Home: Fire pits spread the warmth

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 27, 2015

By Rebecca Rider

For the Salisbury Post

As the weather cools off, people start craving a little bit of warmth. Fall bonfires are lit and roasted marshmallows are in. With a little forethought, you can avoid the mess of a full bonfire and have a nice, cozy blaze to cuddle up to on chilly nights.

More and more people are turning to fire pits for their outdoor fires.  Small, practical, self-contained, and easy to clean, it’s not hard to see why this trend is catching.

Dave Collins of Distinctive Naturescapes in Salisbury first noticed the popularity of fire pits five or six years ago, when requests for these little extensions of hearth and home came pouring in.

So what’s the draw? One is convenience.

Adding something as simple as a fire pit to your yard can transform it into an area that can be used year round — not just during warm summer months. With a fire pit you can warm up on a spring evening, roast hotdogs in the summer, and tell ghost stories in the fall.

You can even use them in winter if you don’t mind the cold, or want to invest in some outdoor heaters to make things a bit more comfortable.

Collins believes that a yard can be much more than a place for green grass and flowers. With a little work and planning, he says, it can be an extension of the home.

People are transforming their backyards into outdoor rooms — a place where you can enjoy being outside without leaving the comfort of home. It can be as simple as a patio with comfortable chairs, or as modern as a full-service outdoor kitchen, complete with running water, or a comfortable couch with a movie screen.

“It’s an entertaining area,” Collins said.

And a fire pit is an inexpensive addition to a pre-existing patio, or a good starting point if you’re thinking about expanding into your back yard.

A quick internet search on the subject will yield everything from DIY tips to photos of some truly elaborate set-ups. A fire pit can be as simple or as intricate as you’d like. The only limit is your creativity.

There are some standards, however. Typically, they’re small, only three or four feet in diameter — just large enough to get the feel of a fire and burning logs, but not an October bonfire.

As for building materials, stone, masonry or some other inflammable material is best. While metals like steel and copper are popular, Collins says he doesn’t recommend them because they get too heated. And the last thing any get-together needs is a burn wound.

If you want to go the inexpensive route, fire bowls or moveable pits like you’d find at a campground are relatively cheap. But watch out for that metal. If you want it made from stone, building one yourself isn’t too difficult — just decide if you want it set into the ground or above it. There is a lot of heavy lifting involved, however, so make sure you have a strong back.

And be careful of placement. Collins says you’ll want to set a fire pit at least 10 feet away from your house, and to make sure it’s not under any overhanging branches. You’ll also want to pick an area with room for chairs or a seat wall. While they’re simple to install yourself, it may still be a good idea to consult a professional.

A fire pit can burn anything from wood to charcoal to piped-in natural gas — it all depends on how much money you’d like to put in. If you go the pricier route with gas or propane, you may be interested in lining the bottom of your pit with glass or lava rocks for some spectacular effects.

When investing in a fire pit, it’s also a good idea to consider how long you’re planning on staying at your current residence. While some people may find an already constructed fire pit a bonus when house shopping, you may not want to put a lot of money into something you’ll be leaving in a few years and may decide a portable pit is best for you.

And remember to practice fire safety. Delay your s’mores party in drought and high wind, and always keep a bucket of water nearby.

Collins has taken the concept of an outdoor room to heart in his own yard. It’s a warm place, with comfortable seating, a grill and a counter, a roof of trees, and a fire for gatherings. It’s a home away from home. Collins has traveled the world, but he says that when he stands on his patio with a glass of wine, he just wants to stay where he is, in the home he’s built for himself.

“It makes all of this worthwhile,” he said.