Fire pits are a great addition to your backyard landscape. While there are above ground fire bowls you can buy to sit on your stone patios, it is very easy to build your own in another part of your yard, or just off your hardscape areas.
Before you get started doing anything, you need to check with your local city codes to make sure that it is legal to build this type of pit. If you live in non-urban areas, this should not be an issue, but some municipalities in densely populated areas have restrictions or prohibit them outright.
Once you have verified that you can legally build a small fire pit, you need to select the right location. Decide what you want to use it for before you look for a location. Does it need to be located near a sitting area near your home, or will it be a separate feature in another more remote part of your yard, perhaps near a rock garden or water feature such as an outdoor pond.
When deciding upon a location, you need to select an area that is flat and far enough away from your home and landscaping so as not to pose a fire hazard. You also do not want it to close to the house because smoke may enter when doors are opened.
Furthermore, you need to consider where the utilities run on your property. If you are not sure, call 811 to have someone come out and mark their path with orange spray paint and sticky flags.
Choosing Concrete Pavers or Natural Stone for Fire Pit
When choosing the type of stone or concrete that you want to line the pit, you need to verify that the stone is rated for fire. Certain types of concrete pavers will pop and break apart when they get extremely hot.
Make sure that the type you place within the bottom of the pit and around the sides are able to stand the kind of heat that occurs within a fire that has been burning for several hours.
Build your DIY Fire Pit
For this discussion, I will first describe the process to build a round pit with a diameter of three feet below ground. This is a much less formal option and less expensive to build because it requires less stone and no fire pit insert.
Then I will discuss a different option that allows you to build and above grade fire pit that can sit on existing hardscapes with a fireplace insert. The best part about that option is that it much less digging.
Depending on the type of pit you have decided to build or the location, generally speaking you should not exceed three feet in diameter.
Below Ground Fire Pit
Once you have decided where you want to build it, you need to create a layout of the area using landscaper’s spray paint (landscaper’s spray paint allows you to spray with the can turned upside down), or if you want to go really low tech, a rubber hose.
Excavating the Area
First, dig down in a circle to a depth of about one foot. Your pit will not be this deep when it is finished, but we need to go that deep to allow for the stone linings that will form the bottom.
Once you have dug the hole out to your satisfaction and all of the sides are flush, pour 6 inches of pea gravel into the bottom of the hole and tamp it down lightly. The rest of your floor base will rest on this pea gravel. It will also allow for proper drainage. The last thing you want is to end up with a fire pit full of water every time it rains.
Depending on whether you are going for a modern look to blend in with your hardscapes or a natural look, you can begin to line the sides of the pit with the stone of your choice.
However, before you start to stack any stones along the sides, or lay any pavers across the bottom to form a base, pour several inches of sand over the pea gravel. This will aid in drainage also, but more importantly, it will allow you to level or sit your stones and pavers evenly.
Now dry stack the pavers/rocks in place along the bottom and sides. You do not want to use mortar when stacking these stones because the hit within the fire will cause it to break down and crack.
Keep stacking a round of stones up the sides of the wall until you are about 6 inches above the ground.
Now you have a below ground fire pit that is protected from wind gusts.
Periodically, you will need to clean out the fire pit and pull up the bottom pavers to apply more pea gravel especially if it starts to drain slowly after heavy rain. With time, pea gravel slips down into the soil without landscaping fabric, underneath it, but it is not advised to use that with a fire pit even if it is installed underneath the paver bottom.
Above Ground Fire Pit with Insert
For this option, you will need a lot more stone since the entire pit will be above ground. Typically you see these types of elegant fire pits around professionally designed hardscapes.
For this discussion, I will talk about the process to build a fire pit within a patio made of landscapers pavers.
First, you will need to remove a round circle of pavers so that you can dig down about 6 inches. Yes, it will not be a perfect circle because pavers are not circular. Once you have your fire pit in place, you will have to go back and cut some of those pavers you took off to fill in the gaps.
The reason you want to go down into the ground a bit is because it gives the structure more stability. For this example, we are going to be stacking 4 rows of large paver blocks in a circle so we need that solid base.
Wall block and pavers come is difference sized and styles. Some have an interlocking lip on the bottom but these are used for retaining walls. Avoid those. You want to get the stackable kind.
To get started, dig down about 6 inches inside the area where you removed the pavers on your hardscape patio. Pour in a paver base such as fine sand and tamp it down until it is compacted.
Start with the first course of blocks making sure each is level. If a series of blocks in the circle start to get out of level, add more sand underneath, or lightly tap with a rubber mallet. It is important that the entire row is level.
Beginning with the second row, stagger the seams so that they are not all vertical. That will destroy the look of the fire pit as well as weaken it structurally. Use a small amount of a concrete rated adhesive on the top of each row of blocks. As you add several blocks, check for level. As you finish a course all the way around, use a 4 foot level to check for level from several sides all the way across.
Once you have arrived at the fourth and final row, simply lay the fire pit in place on top. It will hold itself in place by its weight. There is no need to secure it.
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If you really don’t want to construct anything or put a lot less money into this type of venture, you can always go with a simply above ground fire pit.
Actually, they are more like fire stands because the sit off the ground on legs and can provide the same experience at much less cost.
If you find that you are using the fire pit a lot and would like to incorporate a permanent design into your hardscape or other area of your property, then DIY fire pits are relatively simple to build and can last for decades if constructed properly.
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