Avoid Potential Firepit Hazards


An outdoor firepit is far more than a conversation piece. It can become a place where you and your family gather to enjoy summer evenings roasting marshmallows together, or the ideal location for warming oneself on a chilly winter afternoon.

But homeowners and families alike often question the safety of outdoor fire pits.

When an outdoor fire pit is correctly operated and regularly maintained, the risk of danger significantly decreases.

However, anytime there is an open flame, there is a chance of injury or damage. Understanding potential dangers and following manufacturer guidelines is crucial to staying safe.

In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of outdoor fire pits, their potential dangers, and how to avoid those hazards.

Still, while there are several ways to improve the overall safety of an outdoor fire pit, an open flame will likely pose a risk to property and life.

Stuart, the founder of livingtheoutdoorlife.com, sitting in front of a fire demonstrating an unsafe firepit at his cottage, flaming wood on top of flat ground.
The cottage was under construction after the family got it so we had to make do.

What Dangers Are Associated With Outdoor Fire Pits?

Outdoor fire pits pose a certain set of safety risks to those who use and enjoy them. The most common risks associated with outdoor fire pits include:

  • Heat-related injuries
  • Accidental fire spread
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

While there are other, less common safety hazards to consider (such as exploding propane tanks), these three are the most frequently reported among fire pit owners.

Staying aware of these dangers can help you to avoid them in the future.

Heat-Related Injuries

While most outdoor fire pits don’t transfer heat to the outside of their structure, they can still become dangerously hot.

It’s important to maintain a safe distance from active fire pits and to limit the exposure that young children and pets have to active fire pits.

These precautions can prevent unexpected burns and other heat-related injuries.

Accidental Fire Spread

Roasting marshmallows and hot dogs can be great fun. But when roasting sticks or yummy treats catch fire, it can be easy to accidentally spread that fire to other items or parts of the yard.

Firepits need air and they often have air holes around them to increase airflow but this does open up possibilities for burning debris to fly onto the ground.

This is how firepits often damage surfaces such as patios or wood decks.

Never panic when handling or dealing with fire. In addition, try to use non-combustible materials when roasting foods.

Steel pokers are a fantastic alternative to wooden skewers.

Ensuring your firepit has an adequate base can help with reducing the risk of fire spread. Additionally, a firepit ring can also help contain and maintain your firepit.

Tips for putting out a fire safely

Carbon Monoxide

Wood-burning fire pits can produce a lot of smoke and carbon monoxide. This odorless, invisible gas can cause fainting, lightheadedness, and can even be fatal in large doses.

Reducing inhalation risks starts with choosing an alternative source of fuel. However, if you’re determined to use wood, be sure to burn that fuel in a well-ventilated open area.

What Are Outdoor Fire Pits? 

Fire pits are holes, structures, or platforms created from earth, clay, cement, brick, metal, and a variety of other materials. Their primary purpose is to safely house fuel and fire.

Outdoor fire pits can provide warmth and entertainment, and are especially popular among homeowners with sizable yards and little low-hanging tree cover.

Some homeowners even have a fire pit on their deck to enjoy the warmth and experience in comfort.

The safety features of any given outdoor fire pit partially depend on its material and construction. While fuel type also influences how safe a fire pit is (or isn’t), a poorly built outdoor pit can quickly result in injury and property damage.

What Are Outdoor Fire Pits Made Of?

Outdoor fire pits can be constructed from a wide variety of materials. Still, most homeowners favor one of two potential materials. These materials are all readily available, long-lasting, and able to withstand high heats. They are:

  • Stone and Brick
  • Metal
Learn how to build a simple stone fire pit

The exact type of metal used tends to vary from model to model, but those who decide to build an outdoor fire pit from brick and stone almost always choose fire brick and large paving stones.

The safest materials for fire pits tend to include sand, brick, and stone

Metal can rust and weaken, resulting in accidental fires, but stone or brick are unlikely to crumble or crack. However, the ideal fire pit material depends on your specific preferences and your project budget. 

For example, brick and stone tend to be the most affordable materials, but they must be stacked and secured to build a safe fire pit, which requires a reasonable amount of labour and effort.

