Setting up a backyard fire pit
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Setting up a backyard fire pit

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A fire pit can help turn your backyard into an oasis.

When you’re spending more time at home, a fire pit can help turn your backyard into an oasis: a spot to roast marshmallows, a focal-point flame that draws in friends and family, warmth on a cool evening. Here’s how to choose the perfect fire pit for your backyard.

1. Decide if you want portable or permanent.

The easiest option is an off-the-shelf model (usually a round, metal container with a dome lid), which typically costs less than $200. Other movable, easy-setup choices include a chiminea (like a freestanding fireplace) and a fire table, which incorporates a fire feature in the center of a dining or coffee table.

For more permanence (plus more work and expense), you can install an above-ground unit or in-ground pit of brick or stone. Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a DIY version and several thousand dollars for a contractor-installed pit.

2. Choose between wood and gas.

As when you choose a grill, the type of fuel you use comes down to personal preference and convenience. The pros for a wood-burning fire feature include the look, smell and warmth, plus more versatility for cooking. The cons: You’ll need a supply of dry wood, a place to store that supply, and someone to keep the fire going.

A pit fueled by propane lights easily and you won’t have to clean up messy ashes, but it won’t give off as much heat as wood-burning models and you have to deal with replacing empty tanks. The propane tank is either integrated into the design of the pit or must be hooked up on the outside. If you don’t want an exterior tank visible, you’ll have to find a way to hide it. One option: a cover (essentially a box with a lid and a hole for the tank hose) that doubles as a side table.

Natural gas is convenient for permanent fire features; have a pro install a gas line from the house and you can flip a switch or use a key to turn on the gas.

3. Consider cooking accessories.

S’mores and hot dogs on sticks are at least half the reason to have a fire pit, right? But you don’t have to stop there. Some units are also designed for cooking, and even come with accessories such as a grill grate or rotisserie spit, If you do a lot of outdoor entertaining, a cooking model can make your fire pit an all-purpose, all-summer party spot. (We won’t tell the grill.)

4. Make sure it’s allowed.

The fact that you can buy a fire pit locally doesn’t mean it meets local codes. Rules differ by city and even by season. Some cities restrict fuel type and purpose (cooking might be allowed, but not recreational fires), as well as proximity to existing structures and property lines. Bottom line: Do your local homework before you buy that pit and light the fire.

5. Check if it affects your insurance.

Because of the potential hazard to nearby structures and trees (especially if you live in an area that’s prone to wildfires), a fire feature could increase the cost of your homeowner’s insurance. Talk to an insurance agent about your plans. Ask about liability limits to make sure your policy also covers the house next door.

(Better Homes and Gardens is a magazine and website devoted to ideas and improvement projects for your home and garden, plus recipes and entertaining ideas. Online at www.bhg.com.)

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