Creating a backyard fire pit

Affordable Fire Pit

by Shaunna Privratsky

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The sweltering days of summer are giving way to the cooling temperatures of fall. What could be more enjoyable than gathering around your backyard fire pit with family and friends? Besides chasing away the chill, fire pits create a focal point in your yard and can add significant resale value to your home.

The popularity of fire pits have exploded in the last couple of years. Entire businesses devote their time and expertise to building custom fire pits. Unfortunately, the prices have steadily risen as well. You could spend a fortune or you could go the frugal route like I did and create a safe, fun spot to bring everyone together.

First, make sure fire pits are allowed in your city. You can check online with the Chamber of Commerce or local law enforcement. Then follow any specific guidelines to the letter. As with any fire related activity, safety and obeying the law come first.

Start by picking an open spot in your yard. It should be far enough away from buildings, fences, trees, shrubs, or overhanging branches. Create a flat surface that won't burn like hard-packed earth, gravel, pavers, or bricks.

One of the cheapest ways to create a fire pit is digging a shallow hole, and then lining it with concrete blocks with the holes pointing up. The blocks are very inexpensive at home improvement stores, and create a solid circle to keep the fire contained.

Another fairly inexpensive choice is a metal bowl on legs with a fire screen that fits over it. You can by a small one at Walmart for $30, or pay a bit more for larger or fancier models. These are very easy to set up and maintain. Make sure you have a long-handled tool to lift the lid off when you are adding wood to the fire, so you don't get burned.

You can also create your own custom fire pit from bricks. Menards sells plans that make it as easy as following a diagram, complete with a materials sheet so you buy exactly what you need. A basic fire pit runs $109, while a more elaborate one with a chimney is closer to $300. This is a more permanent fixture in your yard, so decide if it is something you want to live with for many years.

Once you have your fire pit, gather some chairs or benches around. Have a large bucket of water handy and access to a hose. It's better to be over-prepared than have a tragedy. Place a large amount of various sizes of firewood nearby, so you won't be stumbling around in the dark. It is also helpful to have one or two flashlights or lanterns handy.

Start with small twigs and maybe some balls of newspaper. Place medium sized sticks in a tee-pee shape and then light the fire from below. Never add gas or accelerant. Once the sticks are burning, add bigger sized wood pieces. Larger chunks will burn longer and create good coals for roasting marshmallows.

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A great place to find free firewood could be your own yard. Save any sticks or branches in a dry area and cover with a tarp. Also, watch for trees being cut down in your neighborhood; often the wood is just hauled away to the landfill and can be had for free.

You can also use up the old scraps from wood-working projects. Just be sure the wood isn't treated with harmful chemicals. Don't burn plastic or Styrofoam items, as they will give off toxic fumes. Wait until the next day to clean out the fire pit, so the ashes will be completely cold and safe to handle.

Here is a trick to create changing colors in the flames. Put a piece of old garden hose inside a chunk of copper tubing and toss into the fire. As the rubber burns, it makes the flames turn blue, green, yellow, orange and purple! Fish the copper tube out the next day after all the embers are cooled, and it will be ready for the next fire. Just add another length of hose. Copper tubing can be bought at home improvement stores for just a couple of dollars.

Note: Do NOT roast marshmallows or use the fire for anything when burning rubber and stay far enough away to not breathe in the fumes.

Sitting around a fire is a great way to spend a cool fall evening. So when the days start cooling off, use these tips and your fire pit will bring the warmth of sharing past memories while you create new ones.

Shaunna Privratsky is an expert in personal finance. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

Take the Next Step

  • Once the firepit is complete, use these tips to find some outdoor furniture on the cheap.
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