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Gas Fire Pit

Updated on July 16, 2014

Gas Fire Pit

Complete gas fire pit with cover.
Complete gas fire pit with cover.

Introduction: Why a fire pit?

With all there is to do outside, why focus on a fire pit, gas or otherwise? For one, you probably want to enhance your outdoor experiences with atmospherics. For another reason, you definitely want to control your fire some place.

As the hearth has been an inside attraction for a millennia, so, too, a fire pit has become the exterior allure of today. In an ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) survey residential architects stated: "Homeowners know that designed landscapes add value to their lives as well as their property values." Having a fire pit rated highest (97%) as an outdoor living space.

With that in mind, as you continue I showcase materials to get your outdoor design juices percolating, with fire pits as our final destination. Types of fuels, outside structures, and inner workings are distinguished. Gas ignition methods, safety precautions, and assorted extras are also specified. To wrap it all up, take a short quiz at the end for a quick gas fire pit review.

So let's exercise our eyes next, shall we?

Aerial View of a Fire Pit

Slate slabs (circle perimeter) with Pic(ture)BRICK  (circle center).
Slate slabs (circle perimeter) with Pic(ture)BRICK (circle center).

Finding Fire Pits: Visiting a Masonry Yard

I saw a fire-pit-for-sale sign and stopped in a local store. I decided to stroll around to see what I might find (refer to thumbprints below). You might do so, too, alone, with a significant someone, or maybe a child or two.

Health improves by getting outside, particularly for kids. This outing might be an opportunity to teach them to become informed consumers at an early age. Consuming is not simply about checking out prices and then purchasing. Equally important is becoming knowledge about people, products, and services.

At first glance an incredible stone attracted my eye. An employee said that It was bluestone from northeastern Pennsylvania. Using our imagination, we could probably conjure up a lot just by focusing on this specimen. Feeling its texture. Looking at its array of color. What a distinct patio or fire pit facade it might make.

Yards are bustling places. It's easy to get sidetracked. Hopefully, your nearby distributor will have good signage, experienced staff, and lots to see. Always watch out for delivery trucks and customer traffic, and be mindful of the company's merchandise. It's heavy yet fragile.

Meanwhile I discovered a lot on my way to the fire pit section, as indicated in the pictures I took. This tactic was a good way to warm up.

Meandering to Fire Pits

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This moving Fire-Pits-for-Sale sign drew me in.An expanse of the masonry yard, where I started walking. The colors and size of this bluestone attracted me at first.Close up texture and patina were amazing to touch and behold.Laurel Highlands stones resided in four skids of retail packs.Bill, the yard guy, had just unloaded cultured stone from the forklift truck.Two baskets held river rocks.Here I am holding a bluestone with its natural grain. These impressive chimney pots were reduced. Minute defects in the clay.Fire Pits: I reached where I wanted to go.
This moving Fire-Pits-for-Sale sign drew me in.
This moving Fire-Pits-for-Sale sign drew me in.
An expanse of the masonry yard, where I started walking.
An expanse of the masonry yard, where I started walking.
The colors and size of this bluestone attracted me at first.
The colors and size of this bluestone attracted me at first.
Close up texture and patina were amazing to touch and behold.
Close up texture and patina were amazing to touch and behold.
Laurel Highlands stones resided in four skids of retail packs.
Laurel Highlands stones resided in four skids of retail packs.
Bill, the yard guy, had just unloaded cultured stone from the forklift truck.
Bill, the yard guy, had just unloaded cultured stone from the forklift truck.
Two baskets held river rocks.
Two baskets held river rocks.
Here I am holding a bluestone with its natural grain.
Here I am holding a bluestone with its natural grain.
These impressive chimney pots were reduced. Minute defects in the clay.
These impressive chimney pots were reduced. Minute defects in the clay.
Fire Pits: I reached where I wanted to go.
Fire Pits: I reached where I wanted to go.

Lingering with Fire Pits

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Side view: Fire pit enclosure, fire bowl, and spark screen.Above view: Cultured stone (top) caps, bowl insert, grate, and safety screen.Granite fire pit surround with spark arrestor screen.Above view: Circular fire pit surround.Metal liner to protect stone enclosure from fire and heat.Copper bowl insert.Complete fire pit kit: Enclosure, insert, grate (for wood), and screen.Complete gas fire kit protected by polished-copper aluminum cover. Closeup: One of two side handles on fire pit cover.Closeup: Top knob of fire pit cover.
Side view: Fire pit enclosure, fire bowl, and spark screen.
Side view: Fire pit enclosure, fire bowl, and spark screen.
Above view: Cultured stone (top) caps, bowl insert, grate, and safety screen.
Above view: Cultured stone (top) caps, bowl insert, grate, and safety screen.
Granite fire pit surround with spark arrestor screen.
Granite fire pit surround with spark arrestor screen.
Above view: Circular fire pit surround.
Above view: Circular fire pit surround.
Metal liner to protect stone enclosure from fire and heat.
Metal liner to protect stone enclosure from fire and heat.
Copper bowl insert.
Copper bowl insert.
Complete fire pit kit: Enclosure, insert, grate (for wood), and screen.
Complete fire pit kit: Enclosure, insert, grate (for wood), and screen.
Complete gas fire kit protected by polished-copper aluminum cover.
Complete gas fire kit protected by polished-copper aluminum cover.
Closeup: One of two side handles on fire pit cover.
Closeup: One of two side handles on fire pit cover.
Closeup: Top knob of fire pit cover.
Closeup: Top knob of fire pit cover.

