Fire Pits -- trendy danger?

violetwestJune 30, 2013

Fire pits, portable, built in, or otherwise, are everywhere in garden and landscape design photos and plans. Many of them are very creative, and seem inviting. However, I have several concerns about them. Do my thoughts match yours (probably not!)

--Many areas of the county, including mine, are experiencing extreme drought and have outdoor burn bans in place. This makes these things pretty useless, no?

--I was severely burned as a child, and I cringe when I see these things laying out in the open, so shallow anyone could fall right in-- a child, a drunk party guest -- is no one considering this?

--and finally, are they just a trend which will be junked in 20 years?

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Hi Violet,
I have a confession, I'm a conflicted landscape deziner. I am often asked to design fire pits but I actually dislike them ( well , at least the wood burning ones ).

Fortunately I live in an area ( northern california) that embraces clean air ordinances so when designing I have to comply with the law and specify clean burning gas "appliances" ( that's their legal title here in California) - this alleviates a lot of guilt on my part because I am a huge proponent of clean air. ( me with having just one lung and all. )

But I get your smokey drift .. and we share another burning issue, I too was burned as a kid so I always design with safety in mind.

And finally do I think they are a trend ? ... unfortuately not. I think the 'styling' of them can be trendy, but the truth is people love a roaring fire, its primordial, - a fundamental part of our existence.

So I empathize with ya.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:23AM
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ah, nice response, thank you!

While I agree and understand that fire is a "primordial" need-- having open flames in the middle of a family garden probably isn't.

I think our burn ban here (I live on the border of Texas and New Mexico . . . and Old Mexico!) is primarily due to fire safety concerns, and secondarily air quality.

I never thought of having a gas "appliance" -- I guess it provides heat and warmth, but you don't get the good smell. And I don't think you can roast marshmallows over that kind of thing, can you?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 11:42AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I find the firepit thing odd too - for all the reasons you mention, plus they just don't seem to be popular here. I've never seen one in a garden here. Perhaps it's a regional thing that hasn't reached this particular part of Canada.... I wonder if other parts of Canada use them or if it's just an American trend?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 12:37PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

You can roast marshmallows over a gas powered fire pit.
The gooey sugar that drops into the pit will eventually burn to dust or it can carmalize on the top stones or glass.
I've never had one clog a flame ring or bar.

Interesting that you mention the 'good smell'. When I smell smoke I cringe in disgust and try to get as far away as possible. I know if you can smell it then there is carcinogenic particulate matter in the air and that's the tiny stuff that gets into your lungs and causes all kinds of health issues ranging from asthma, lung disease and heart disease.

Interestingly, from a design perspective, most people who ask for a fire pit want one that is easy to operate ( a turn of a handle ) and they don't want to smell like a camp fire when they turn the thing off.
- I put a wood burning fire pit in for a family with 5 kids and a year later they asked to have it converted to gas because she had to bathe the kids to get the smell of smoke out before going to bed .

Woody, I think the fire pit thing is popular in certain locations due to climate and probably even affluence has an impact.
Here in Cal. we have pleasantly cool evening temperatures and few mosquitoes which makes sipping a bottle of Napa Chard around a fire an enjoyable event so they have been pretty common around here for ages.
* Google what is happening in Southern Cal regarding their beloved beach fires. A current HOT topic ... the mayor of one beach town is saying " that fire pits are a part of our California heritage".

photo - a gas fired pit with metal sculpture - Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe CA.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 1:31PM
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great photo. I have seen many, many pictures of really great looking and inviting fire pits. Maybe it is a Western thing -- dunno.

interesting comments about the smell -- will have to think about that.

I live on the Mexican border. The air quality here isn't great to begin with, because there is very little air quality control over there and it affects our town. Also, there's a certain area where the main freeway goes past very close to Mexico, and there must be kind of a bowl or depression, because in the winter it's kind of hazy and smoke smelling -- because the people living right there on the other side are burning wood -- for heat. I know that's a separate issue, but it really makes me feel for them, knowing they have no central heating (and it gets fairly cold here sometimes) and having to rely on "primitive" fuel sources to survive.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:13PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

As far as fire pits and children -- it's the same as pools and children -- the responsible adult must teach the children safety and be present to supervise and be sure no one gets hurt.

On family camping trips, my dad taught me to split wood with a hatchet, how to start the fire and tend it, and how to put it out at the end of the night. And I loved it! But now as an adult, I dislike the smoke in my hair and clothes, and the smell of a firepit -- so stinky!

When house hunting this spring, the home I eventually bought had a really inviting back patio with a sunshade stretched high over a slate fire-pit table and four chairs with cushions. Once those items left with the former owners, I had that inner debate whether to replicate the look, but decided against it. Yes, it was a very attractive look, but my personal use of the patio will be different. "Trend" or not, a pleasant setting for outdoor dining will be my choice. The small lidded barbecue can be off in the corner; fire will not be the main event.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:15PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

A fire pit can make the sitting area look more inviting-and trigger memories of sitting-around-the-fire, laughing and telling stories, even if the fire is not lit. Imagine the area in deviant-deziner's photo (which is beautiful, by the way) without the fire pit. It becomes just a fancy bench. The water feature isn't prominent enough, in this case, to replace the fire pit's welcome. The fire pit draws you in, making guests want to gather there. Even unused, the structure can be a sculptural piece of the hardscape. It is no less useful visually than sculptures or other artistic elements in the garden. Not everyone goes for the roaring bonfire in their fire pit. At night, a small flame, or even just glowing embers, can add to the ambiance in the same way candles, and other soft lighting sources, do.

This post was edited by Gyr_Falcon on Mon, Jul 1, 13 at 15:28

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:27PM
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Lurker here, wanted to point out the bane fire pits can be to neighbors. Big box cheap portable fire pits and chimneas are becoming increasingly popular in my area much to my disappointment. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy the gorgeous stone pit my daughter built for her husband, but she is on acreage, away from any neighbors. I live in a neighborhood of closely built homes, and when the former next door neighbor fired up their chimnea even though there is a garage between us, the smoke would rise and blow into my second story windows, eventually smelling up the first floor. It was so frustrating and made breathing uncomfortable!! I would be forced to have to shut my windows. I can also see the concern over open outdoor burning in dry areas.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 10:55AM
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Our cat gets the most use out of our fire pit. He likes to sleep on the stone rim after it has been baked in the sun all day. Basically we find it's like the indoor wood burning fireplace; pretty, but rarely used. Most localities have codes governing the location and usage of the thing.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 1:00PM
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