Improve your outdoor space with a DIY fire pit

Home Sweet Home is presented by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission

Creating an outdoor living space is more than a trend. It provides a place to spend time outdoors with family and friends, and the money spent will likely increase the value of your home. An outdoor fireplace provides a cozy centerpiece for your yard and allows it to be used even in colder seasons. And, you don’t have to be a professional to build one! Just follow these simple steps and you’ll be roasting marshmallows in no time.

Check the regulations

Before you begin, check your local government ordinances and local association for any restrictions on fireplaces. Guidelines may include size restrictions, including a fire-resistant surface, distance from property lines and structures, watchdog rules, and the types of materials you are allowed to burn. It’s also a good idea to see if your home insurance requires household disclosure.

Choose location

Use regulatory guidelines to select the location of your fireplace, so that it is the correct distance from your home and property lines. You will also need to consider factors such as wind direction and where you have enough space for the pit, seating and other additions. Avoid areas with low trees or near dry brush if you live in a drought-prone area.

Decide on a design

Here are the top choices when designing a DIY fireplace:

  • The form. Most pits are circular or square, but can also be rectangular.
  • Level. Will your fireplace be buried or built above ground?
  • Build it or make it? If you build it, you will most likely use bricks or stone to create the retaining walls. The other option is to use recycled materials such as a flower pot, an old tire, a pond insert or a dryer drum as a container.
Photo: Andriy Bezuglov via 123RF

Select your materials and gather the tools

Many options are available, so research what will work best for your project. The materials and tools needed will include:

  • Surface materials (soil, gravel, sand or patio tiles)
  • Fire pit wall materials (retaining wall bricks, pavers, cement bricks, poured cement or recycled materials, plus adhesive)
  • Tools (shovel, pestle, tape measure, cement scraper).

You can also use lava rocks to increase the height of your fire or protect any liner you use from rust. Use metal hearth rings for extra shaping and fire protection. Common ring materials include steel, cast iron, or copper.

Porous rocks that soak up moisture and can burst when heated should be avoided. These include river rocks, pumice, limestone and sandstone.

Prepare the area

Clear the area around the chosen location and remove any debris or vegetation that could catch fire. Remove any grass, especially in dry areas, and create a ring around the fire pit with non-flammable materials such as dirt, gravel or patio pavers. Six to seven feet in all directions from the fireplace is a recommended distance to reduce the risk of fire outside the fireplace and to provide adequate seating space.

Then use a tape measure, the steel ring, or the laid out building materials to define the shape of the fireplace. The ideal size for your fireplace is between 36 and 44 inches wide, including the width of the wall. To finish, level the fireplace area Where dig the hole if you are building a dug pit.

Build the hearth

How you build your fireplace will depend on your materials. You will usually line the pit by laying bricks or stones, staggering the joints. You may need to cut some to get the size and shape you want. A hearth height 12 to 14 inches allows guests to rest their feet on it while seated or 18 to 20 inches high is best for sitting on the edge of the pit. Once you have the shape and height, apply construction adhesive to hold the materials together. Then add additional materials such as lava rocks or edging to the pit.

You are now ready to light the first fire in your home. Be sure to use seasoned wood to avoid creating too much smoke, watch the fire at all times, and keep a fire extinguisher handy. Don’t forget the s’more ingredients and enjoy your DIY garden fire pit!

Home Sweet Home is brought to you by the Washington Homeowner Assistance Fund of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. The Homeowners Relief Fund helps homeowners who have fallen on hard times due to the pandemic. Call 1-877-894-4663 for more information on how they can help you.