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Home Fire Pit Safety 101

Father and son at fire pit

Whether you’re an avid fire pit enthusiast or are looking to spruce up your backyard oasis, these fire pit safety tips and guidelines are essential for your next outdoor fire. They’ll help you make the most of your time around the portable pit, outdoor fireplace or chiminea.

Choosing the Right Pit for Your Yard

When you’re shopping for a fire pit for your yard, think about where you’ll place it and what you want to do with it. If you have a patio or large lawn, a built-in fire pit can be the focal point of your backyard. If you have a smaller space or wooden deck, a portable pit may be easier to work with. Either way, make sure your fire pit follows local ordinances and regulations.

Permanent vs. Portable

There are a few types of fire pits that you can get. Permanent fire pits are typically made out of bricks or other masonry. You can purchase a kit or have one custom made by a contractor. They’re built to stay in one place, and can even add value to your home. A portable fire pit is a freestanding table typically made of metal. Unlike permanent fire pits, you can store a portable pit, if needed.

Gas vs. Wood

The type of fuel your fire pit uses will also be an important consideration. Natural gas and propane offer the convenience of a fire on-demand, but need to be hooked up to a gas line. Gas fire pits are usually not safety rated for cooking. Wood-fired pits can be placed without needing to consider the gas line, but you’ll need a supply of firewood stored properly. You can also cook on a wood fire.

Safety Tips

Before you start a fire, take a few minutes to learn the basics of backyard fire pit safety.

Watch What You Wear

Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing or anything that’s flammable, such as nylon. The space around your fire pit can get hotter than expected, so it’s best to wear clothes that can’t accidentally catch on fire. Avoid using blankets or flammable materials on your chairs, as well.

Place It in the Right Spot

A big part of fire pit safety involves where you place it. If you have a portable fire pit, set it up at least 10 feet away from your house, trees and anything flammable. Just the heat from your fire pit can damage wood and vinyl siding, or potentially cause them to catch fire. Keeping your pit a safe distance from other objects will also help protect your house and structures in case a fire gets out of control. You should also keep chairs at least two feet away from the fire pit.

Never stand a fire pit directly on a wooden deck or grass lawn. In addition, never position a fire pit underneath awnings, umbrella or trees, as they can become damaged from the heat and smoke or even ignite.

Instead, place your pit on a fire pit pad, even if you’re already on a level stone, concrete or brick surface. While these surfaces may not be flammable, sparks and embers can still leave marks or damage them. And it’s always a good idea to use your fire pit’s stand.

Design a Child-Safe Fire Pit 

To keep young children and pets at a safe distance, surround the pit with a child safety fence. Set the fence up so it will protect them from the fire in case the wind picks up. Watch out for smoke too. Any smoke is bad to breathe in, especially for small children and animals.

Burn Good Wood

Try to burn dry hardwood that was cut at least six months before use. Examples include maple, oak and hickory. Hardwoods are denser than softwoods such as cedar and pine, so they tend to burn longer, cleaner and create less smoke. You’ll want logs that are no longer than three-quarters of the pit’s diameter to minimize sparks.

It may be tempting to use packaging or scrap wood you have lying around, but this is a bad idea. Construction lumber is often processed with chemicals that can be toxic when burned, making it unsuitable for a fire pit. It can also contain screws, nails and other things that pose additional risks.

Use the Right Tools

Use fireplace tongs and a poker to maneuver wood into the flames. Never use your bare hands and never toss or drop in logs. If your fire pit has a screen, be sure to use it.

Start Safely

Forget about using lighter fluids, gas, kerosene or other like products to start a fire. These substances release carcinogens when burned, and can impart nasty flavors into food if you’re cooking. Use safer alternatives, such as a fire starter designed for campfires.

Keep It Small

There’s no need for a blazing bonfire. In fact, your city or town may have ordinances against them. A larger fire will be more difficult to control and put out when it’s time to clean up. Even a small fire can quickly get out of control, so make sure you keep a fire extinguisher, fire blanket, garden hose or bucket of water close by. Put simply, always be ready to put your fire out.

Stop Safely

Properly extinguish flames by spreading the ashes around the pit with your poker. Then, pour water over the ashes. Turn the logs over and douse them with water again. Make absolutely certain it is completely out and never leave a pit smoldering overnight. If you have a gas fire pit, close the fuel line valves when you’re done for the night.

Keep It Clean

Clean your fire pit after you use it and keep it clean. Wait until the pit has cooled down enough before you dispose of the ashes. If you have a gas fire pit, make sure the burner elements and fire media are clean.

When it’s not in use, cover the pit to protect it from rain, sunlight and critters. Give your pit a good cleaning and drying before setting the cover on it. Protecting your fire pit from the elements is one of the best things you can to keep enjoying it season after season.

Be Smart at All Times

A fire of any size demands serious fire pit safety precautions, especially if it’s your first time using a fire pit. Always follow the safety warnings in your fire pit owner’s manual, and never leave your fire unattended, even for a minute. Finally, only burn materials recommended by the manufacturer or ones considered non-hazardous, and if your fire pit isn’t designed for cooking, don’t cook on it.

Does My Homeowners Insurance Cover My Fire Pit?

Whether or not your fire pit is covered depends on the type of fire pit you have. Permanent fire pits that are detached from your house may be covered under your Other Structures coverage. Portable fire pits, on the other hand, may be considered a personal belonging and therefore may be covered by your Personal Property coverage.

You should also review your home policy’s liability coverage. If a guest is injured by your fire pit, and you’re found legally responsible, this coverage may help pay for their medical bills. It could also cover repairs if flames damage your neighbor’s property.

Either way, it’s never a bad idea to notify your insurer of your fire pit. Your insurance company can answer any questions you have.