Fact Finding: Information & Inquiry

I spent time looking around in the fire pit section (see "Lingering with" images above). I had my tablet to jot notes and take shots. I expected to ask questions later.

When in doubt, DO NOT do without. Seek advice whenever necessary. Interested staff at your local masonry supply store will be excited to help you with your project. They'll offer guidance and provide recommendations about brands, features, specialists, and more.

I confess that I had also prepared a bit ahead of time. One online source had a good overview of what to cover. With those points in hand, I could somewhat intelligently pinpoint aspects of gas fire pits, starting with the fuel factor.

Chopping for Fuel

Are you in the shape or mood to chop wood?
Are you in the shape or mood to chop wood?

Fuel: Wood or Gas?

A fire pit runs on fuel supplied. That means, either wood or gas burning.

With wood more effort might be necessary to purchase or cut down and chop it yourself. Sometimes it might be easier to use gas.

The region where you live could influence your choice. In LA, for instance, residents are frequently requested to protect air quality. Sometimes it might be cleaner or required to use gas.

Two gas options exist: Liquid Propane (LP) housed in a storage tank or Natural Gas (NG) flowing from a pipe line that you might already have running into your dwelling. Sometimes it might be more convenient to use gas.

Gas fire pit manufacturers suggest getting professional help to interpret local and national codes. Experts understand BTUs (British Thermal Units), which measure energy and heat output, and other determinants, such as pressure in your line or distances from your dwellings. You can directly locate a gas specialist by entering your postal code in the search box of the NFI's (National Fireplace Institute) Public interface.

If you feel more comfortable talking to a real person, ask your local librarian, township engineer, or fire pit distributor for advice. What they won't know, I'm sure they'll find out, and get back to you.

In Store Gas Fire Pit Display

Fire pit stand with faux logs inside bowl insert.
Fire pit stand with faux logs inside bowl insert.

Outside Container: Above or In-Ground, Mobile or Stationery

We can analyze gas fire pits as two parts:

  1. Inner workings, fueled by gas, either natural or propane (the fire part).
  2. Outside containers, constructed for support, above or in-ground (the pit part).

An analogy that emerges is a printed book. The outer cover binds and contains the inside pages full of words that you bring to life (the spark!) when you read. Some versions are more movable than others.

For gas fire pits, this outside part is what my dad calls the surround. Sizes can range from two to 50 feet. Portable units are often bowls with legs (as depicted above in the store model). Permanent structures can be placed above or in-ground. Ready made forms called enclosures come in different materials, shapes, and sizes.

Custom masonry surrounds vary by dimension and can involve an extensive excavation called a substructure installation. Since you are adapting your landscaping from scratch, this area (around the fire and pit parts) could be considered a third part.

Building a Masonry Fire Pit Surround

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Starting with one paver.In a circular motion, adding another.Completing the bottom circular layer.Beginning a second layer.Adding a top layer with larger paver capstones.Deciding on no more paver caps.Inserting a metal bowl. Checking out the finished pit from a distance.Peering in closer. Ensuring safety by adding a screen.Showcasing the complete fire pit enclosure with samples of two paver sizes (in front).Accessorizing with a fire pit cover.
Starting with one paver.
Starting with one paver.
In a circular motion, adding another.
In a circular motion, adding another.
Completing the bottom circular layer.
Completing the bottom circular layer.
Beginning a second layer.
Beginning a second layer.
Adding a top layer with larger paver capstones.
Adding a top layer with larger paver capstones.
Deciding on no more paver caps.
Deciding on no more paver caps.
Inserting a metal bowl.
Inserting a metal bowl.
Checking out the finished pit from a distance.
Checking out the finished pit from a distance.
Peering in closer.
Peering in closer.
Ensuring safety by adding a screen.
Ensuring safety by adding a screen.
Showcasing the complete fire pit enclosure with samples of two paver sizes (in front).
Showcasing the complete fire pit enclosure with samples of two paver sizes (in front).
Accessorizing with a fire pit cover.
Accessorizing with a fire pit cover.

Inner Workings: Burners, Pans, and Plumbing

My dad is a fan of Ron Popeil who coined the phrase,"Set It and Forget it." I mention this remark, because the gas inner workings of the modern day fire pit seem to have innovated into an easy install: "Just drop-it-in."

The it, as I understand, is a gas fire pit insert, which has three parts:

  1. A top burner where the flame comes out (e.g., round or five-star fire rings).
  2. A middle pan that supports the burner (e.g., flat or bowl style in various shapes), and sometimes above another bowl that supports it.
  3. A lower plumbing area, hidden under the two upper parts, for gas ignition controls (e.g., valve and key, LP air mixer, flexible hose, and more).

