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?
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.
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.
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.
Get creative with your outdoor space.
When the sun is shining and the weather is warm, you naturally want to spend more time outdoors. With a little creativity, hanging out in your backyard isn’t limited to yard work or patio lounging when you incorporate traditional yard games and new versions of activities you’re used to playing inside. Whether you’re particularly handy doesn’t matter – these do-it-yourself games make the preparation process a fun activity in and of itself. Read on for 15 affordable DIY backyard games and activities.Bean bag toss
Bean bag toss
In this classic backyard game, every member of the family can enjoy creating and playing bean bag toss on a warm day. Determine what you’ll be throwing bean bags at – perhaps a set of buckets set at different distances, or even a large wooden board with holes of various sizes. Bean bags can be purchased online or at major stores like Target and Walmart, and a set of eight bean bags costs as little as $20. Enlist the help of friends or family members to decorate and set up the game to make it fun for everyone.Cornhole
Cornhole, a game you’ve probably seen (and played) at barbecues and tailgates, involves two boards and eight bean bags. Tutorials online offer a few ways to create the cornhole boards, either from plywood and two-by-fours or with a piece of a wooden pallet. Many big-box home improvement stores will cut wood to the right measurements before you leave the store, though you’ll still need a few power tools to complete your cornhole boards. You can even rent a drill and either a hole saw or jigsaw at Lowe’s or Home Depot, where you may also get advice for assembling your boards and making the necessary holes in the surface. Enlist the family to sand, design and paint your cornhole boards for a personalized touch.Ladder ball
Here's another classic yard game, which involves tossing golf balls attached with rope to try and land them on rungs of a makeshift ladder. A bonus for DIY newbies: Ladder ball can be put together with little effort. You need narrow PVC pipe, as well as a few PVC elbows and tees to connect pieces. Check with your local hardware store to see if it can cut the PVC pipe to the right lengths for you, otherwise you’ll need to rent or borrow a pipe cutter. Assemble the pipes into a ladder with three rungs, and be sure to create "feet" with the pipes so the ladder can stand on its own. Drill a hole in each of the golf balls, then string nylon rope through each, attaching two golf balls to a rope with knots on each end to keep them secure.Tabletop game board
Tabletop game board
Not every backyard game requires running around. But when it comes to board games, you may find yourself struggling to find a flat surface to play a tabletop game in your outdoor living space. A simple piece of plywood and some paint can give you a larger surface on which to play board games. Recreate your favorite game boards on either side of the plywood (aim to avoid any games that require cards or play money that can blow away in the wind). A tic-tac-toe board and either a chess or checkers board are popular options that make it easy for people of any age to take part in the setup and play time.Giant Jenga
Few people will be able to resist a game of giant Jenga when they see it in a backyard or outdoor space. It’s simple to make your own: Have two-by-fours cut into 54 even pieces – each 10.5 inches long. You can cut the wood yourself with a saw at home or commission a local home improvement store. Prevent splinters by sanding each newly cut Jenga piece, and you can opt to stain or paint the wood for looks and longevity. Set up your game on a flat surface in your backyard – a patio or large table will work well.Lawn Scrabble-style game
Lawn Scrabble-style game
If you have the time, patience and enough open space in your yard, a DIY game of giant Scrabble can be an Instagram-worthy way to spend time in your yard. You’ll need 100 letter tiles total, which can be cut from plywood. Choose the size of tile you’ll enjoy most – some online tutorials recommend 6 inches on each side, while others recommend 10 or 12 inches. Replicate the tiles in a Scrabble set to get the right number of each letter and associated points, and paint those details on each tile. You can go the extra mile and create the board game on a canvas sheet, or forego double- and triple-word scores to let the game take place directly on your lawn.Lawn Twister
Even a small patch of grass can be transformed into a living Twister mat by spray-painting the classic circles directly on the grass (avoid a permanent Twister board game on your lawn by using spray chalk). An individual bottle of spray chalk comes as cheap as $5, and companies like Testors and Boley sell multicolor packs on Amazon or at Walmart starting around $15. Just be sure you don’t accidentally buy chalkboard spray paint or spray paint with a chalked finish, as those are permanent paints designed to go on furniture.Balloon darts
