Installing Gas Fire Pits – What You Need to Know

The unofficial end of summer, Labor Day, has come and gone, and the weather is slowly transitioning from muggy and sweltering to cool and crisp.  Those of us who have hunkered down indoors for the past months due to mosquitoes, heat intolerance, or health concerns are anticipating those temperate fall days when we can go apple picking and host backyard get-togethers without worrying about bug bites, heat indexes, and poor air quality days.  There’s something magical about gathering around a bonfire to roast marshmallows or simply enjoy each other’s company, especially on a cozy autumn evening. 

But perhaps your old faithful firepit is looking a little drab these days, or the smoke from the burning logs triggers a family member’s allergies or asthma, or sometimes you simply find starting and tending the fire more effort than it’s worth.  How can you enjoy the nostalgic campfire warmth and flames without all the hassle?  Here at Woodward, we offer a great solution: gas inserts for fire pits.  There are all sorts of options, from pre-assembled kits to custom designs; we’ll go over some of the considerations and characteristics shared by all gas-fueled fire pits.

Where you plan to place your firepit can influence design factors such as its maximum size.
Where you plan to place your firepit can influence design factors such as its maximum size.

Location, Location, Location

Before you dive into ordering parts and hiring contractors, you’ll want to iron out a few details, with an important decision being the placement of the firepit on your property.  While some smaller fire pits can be portable for uses like camping, the fire pits we’re discussing here are larger, more permanent features, so you’ll want to give it some careful thought.

Some factors to consider:

  • Size: This can vary to some degree depending on your space and personal tastes, but the typical fire pits we see are four to five feet in width and/or length.
  • Clearance: A good rule of thumb is to allow for at least six feet of space on all sides of the fire pit.  This should be enough clearance to safely operate the pit without worrying about sheds, shrubs, or other potentially flammable parts of your yard catching fire.  However, it’s always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s guidelines in case the set-up you’re considering has different space requirements.
  • Surface: aka, what will the fire pit be resting on?  As this fire pit is intended to be in one place for a while (if not permanently), you’ll want to select a stable and level surface to support it.  Something like a stone or concrete patio is a great option.  If you’re looking to enjoy your fire pit on a wooden deck or grassy area, you’ll want to construct a fireproof base to prevent the deck or lawn from catching fire.  Hardscaping materials such as gravel, stone, or concrete pavers can be used to build this platform.
  • Weight: Depending on the size and composition of the pit, weights can range up to a half ton!  This is an important element to evaluate, particularly if you’ve chosen a deck as your fire pit’s home – you’ll want to confirm that it’s stable and strong enough to handle the additional load.  If you’re unsure, consult with an expert; they may be able to recommend and/or implement some reinforcements to make your deck fire pit-ready.
  • Fuel Source: There are two main types of fuel for non-wood-burning fire pits: natural gas and propane. 
    • Natural gas is the cleaner option, both in terms of less residue and in that there’s no tank to deal with.  This approach does involve connecting the fire pit to your home’s natural gas supply, so if your house is not currently set up with a natural gas utility (i.e., your stove, heating, and/or dryer are all powered by electricity), this may not be the ideal move for you.  If you decide on this route, we strongly encourage you to involve a professional in the process.  After all, natural gas is highly combustible, and long-term exposure due to leaks or faulty installations can potentially lead to health complications.
    • Propane is a bit dirtier in that it leaves some sooty residue on the fire pit media.  This option also requires some planning as to how housing the propane tank fits in with the overall fire pit design.  On the other hand, propane isn’t tied to your home’s gas supply, which may give you more flexibility in your fire pit’s location.  Propane tanks come in a variety of sizes, and if you already have one on hand (ex. as fuel for an emergency generator), you may be able to use it for your fire pit as well.

Gas fire pits come in all shapes and sizes, from a traditional stone enclosure to this modern bowl design.
Gas fire pits come in all shapes and sizes, from a traditional stone enclosure to this modern bowl design.

Design Options for Gas Fire Pits

As we mentioned earlier, there are countless ways to customize your fire pit to mesh with your outdoor space.  Let’s look at some of the main elements to contemplate:

  • The Basic Building Blocks: Whether you’re working from a kit or building from scratch, there are five main components common to all gas fire pits: a plate or burner pan to hold the ensemble, a burner, a connection to the gas source, an ignition, and the media.
  • The Ignition: Your options here include manual (aka match-lit), push button, and electric/automatic.  Electric options can be the simplest to operate, but keep in mind that they also tend to be the most expensive and, in our experience, most likely to need maintenance over time.
  • The Media: This is the most visible element of your fire pit, so use it to show off your personal sense of style!  Your main choice here is whether to use lava rock or glass. 
    • While lava rock can come in a variety of hues, the most common colors are black and red.  It may not have as wide a palette as glass, but lava rock is significantly more affordable than its counterpart.
    • Typically more expensive than lava rocks, fire glass gives you nearly infinite options.  Beyond colors (you don’t have to limit yourself to one!), you can choose from reflective vs. non-reflective, different sizes, different shapes… the list goes on and on.  Swing by our store to see what we have in stock, or peruse Pinterest or Google Image Search for inspiration.

The contrast between the blue glass and the copper fire pit makes for an eye-catching display
The contrast between the blue glass and the copper fire pit makes for an eye-catching display

We hope this post has given you some food for thought and some ideas to get started on your own gas fire pit project.  For further reading on this subject, check out our other blog posts about fire pits.  If you’re ready to take the plunge and want some additional guidance, reach out to your local landscaping contractor or feel free to reach out to us – we’re happy to help!

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