Fire Pits Expand Outdoor Living

A gas-fueled fire put surrounded by comfortable seating makes for an excellent focal point for an impromptu evening get together.

A gas-fueled fire put surrounded by comfortable seating makes for an excellent focal point for an impromptu evening get together.

The mystique of an open flame has attracted people for centuries and fire pits in backyard living spaces are welcomed additions. Patio design plans regularly incorporate a fire pit into a Madison WI backyard. Today, a fire pit can be little more than a glorified camp fire or an elaborate installation. The term fire pit often refers to an elegant “fire feature.”

Curb appeal is a well-known consideration but the appeal of what’s not visible from the curb is often even more important. Outdoor living spaces are important in Southern Wisconsin and welcoming patio design including the lure of a fire is growing in popularity. Landscape – both greenery and hardscape – has risen quickly in the ranks of home improvements with top return on investment. A recent national study showed that homeowners regularly claim as much as a 78% return on their investment in a fire pit.

Choosing Fire Pits

A backyard fire pit has no standard size. Sizes, shapes and design styles – from an old-fashioned campfire look to sophisticated stone and paver creations – are dependent upon how they fit into your lifestyle, patio design and budget.

Beyond the surrounding framing materials and design elements, fire pits are distinguished by their fuel source. There are wood-burning installations and gas-burning fire features. Wood-burning pits use standard split firewood logs. Gas-burning fire features are fueled by liquid propane or, in some cases, natural gas. Virtually any fire pit can be converted to use gas in the future.

Which choice is best for your outdoor living style? Consider the following comparisons:

  • Available Fuel – Firewood may not be readily available in Madison WI or surrounding suburbs, but it can be purchased from various sources. Propane tanks used in gas grills are available from dozens of local sources.

  • Fuel Storage – Small tanks of propane are easy to store and storage is usually built into gas-fueled fire pits. Wood needs to be stored safely away from buildings to avoid a pest problem and kept dry.

  • Convenience – Switching out a bottle of propane takes a few minutes and starting a gas fire requires turning on the source and igniting the gas (often flipping a switch). With firewood you have to stack it correctly, provide kindling and a flame. Gas is clean with no cleanup. Wood leaves bark, etc. and has ashes to dispose of.

  • Safety Hazards – With gas there’s always potential for a leak – very rare when fire pits are installed by licensed professionals. With wood there are sparks and hot ashes to contend with.

  • ‘Green’ Considerations – Wood is a renewable resource. Propane isn’t. Propane is clean-burning while firewood produces smoke that can irritate allergy and asthma sufferers.

TIP FROM A PRO — Always be a good neighbor – when deciding on what kind of fire pit you want and where to put it, keep in mind that smoke is an irritant and try to keep smoke from blowing into your neighbor’s windows, etc. — a prime reason to consider a gas fire.

 Breaking Down Pros vs. Cons

Unique styling brings the “campfire” appeal home in this custom fire pit.

Unique styling brings the “campfire” appeal home in this custom fire pit.

As with every element of a patio design, fire pit styles have their advantages and disadvantages. Some designs include a space for a portable fire pit, while others include permanent installations as part of a hardscape creation.  Each has its benefits.

Before embarking on a project to add fire features of any kind, check with local building codes. In most of Dane County the law requires that fire pits must be no closer to a structure than 17 feet. A hardscape installation professional will retrieve all the vital permits required and abide by all the appropriate zoning laws.

Wood-burning fire pit positive points include:

  • Usually “budget-friendly” installation

  • Fast, simple installation

  • Require no special connections from a licensed tradesman

  • Capable of large fires

  • Provide the sensual appeal – smell and sound

  • Create a nostalgic look and feel

  • Have an interactive component – wood needs replenishing, etc.

One the negative side:

  • Firewood isn’t readily available to most urban residents

  • Firewood can be expensive to buy

  • You need a place to safely store your wood supply

  • Getting started takes work – gather wood, build the appropriate structure and start the fire

  • A wood-fueled fire needs to be attended – to keep it going

  • Sparks and ashes must be monitored and removed

  • Blowing smoke can be uncomfortable and a health hazard

  • The smell of wood smoke clings to clothing

  • Must be actively monitored even when it is “out”

 The benefits of gas-fueled fire pits include:

  • Quick, easy to light

  • Equally quick and easy to shut down

  • Clean burning – no ash and now smoke

  • Even flame

  • No odor on clothing or in the air

  • No clean up

  • Fuel is readily available in urban areas

  • Fuel canisters are easy to store and replace

  • Environmentally friendly

  • No lingering fire hazards

There are drawbacks to a gas-fueled fire, including:

  • There’s a danger of a gas leak

  • Propane tanks can run to empty in the middle of a fire – no “tossing another log on”

  • Initial installation usually takes longer, costs more than a wood-burning equivalent

  • Fires are smaller, less dynamic

 Extra Touches for Fire Pits

To enhance the ambiance around an open fire, your patio design can include outside lighting. Low-voltage lighting provides natural-looking illumination for pathways and seating areas – subtle enough to blend with the campfire mood.

The sound of a water feature can complete the “up north” appeal, too. Add Adirondack-style chairs and you’re “at the cabin” on your backyard.

Professionals Understand the Options

To expand your backyard experience with a new patio design, Call Proscapes LLC today and review all your exciting landscape options. Proscapes LLC creates and maintains outdoor living spaces in Madison WI and throughout South Central Wisconsin.

Contact us at (608) 244-6464 or email us to expand your patio design using fire pits in Madison WI.

Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association