Backyard Fire Pits: The Ultimate Guide to Safe Design, Sizing and Construction

Imagine the glow of a fire warming your face as you chat with friends on a crisp fall evening. Or, what about enjoying the taste of roasted marshmallows as you tell stories around the flames?

The ways you can enjoy your backyard fire pit are pretty endless — if you have the right design, fire pit size, location and construction from the start, that is.

So before you start imagining all of the ways your fire pit will enhance your outdoor space, here are some important things you better think about first.

What Are Backyard Fire Pits, And How Much Do They Cost?

At the most basic level, a fire pit is a container where you can make an outdoor fire.

The name itself seems pretty self explanatory, but there are actually a few different types of fire pits you can choose from: in-ground, permanent above-ground and portable fire pits.

These are less-expensive options if you want to add a fire feature to your backyard, compared to a fireplace. A fire pit can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand, depending on the size, materials and type you want installed — whereas an outdoor fireplace can be anywhere from $5,500 to $10,000.


Fire pits also give you a 360-degree view of the flames and can create a center focal point for you and your guests to gather around. They are more versatile and give you a wider range of options when it comes to where they are installed.

To get the most from your fire feature and ensure its safety, here are seven things to think about when constructing a backyard fire pit.

Why Are Fire Pits So Popular in Idaho?

Fire pits are one of the most popular outdoor features in Idaho Falls and in the Western US in general. That shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise considering our chilly temps during the fall and winter. Plus, rustic outdoor features are especially popular in this area, and there are plenty of fire pit materials and types that will complete that rustic look. A fire pit can also be constructed in less than a day — longer if you want additional features like a sitting wall, landscape lighting or other outdoor features.

But fire pits aren’t just trending here, this is a trend you’ll also see nationwide, especially in colder-weather areas.

Are Backyard Fire Pits Safe And Legal?

We’ve all heard the saying about what happens if you play with fire. So, it’s only natural that you would wonder how safe fire pits really are.

Backyard fire pits can be a safe feature for your outdoor space if you take certain precautions. Here are some ways to ensure your fire pit is safe:

  • Keep fire pits at least 15 feet away from your house, other structures and combustible materials (ex. leaves, wood, chemicals, etc.). It should be in an open space, like on your patio or a cleared part of your landscape. Don’t put it on a wood deck.
  • Avoid lighting the pit during extremely windy weather, as the embers might go somewhere you don’t want them.
  • Make sure you have a bucket of water, hose or extinguisher nearby before lighting the fire.
  • Watch children near fire pits so they don’t get burned.
  • Keep the flame small: The larger it is, the bigger chance you have for it to get out of hand.
  • Never use gasoline to start the fire.

Beyond being safe, you also want to make sure your fire pit is legal. The city of Idaho Falls allows fire pits and other enclosed outdoor fire features (ex. fireplaces) that are at least 15 feet away from structures and combustible material. They also require that they are used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

fire pit in backyard in Idaho Falls

(Each city’s fire and burning codes are different, so check with your local municipality before you install a fire feature.)

What Size Fire Pit Do I Need?

Besides thinking about the safety and legal aspects of owning a fire pit, you’ll probably also wonder what size fire pit you need and how deep the fire pit should be.

If you choose a portable fire pit, the size will be predetermined. However, if you’re putting one in the ground or having it constructed, you’ll need to set the fire pit dimensions. Here are some things to think about that will affect the size of your fire pit:

  • How many people do you want to be able to sit around it?
  • Are you creating a more intimate space, or is it meant to entertain large groups?
  • How big is your patio or landscaped space where you will add the fire pit?

For a more intimate gathering space, a 3-foot-wide fire pit would work. Or, you go up to 6 feet wide (including the thickness of the walls) to accommodate six or more people.

Fire pit size also includes the depth (in-ground) or height (above-ground) of the fire pit. If you have a fire pit that is in the ground, the depth just needs to be enough so that your wood or fire ring fits in it.

Above ground fire pit and patio

The height of your above-ground fire pit takes a bit more thought, however. If you make the pit too high, you won’t be able to prop your feet on it comfortably. On the other hand, if it’s too low, you’ll end up bending over just to be close to the flames. The exact height you choose for your fire pit will depend on how you plan to use it.

For example, if you want to be able to prop your feet on it, go with one that is about 12 to 14 inches high. If you plan to use the edge of the fire pit as a sitting wall, you’ll want it to be about 20 inches. You won’t want to go much higher than that, or you won’t really be able to enjoy the flames and warmth.

Just remember: The larger the fire pit, the bigger the chance is for the fire to get out of hand. So, stick to safe parameters when constructing your pit.

In-Ground Vs. Portable Fire Pits

When deciding between installing an in-ground fire pit or portable fire pit, think about the differences in the two and which fits your lifestyle best.

For a more permanent, out-of-sight feature, try an in-ground fire pit. These will give you that bonfire-type look and feel, and they could even be covered up if needed. If you have children, just make sure they can’t fall into the pit if you go the in-ground route.

A portable fire pit gives you more versatility, which is great if you have trouble making decisions about exactly where you want the pit to go. Having a fire pit that is higher up will help the heat better reach you when you’re sitting or standing near it. A fire pit above ground will also help give your landscape a focal point and create visual interest. Your landscape needs at least one thing that draws people’s eyes, and a portable fire pit could be it.

Stone Or Brick Fire Pits: Which Material Is Best?

When it comes to picking out the best fire pit material, you’ll probably be deciding between natural stone or brick.

If you want a more rustic look, use natural stone to construct your fire pit. For traditional brick homes, brick fire pits will better match the veneer. You don’t want to use the exact same brick color as your house, but you can use something that ties into the color scheme.

Both materials can withstand the heat and will give your fire pit a long life.

You can complement the hardscape materials used to construct the fire pit with a similar patio material, which will help it all come together.

Natural Gas Vs. Wood Burning Vs. Propane Fire Pits

Do you want to throw sticks in the pit to keep it burning, or do you want to just flip a switch? Those are things to consider when choosing if you want a natural gas, wood burning or propane fire pit.

Here’s how these three types of fire pits compare:

  • Natural gas fire pit: It lights easily and quickly and doesn’t produce smoke or sparks. However, it isn’t the best for cooking and doesn’t provide as much heat as wood.
  • Wood burning fire pit: This option will give you a campfire feel, put off a lot of heat, cook food and be the cheapest of the three options. But, it puts off smoke, sparks and be difficult to control.
  • Propane fire pit: Like natural gas, propane also lights quickly and doesn’t produce embers. You’ll need to refill the propane when it runs out, and its fire rings may clog.

You can convert a wood burning fire pit to gas by installing a gas line and fire ring.

Who Builds And Installs Fire Pits

Maybe the biggest decision that comes with the installation process is who you’ll hire to build the fire pit.

fire pit installed in backyard patio

Landscapers who offer design/build services (and have actually installed several fire pits) will be the most qualified professionals to construct your fire pit. Plus, if you want to install any additional landscape features — like a stone patio, plants or landscape lighting — at the same time, they can help you with that, too.

Before you hire a landscaping company to install your fire pit, take a look at some of their past fire feature projects to see if their work is up to your standards. You can also get ideas for your fire pit project by looking at their past work.

At Outback Landscape, we start by talking with you about how you’ll use the fire pit and entertainment area, your ideas and desired style to create a professional design that incorporates it all. Once you approve the design, we’ll move forward to install your fire feature.

Call us at 208-656-3220, or contact us online to get one step closer to enjoying your fire pit.

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