Make your backyard feel more like a carnival by creating your own balloon darts game, which can be easily made with a pack of balloons and a cork board or piece of plywood. Attach the tied-off ends of inflated balloons with thumb tacks or staples, and set up the board in the yard with a solid surface behind it. Darts sets come cheap, starting at around $15 at Target, though you can always grab the old dart board you may have somewhere in your basement. Just be sure to collect all darts after playing to avoid injury to bare feet in the yard later.DIY obstacle course
DIY obstacle course
If your kids like to run around, set up an obstacle course in your yard. Cater each obstacle to your kid’s age and your DIY abilities, whether that means building a mini A-frame climbing wall or laying down paving stones for your kids to jump to. An obstacle course is a perfect opportunity to use up leftover wood and supplies from any previous home improvement DIY projects. Consider obstacles like a two-by-two wood plank balance beam, wood or PVC pipe hurdles to jump over or duck under and a wood pallet platform.Yard bowling
Transform a trip to the bowling alley into an afternoon backyard activity by reusing items in your recycling bin to create an outdoor bowling lane. Decorate 10 empty plastic bottles to look like bowling pins, weight them with dirt, sand or gravel at the bottom, and send a ball their way. If you have enough plastic bottles, you can set up two games next to each other to keep the action going, creating lane lines with spray chalk.Slip and slide
Slip and slide
Upgrade your outdoor cooldown routine from running through the sprinkler by creating a DIY version of the Slip 'N Slide. Lay out a large tarp or heavy-duty plastic sheet, and turn on the hose, wetting the entire surface. Dish soap or baby soap will help make the surface extra slippery. Continue to wet the surface with the hose or sprinkler while in use to avoid any areas drying out and creating too much friction. You can find yourself slipping and sliding whether your yard has a hill or is a flat surface, but this activity is best done in a large yard with relatively soft ground to avoid injury.Squirt gun races
Squirt gun races
Keep cool with more water activities by creating your own squirt gun race. Punch two small holes in the side of a disposable cup, and run a string through it so the cup moves easily along the string. Tie each end of the string to trees, fence posts or other sturdy items in your yard. Repeat with at least one more cup and string, or more to allow more people to play at once. Each player gets a water gun and squirts water into the inside of the cup, moving it along the string toward the opposite end. First cup to reach the end wins.Outdoor movie night
Outdoor movie night
Take your movie night outside for a magical evening. A screen can be assembled from a white sheet, PVC piping and zip ties, but if you have a flat white wall on the side or your house or garage, you may not need a screen at all. Projectors that are compatible with your laptop or even your smartphone start around $75 on Amazon, though picture quality is something you’ll want to consider as you compare products. Make the viewing area complete with blankets, pillows and popcorn.Raised garden bed
Raised garden bed
For an activity that will take you outside regularly and yield beautiful (and delicious) results, create your own raised garden bed from scratch. You can opt to build a garden bed frame out of wood directly on the ground or add wooden legs to elevate it so the garden bed can be moved easily. Add soil to the box you’ve built and plant seeds of herbs, vegetables or flowers that appeal to you. Garden beds are easy to right-size to your yard, so this activity can be done in a small space or a big one, and every member of the family can have their own garden bed to tend to.Shaded activity spot
Shaded activity spot
Catching some rays can feel great, but the sunburn afterward will not. Too much time spent in the sun and heat can damage more than just your skin, so it’s a good idea to set up a place in your yard that allows you to cool down and relax without going inside. If you don’t already have a shaded area under a canopy or pergola, you can create a simple one with a canvas sheet held up by wooden posts buried in planters at each corner. Add to the shade by attaching canvas sheets to one or two sides.Here are 15 affordable DIY backyard games and activities to try at home:
Here are 15 affordable DIY backyard games and activities to try at home:
- Bean bag toss.
- Ladder ball.
- Tabletop game board.
- Giant Jenga.
- Lawn Scrabble-style game.
- Lawn Twister.
- Balloon darts.
- DIY obstacle course.
- Yard bowling.
- Slip and slide.
- Squirt gun races.
- Outdoor movie night.
- Raised garden bed.
- Shaded activity spot.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.