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7 Dangerous Pitfalls of the DIY Firepit Trend

Updated on January 14, 2016

Smokey the bear said it best, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

This is true on many levels, but with backyard firepits being the number one requested design feature today it’s important that you really take this into consideration.

A major problem, however, is that because firepits are so popular, plenty of people are turning to them without doing their research.

Research is important, but it can also be time consuming, which is why many people forego the details and jump right into building a pit.

Unfortunately, this leads to house fires, which in turn can lead to death.

Whether you’re about the DIY firepit or you’re looking to spend money on something a little more official, it’s important to interact safely with your flames.

Take a look at these tips for practicing fire pit safety and see how you can help become Smokey’s biggest supporter.

Not Thinking About the Location

For whatever reason, when it comes to building a firepit, there’s a lack of foresight that comes into play when choosing the location. Firepit ordinances typically ask that firepits be placed 10 feet away from any major structures (such as your house or garage). Believe it or not, this isn’t merely a suggestion, but there’s an actual reason for doing this. Not only does it protect your home from getting soot and ash stains, but it also protects your home in the event that embers go awry. Fires throw sparks and these sparks can catch on something, turning into a fire that can take out your home quickly. Likewise, it is recommended to keep your fire pit away from things like trees with low hanging branches and bushes that are not trimmed.

What should you do?

Scout a location beforehand and measure for at least 10-12 feet between major structures. This is ideal for ensuring that no oversights happen, resulting in a fire.

Not Adding Drainage

Similar to not choosing the right location for you firepit, is not finding somewhere with enough drainage. Drainage is important for several reasons. For one, proper drainage will help your firepit breathe. This allows it to have a bigger and more vibrant flame, rather than one that is dull. Secondly, drainage will provide your pit with an added sense of safety. If loose flames occur, they need somewhere to extinguish themselves, which—with proper drainage—can take place. However, if this drainage is not in place it can result in loose brush or dry grass catching fire.

What should you do?

Be proactive and make sure that there is proper drainage for your firepit. Many times this is as simple as adding gravel to the bottom of your pit, which protects grass and smothers the loose flames. Also, be careful what kind of surface you place your pit. Some wood finishes, for example, are flammable and do not provide drainage, which can be catastrophic in the end.

Lighting In Inclimate Weather

Sure, it might feel nice on a windy day to have the warmth of your firepit, but it is also one of the most dangerous things you can do. As I mentioned before, firepits, especially wood-burning pits throw sparks as they break down. These sparks often result in house fires if you are not careful. Starting a fire on a windy day invites the possibility of one of these sparks losing control and catching on something flammable. Not only this, but your cozy fire can be another person’s smoky nightmare. Smoke carries and so choosing to build a fire on a windy day is likely to push your smoke into a neighbor’s yard, which can be upsetting.

What should you do?

For starters, be considerate. There’s no need to start a fire on a windy day for multiple reasons, but above all else consider how you would feel having smoke blown in your face. Instead, put the firepit away and move indoors where it’s warm and windless.

Using the Wrong Kind of Wood

Believe it or not there is a wrong and right kind of wood to use with your firepit. Soft wood, such as cedar and pine, are not a great choice because they will pop and throw sparks more easily than hard wood. Likewise, woods that have overgrowth on them should be closely inspected for poison ivy and oak. When either of these plants is burned they can enter the respiratory lungs through inhalation and cause severe irritation or infection.

What should you do?

Invest in the right kind of wood. Several woods that are considered hard and safer to use are: spruce, maple, oak, and fir. Cherry wood is also an excellent choice as it burns well and has a favorable scent when burned. Or, if wood makes you nervous, consider investing in an electric pit that can be used with fire pit glass or gel. In any sense, if you are confused, discuss your options with your local wood-selling shop.

What deadly fire pit sin are you guilty of committing?

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Starting Your Fire Incorrectly

Being impatient when starting your fire can end in disastrous results. Choosing to use fire starters that are not meant as starters can cause bodily harm and too large flames that you cannot control. If your flames are too small then do not try to increase their size by using gasoline, alcohol, or kerosene.

What should you do?

Instead of choosing something dangerous to light your fires with, find something that is a safer option. Feeding the flame extra wood, oxygen, or coals can help to get the flame bigger more quickly. There are also options for homemade, natural starters, which will help feed flames and keep toxin levels to a minimum.

Not Providing Constant Supervision

Firepits might seem harmless enough. Especially if you design them for familial use then it can seem like no big deal when you turn your back from your kids or pets. However, all it takes is a split second for a child to trip into the open flames or to reach for the scalding hot screen and significantly burn them. Even if children or animals are not present, accidents can happen, and alcohol can help increase the opportunities for severe injuries to occur. Firepit safety calls that flames be surpervised by a cognizant adult at all times.

What should you do?

Be careful to keep firepits under supervision at all times. This means making sure that at least one adult remains alcohol-free to keep an eye on children, pets, and whether or not the flame is extinguished properly at the end of the night.


Extinguishers are simple enough to use when you remember to PASS.

  • Pull
  • Aim
  • Squeeze
  • Sweep

Extinguishing Your Fire Incorrectly

Part of the problem with firepits, is not knowing how to put them out once after they’re done being lit. This is especially an issue if you don’t take the time to keep something close by to put the fire out once it has started. Fires need to always be properly extinguished to maintain proper fire safety. Not doing so can result in having fires that start up hours later when no one is around to keep an eye on what is happening.

What You Should Do?

Keep an extinguisher close by and know how to use it. Be sure that the extinguisher is up-to-date and code. Another option is to keep your firepit within distance of a garden hose or a bucket of sand near to act as an alternative fire extinguisher.

Firepits, whether DIY or store bought, are all the rage and there is no reason that you shouldn’t be able to jump on that bandwagon. However, if you are going to invest in a firepit then be safe and don’t fall prey to any of the above dangerous pitfalls.

Let’s Review

Firepit Safety Means:

  • Choosing a safe location
  • Adding drainage
  • Lighting only in optimal weather
  • Using the right kind of wood
  • Properly lighting your fire
  • Having constant supervision
  • Extinguishing your fire properly after each use


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful perspective.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You've shared some useful tips and some very important things to think about, Kelsey.

    • Jasmeetk profile image

      Jasmeet Kaur 

      2 years ago from India

      Thanks for sharing a very informative hub..


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