An insert can also refer to the bowl that fits inside the fire pit. Sometimes the above trio are known as a fire pit kit, or, together with the surround as a complete fire pit.

The scope of gas fire pit selections is staggering. Why not work from the outside in? What overall hardscaping plan do you have? How will your gas fire pit fit in? For the surround, what material, what color, what size, and so forth? For the insert, what burner shape, what pan depth, what ignition type, and so on?

Gas Fire Pit KIt

Ignite: Strike, Push, or Flip

All gas fire pit models work by creating a spark to react with gas and ignite a flame. You can utilize three different ignition methods. Two types you control by manually turning on the gas, and a third electronically operates from a switch, for instance.

  • Match Lit Ignition - You control the gas source by manually turning a valve on and off with a connected part called a flange. The valve is usually on the side of the enclosure connected to the burner with a hose underneath called a flex line. After you turn on your unit, you ignite the fire ring flame yourself by striking a match or clicking a barbecue lighter. (See example below).
  • Push Button Ignition - You control the gas source by manually turning it on, and then pushing down a button to ignite (like on a gas barbecue grill). (See above.)
  • Remote Electronic Control Ignition - You flip a switch or press a remote to initiate automatic ignition of your gas fire pit. With a receiver in the garage and a transmitter in the handheld, your remote control is wireless. That is, until the batteries die out. You could also activate by flipping a switch, or whatever else you and your installer agree upon.

All three techniques require different gas control/ignite mechanisms that depend on gas type and types of gas fire pit. It's important to provide an air mixer for a propane-fueled unit, for instance.

Most vendors have digital access to instruction and spec (specification) sheets for their products. So you can peruse the information before you buy. This material provides ignition details, diagrams, tips, and warnings. One warning I read stated, "All fire pits must have a gas shutoff on the outside of the exterior of the fire pit to allow for emergency shut off and maintenance."

Example of Match Lit Ignition

Round fire ring in bowl insert on stone surround.
Round fire ring in bowl insert on stone surround.

Opting for More Features

You can accessorize your gas fire pit.

Gas fire pit media refers to what you put on top to cover up your burner and retain heat. Examples are gas log sets, lava rocks, fire glass, and the like. Please no river rocks ever. The water inside tends to steam up and the stones might burst. Make certain that media materials have been approved for gas fire pit use.

A cover protects your gas fire pit from animals, elements, and more. Purchase a size that is larger than your insert, in flexible vinyl or sturdy aluminum or stainless steel material.This everyday care will surely streamline annual service maintenance.

A safety screen (also called a spark arrestor) prevents sparks from flying and provides a see-through barrier.

The availability of cooking equipment is almost endless nowadays, with grates, grilling utensils, and more. With the liberty of cooking also comes the responsibility of cleaning up. Just be sure you want to cook on your gas fire pit. What do the instructions recommend?

You can always upgrade when the time is right. Some grand models include lighting, water, and fire.

Safety: A Word about Caution

Fire safety trumps all. Online resources exist with fire pit tips from hospital, home insurance, and government sites. For example, in 2012 West Virginia's Fire Marshal issued a "Grilling and Fire Pit Safety" press release. Precautions that stood out for me were:

  • Do not wear flammable or loose-fitting clothing such as nylon.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby.
  • Do not allow children to use the fire pit.
  • Keep children and pets away.
  • Check the propane cylinder hose for leaks before using it each year.
  • Before you light the fire, check the wind direction (pp. 2 & 3, 2012, PDF).

For more safety information, I suggest you also read: The National Fire Protection Association's "Grilling Safety," Safe Kids Worldwide's "Grilling Up Summer Safety," and The United States Fire Administration's "Summer Fire Safety."

Remember that fire pit safety starts by exercising common sense. So:

  • Educate yourself,
  • Properly plan, and
  • Remain calm.

Whenever you use your outdoor gas fire pit, stay fire wise (a term that also denotes wildfire advocacy).

Gas Fire Pit Kit For Sale

Conclusion: Making Your Gas Fire Pit Dreams Come True

The fire pit returns us to hunting-gathering days when humans huddled around for light, warmth, and sustenance. We can surely understand how this entity evolved from a pit that held the wood or brush and the spark that ignited a fire.

We examined gas fire pit characteristics from fuel differences to accessory choices, conscious of safety measures. I wasn't sure whether or not to include the "Meandering" jaunt. Yet, I wanted you to know that surveying a masonry yard can influence your entire outdoor landscaping strategy, on top of adding a gas fire pit.

You'll base decisions upon your limitations and preferences, but igniting hardscape daydreaming melds your wildest (far-fetched), modicum (possible), and realistic (plausible) dreams. In terms of today's topic, which model will convert your aspirations:

  • Magnificent (fire, lights, and pond),
  • Deluxe (masonry surround), or
  • Basic (mobile standard)?

In short, with a gas fire pit, you can create a safe magnetic draw--to centralize the mood you want to convey and the activity you want to encourage--when you gather outside with friends and family.

Gas Fire Pit Quiz


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