Relaxing in your backyard or on your deck by a glowing fire pit, feet propped up, and a delicious beverage in hand, is the perfect way to spend an evening any time of the year. If you don’t have a fire pit, why not consider one?
Installing a gas fire pit adds ambiance to your outdoor decor and creates a cozy space for friends to gather. In this 2020 Buyer’s Guide, we’ll explore the different types of fire pits and recommend some specific products for you to consider.
Let's consider some of the differences between these two firepits to determine which is the best for you and your space.
Seven Questions to Ask Yourself
Pros and Cons
If you love having a campfire experience with popping embers, crackling logs, and the smell of burning wood, then a wood burning fire pit might be just the thing for you. However, you also have to consider the time it takes to start and clean up after a wood burning fire, as well as the price of wood, before buying.
If all the work of wood leaves you feeling overwhelmed, the convenience of a gas fire pit is probably pretty appealing. They don’t require clean up; they’re efficient and easy to start.
Gas fire pits also come in a variety of styles from classic to modern so you’re sure to find one that fits the ambiance of your outdoor space.
|Initial fire pit purchase is cheaper||Wood is more expensive than gas||Gas is cheaper and easier to store than wood||More expensive initial purchase|
|Real wood fires have aroma and crackling sounds||Real wood fires also produce irritating smoke||No irritating smoke, ash, or soot||No nice aroma and sounds|
|Wood fires have gorgeous glowing ember beds||Wood fires take a long time to start and stop||Variety of styles including simple pits and modern table top fires||Not all pits come with gas storage|
Fire Pit Styles
The style you choose will depend on your needs. If you want something to warm up both in the backyard and when you’re camping or tailgating, you’ll probably want to get a portable fire pit.
If you’re looking to expand your patio furniture collection, a fire table is a great way to do that. Many companies offer the table along with other matching furniture as a complete set.
A fire bowl is a great choice for a modern space. These bowls really stand out for a unique centerpiece to your space.
And, of course, you have the more traditional fire pit. These have the feel of a classic wood burning fire with all the ease and efficiency of gas.
Propane vs Natural Gas Fire Pits
Fire pits can run on either natural gas or liquid propane. Neither is decidedly better, cheaper, or safer than the other. Let’s consider some commonly asked questions so that you can make an informed buying decision.
Propane can be purchased from gas stations and home improvement stores all over the country. It’s purchased in tanks, and you do have to store this tank on your property. On the bright side, if you’re fire pit is portable, you can easily take the fuel with you.
Natural gas is not stored on your property. You have to attach a gas line to your fire pit, and gas will flow to the fire pit when you turn it on. You don’t have to go out and buy natural gas (a plus), but if you want to take your fire pit camping, you won’t be able to.
Natural gas is often slightly cheaper than propane, but this varies by location. However, propane is actually more efficient than natural gas. In the end, they come out about even.
If you want a more detailed analysis, check out this article by Anderson Fireplace.
Unfortunately, fire pits are not compatible with both natural gas and propane. You’ll need to decide one or the other.
You can get an adapter kit to switch your fireplace from propane to natural gas; however, this kit it not a pop-on, pop-off piece to be used whenever you like. It’s more of a permanent switch.
Natural gas does bur a bit cleaner than propane. It produces less soot and smoke, but the flames are less bright.
Natural gas is lighter than air. Should it leak (especially outdoors) it will quickly dissipate. This helps prevent accidental ignition.
Liquid propane is heavier than air. It sinks to the ground and stays. All propane burners have a pilot light that should stay lit at all times. Should the propane tank be left running or leak at some point, the pilot light will ignite the propane immediately, keeping it from collecting in dangerous quantities.
Do you have a natural gas line in your home already? If you don’t, it’s probably easier to just buy propane.
However, if you do have a natural gas line, it’s probably easier to run the gas line to the firepit than constantly filling up a propane tank.
Technically, propane can burn at hotter temperatures than natural gas. However, propane is released in smaller quantities than natural gas so they end up producing the same temperature fire.
It is important to look at the BTU output of the burner you buy. That will be the biggest factor in determining the heat of your fire.
Certain fire pits do have adapter kits that can be used to turn a propane pit into a natural gas pit (or vice versa). It’s important to read up on the specifics of your fireplace before purchasing a conversion kit.
Fire Pit Safety
First, take care of the area immediately surrounding the fire pit. While gas fires don’t have sparks, it’s still important to make sure that nothing around the fire pit will overheat.
Should gas leak and ignite, your grass, furniture, etc. could catch on fire. It’s a good idea to invest in a fire extinguisher nearby.
Additionally, you should always double check that the gas is completely sealed before turning your fire on and directly after turning it off. Keep your pilot lite running if you have one to safeguard against gas leaks.
DIY Gas Fire Pits
You have multiple levels of DIY when it comes to gas fire pits. You can purchase a kit with a burner pan, burner, hose, etc. or you can just purchase the burner set up.
As far as the frame, you can can create it from stone, concrete blocks, bricks, or even a wood-burning fire pit you already have. Take a look at this quick time-lapse video turning a wood burning fire pit into a gas one using a burner set up and burner pan.
