Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Creative (and Safe) Backyard Fires

So I've been wanting to build a fire pit in my backyard for some time now. There is nothing like the smell of a wood-burning camp fire, people gathering to chat, sing, roast marshmallows and hot dogs -- or just hanging out alone and tending the fire.

Mid-summer, I purchased some lovely blocks from a yard sale and my sweet husband hauled them home. This last weekend, I began the process -- but not before gaining a little wisdom. This post is about my learning and experiences.

My friend, Dianne, tells me:
  • Build the fire pit 15 feet away from any permanent structure (house, garage, shed, deck, fence, trees, bushes, etc.) I interpret that to mean "15 feet away from anything you'd really hate to see go up in smoke." Seems pretty straightforward.
  • Never plan your fire pit below any kind of power/phone line.
  • Call the City! Your city of residence usually provides the guidelines for building a fire on your property. A permit is usually required in urban areas.

The parameters I was given by my City of Robbinsdale were:
  • The fire pit must be a maximum of 3 feet above ground.
  • The fire pit must be at least 1 foot below ground
  • The fire pit must be no more than 3 feet in diameter
  • A $25/yr. permit fee is required for unlimited recreational fires until December 31st of the year I take out the permit.

Some Safety and Common Sense:
Dad says:
  • If I reinforce with any kind of stone, make sure it would be the kind that won't crack with the fire's heat. I hadn't thought of this when I got my blue granite block. He thinks this kind is okay.

Learning while I go:
  • Reinforcements, reinforcements, reinforcements. I dug the hole on Sunday and it's rained since. The walls are caving in. (It's okay because I need to dig wider to put in the reinforcing stone.)
  • I dug my hole about 2 feet deep and found that the flames were still tall enough to lick the surrounding grass (made me a little skittish), so I quickly stacked 2 layers of block (approx 1 foot) around the hole. Now I really understand that 3 feet minimum above ground parameter the city gave me!
  • If you live in a neighborhood with mature trees, plan to pair you shovel with an axe or hatchet. There will probably be roots. I ran into a tree root the circumference of my upper arm.

Materials & Resources that can be helpful:
  • You can buy a big metal ring designed for this sort of project at Menards. Has some crazy cut out pattern with caribou or something. (Not quite my style, but hey -- it's there.)
  • DIY Network has some step-by-step plans to building a fire pit, including measuring, preping, setting stone and placing capstones.
  • The Firepit and Grilling Guru offers some alternatives for fire pits based on what you plan to use your recreational fire for -- plus info about charcoal and firewood.

Alternatives to Fire Pits are:
  • Chimineas (below left)-- romantic styles (Granite Falls, MN), and traditional styles. They sell traditional ones up in Elk River, MN at a really neat yard shop.
  • Patio Fire Pits (below middle)-- an above ground fire ring.
  • Fancy Stuff (below right)-- or you can do something artistic and custom (and a bit more expensive) with gas technologies and tempered glass. My friend Jeff Grundtner designs these.
  • And more ideas...

Inexpensive Solutions: (You'd just need someone with a truck.)
  • You can get nice rocks free from farmers who want them out of their field in the spring.
  • You can get block from demolition sites. They have to pay to haul it away.
  • Construction companies usually order more product than they need for a project. Some sell the leftovers at cost or simply give it away because they generally aren't interested in warehousing.

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