Tie a string to the stake that extends out 18 inches. With paint, chalk or other marker, outline the outer circle of the fire pit, using the string as the measurement to keep the circle even.
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Remove the stake and use your shovel to dig out the grass and topsoil from your marked fire pit area. You want to dig about 6 inches beneath the surface all the way across. For a deeper fire pit, dig down 12 inches.
Using your tamp – a hand tool with a long handle and flat bottom made to flatten surfaces – level the dirt. Check to make sure you’ve made it even all the way across with your level.
Next, pour in your gravel to the point that it’s just below the surface of the hole. Using the tamp, pack down the gravel and level the surface. Depending on the size of gravel you choose, this may be easy or more difficult. The key is packing it in enough that the gravel won’t be displaced easily and will provide an even surface for building your block wall on top.
Lay your initial circle of paving stones, bricks or blocks, using your level throughout to make sure the surface remains even. You may need to place more gravel beneath blocks as you work to keep everything level.
Continue with your second and third layers of stones or bricks to complete your fire pit wall. As you add layers, offset each brick to make a more stable structure.
If your paving stones or blocks are heavy enough to remain sturdy on their own, you don’t need to use fire-safe mortar or masonry adhesive to seal the blocks together. If you do opt to use mortar, however, be sure to leave a couple spaces for air to get through within the circle – the more air flow, the easier it will be to keep the fire going.
While the pit and walls you’ve built with bricks or pavers is sufficient to safely use in your backyard, the additional cost and effort of lining the pit with either fire bricks, which require high-heat mortar as well, or a metal ring will help the fire pit last longer.
Otherwise, “it’ll end up deteriorating over time,” Raboine says.
Fire rings can be purchased on their own and start around $35 at stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. They can fit along the top of the inner circle of the fire pit, or reach all the way to the gravel, with walls built around the outside of the liner.
Fire bricks are best added after building the outer walls, using mortar to adhere them along the inner circle of the pit. A six-pack of fire bricks costs $30 at Lowe’s. As you would when using mortar on your outer wall, leave a couple gaps of space for air to flow more freely in the fire pit.
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Before you start your first fire in the pit, be sure to follow fire safety procedures. A garden hose can be an easy safety precaution, or you may keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of sand or dirt nearby to put the fire out in a hurry.
When building your fire, keep it smaller than the full size of the pit itself. “It should take up no more than 60% or 70% of the fire pit – you don’t want to just pile logs in there and light it,” Raboine says.
Don’t use an accelerant like gas or lighter fluid on the fire. Instead, opt for something like a starter log to get the flames going. Follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for backyard recreational fires.
As you tend your fire, be sure to take equal care with anything that comes in contact with the heat, from skewers and sticks to marshmallows and hot dogs. As the National Fire Protection Association notes in its guidance for campfires, “never shake a roasting marshmallow. It can turn into a flying, flaming ball.”
You should never leave a fire unattended, particularly with small children or pets around. A responsible adult should always remain with the fire until it is completely out. If needed, water, sand or dirt can help put a fire out.