When choosing a burner, look for one with staggered holes to create a more natural looking fire. (The burner is the metal tube with holes in it; the holes release the gas creating flames.) Burners should also be made of rust-resistant materials like aluminum or stainless steel.
If you want to purchase a burner pan as well, look for the shape that will best fit the type of fire pit you’re trying to create. The pans come in rectangular, square, and circular shapes.
There are a few things you want to watch out for if you create a DIY gas pit. These things ensure that your fire pit is safe to use.
First, it’s unsafe to DIY fire glass and lava rocks. The products that you can buy are heat-treated to ensure that they can withstand the direct heat of flames. Other, DIY materials, even regular rocks, can become unsafe at high temperatures and even explode.
Fire glass, lava rocks, fire balls, and faux logs are a great decorative touch to add to your fire pit. They help to hide the burner and really tie your DIY pit together.
Fire glass comes in a variety of colors and is a great heat conductor. However, your choice of medium should mainly be based on the ambiance you’re trying to create.
DIY Gas Fire Pits
The easiest way to build a gas fire pit is to purchase a DIY kit with all the materials included to do the project. Most of these type kits have a bowl shaped metal portion that you can install right into the fire pit enclosure. The enclosure can be made from stone, concrete blocks or pavers, or bricks.
Powder coated steel frames sometimes come with a gas fire pit DIY kit. You can buy cement board to attach to the frame and finish off the project by using brick or stone. You can install the burner and add filler such as lava rocks or fire glass pieces. Fire glass add a decorative touch and can be ordered in a variety of colors. The glass holds in and releases heat so more heat is generated than with the lava rocks.
Be sure to only use materials specially designed for use in your gas fire pit. For example, never use regular river rocks or stones since they could explode under high heat conditions, especially if they are holding any water. Make sure your burner works with whatever filler you choose according to manufacturer’s instructions. Whether you choose lava rocks, fire glass, porcelain fireballs or metal logs, find out if they are safe to use with your burner.
The burner on the fire pit is super important to understand. Burners look like a metal tube with holes in it that release the gas and create flames. The holes should be drilled and staggered to create a more natural looking fire. These burners come in many forms such as circular, square, ring-shaped and are made of materials that resist rust like aluminum or stainless steel.
Burner pans often come in DIY kits and are attached to the burner. These burner pans can be rectangular, square, trough-shaped, circular as well as many other varieties.
All gas fire pit burners have a control valve. This valve lets you control how much gas will flow to the burner. You might have other controls such as a safety pilot light an ignition switch, and an air mixer valve. Your gas fire pit could be match-lit, remote control lit or manually lit.
Propane fueled fire pits offer portability since the tank is attached similar to gas a grill. Burners sometimes have a conversion kit so you can switch over from liquid propane to natural gas or go from natural gas to propane. It’s a good idea to hire a professional to install the conversion parts.
Fire Pit Tables
Fire glass provides a sleek look for your fire pit. This type glass does a great job of distributing heat and it looks nice as well. Fire glass retains heat better than other types of fillers partly because of its smaller size. This is important because as the glass heats up, the flame reacts with the glass and produces a fire that’s warmer than with other fillers. Since the fire glass won’t melt or lose its color with the high heat of a fire, it’s a perfect choice especially since it’s so visually appealing. The small glass pieces come in a variety of colors so you can purchase a color to complement your outdoor space and decor. The flames reflect off the glass and gives off a pleasing aesthetic. Fire glass is perfect for any outdoor environment and provides a warm ambiance as soon as the fire is started. If you’re looking for a gas fire pit filler that has a modern look, give fire glass a try.
Lava rocks provide a natural look for your gas fireplace. Porous and filled with holes, these rocks come from natural lava. They are a great choice for a gas fire pit filler because they are lightweight and have a natural look. Most lava rocks come in earth tones and colors range from greys and tans to reddish tones. Some even come in dark blueish green. These type rocks provide less heat than fire glass but are usually the cheaper choice. They are larger than fire glass so they easily fill space which makes them visually appealing. Because of their ability to take up the entire space in the burner, the lava rocks provide a good medium for the fire and heat to be distributed evenly throughout the fire pit. Consider lava rocks if you’re looking for an inexpensive natural looking filler.
Creating the Best Outdoor Space for Your Gas Fire Pit
Your fire pit is ready to fire up, but what about the surrounding area? Whether it sits on a wooden deck or in a lush green yard, your fire pit area need a bit of consideration. Before family and friends can gather for an evening of fire pit fun, you need to think about where they’ll sit and what type atmosphere you want to create.
String Lights and Fire Pit Furniture
When deciding what style furniture you want to surround your fire pit, consider how much space you have as well as your home’s design. Then work around elements you already have. For example, if you have a stone wall, it might dictate the color of the furniture you choose. Think about whether your home is contemporary has more of a cottage vibe. Do you prefer chairs with cushions or more casual adirondack chairs? Add some ambiance with outdoor string lights and you have an instant party space.
Photo: David Tsay
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards
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