Metal fire pits are far easier to install, and they don’t leave a lasting mark on your lawn

However, pre-manufactured pits are almost always more expensive than self-built varieties. 

Stone and Brick

Building your own outdoor fire pit can be a rewarding experience. It can also be an affordable option for those unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars on a thick, metal model.

However, stone and brick fire pits often kill any grass beneath them and can make semi-permanent changes to a yard’s growth patterns.

Still, these fire pits typically only require a few hours of labour, and they can cost less than $100 to build.

In addition, stone and brick can don’t absorb as much heat as metal does.

They insulate very well and can reduce burns and fire-related injuries simply by transferring very little heat from the inside portion to the outside.

Metal

The most common types of metals used in outdoor fire pits include cast-iron, copper, and stainless steel. These metals tend to stand up well to high heat, and they can resist rust better than other types of metal.

Large fenced backyard with smetal fire pit.

However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t rust, or that the pit bottom can’t overheat and become structurally weak.

Those who prefer the look and non-permanency of an outdoor fire pit can benefit from applying sand to the bottom of the pit before usage.

Doing so can help prevent heat damage and lengthen the life of the fire pit.

Sand can also reduce the safety risks associated with rust and overheated metal. 

Of course, sand may not be a viable addition for those using gas-powered fire pits or gel fuel. Fuel type will help dictate further safety precautions and procedures.

What Types of Fuel Are Used With Outdoor Fire Pits?

Besides building material, outdoor fire pits are differentiated based on their fuel type. Most fire pits fall into one of three distinct fuel types:

  • Wood
  • Gas
  • Gel
A look at different types of fuel sources for fire pits

Each one of these fuel types has specific advantages and a few crucial drawbacks, and none are completely safe.

While wood fuel is the least likely to combust due to hot weather of improper storage, it can produce harsh smoke.

And while gas and gel burn more cleanly, they can be poisonous or explosive when used or stored incorrectly.

Wood

Wood is one of the most popular and common fuel sources for outdoor fire pits. And while wood chips and firewood are accessible and affordable fuel options, wood-burning fire pits can generate a dangerous amount of smoke and airborne irritants

Pine and cedar should never be used with outdoor fire pits. That’s because they contain a lot of sap.

When this sticky sap heats up, the moisture inside of it begins to boil, resulting in ember-flinging pops that can set fire to clothing or nearby objects.

Wood-burning fire pits are relatively easy to extinguish, which is one of their greatest safety advantages.

While water can put out a wood-fuelled fire, it’s always better to use sand, gravel, or a chemical extinguisher in lieu of water.

stone fire pit with bricks in the backyard

When you pour water onto burning wood or charcoals, the pressure and force of the water can dislodge hot embers, causing injury.

This type of extinguishing method also tends to result in huge clouds of smoke.

Gas

Gas-fueled fire pits can be just as safe (and just as dangerous) as wood-fuelled models. The main difference is the presence of a gas source, which does complicate matters.

Gas-powered outdoor fire pits are powered by either a propane tank or a natural gas source. Propane tanks are fairly heavy, and they require occasional refills.

Natural gas sources are more consistent, but they can also be more dangerous.

Rather than using a small canister to light a fire pit, those who rely on natural gas are essentially siphoning that fuel from a huge shared reservoir.

Still, if fires rage out of control, it may be easier for homeowners to turn their home’s gas off, than to handle a dangerous propane tank.

When exposed to high heats and excess pressures, these tanks can explode.

While this is a rare occurrence, it’s still a potential danger. That’s why proper fire safety skills and gas safety skills are essential.

Also, while I’m sure many of you reading understand this, but wood should never be used on gas firepits.

Gel

Gel fuel is a relative novelty solution to the issue of wood-fuelled fire pits. It burns quickly and can be stored more easily and more safely than propane gas.

However, a single can of fuel only provides between one hour and three hours of flame, making gel fuel one of the most expensive options.

Still, most gel fuels are mostly alcohol, allowing them to burn hot without significantly affecting the surrounding materials. 

Gel Fuel Comparison: Real Flame Vs. SunJel

Fire pits that use gel fuels tend to house decorative rocks and pebbles. They’re fantastically portable, lightweight, and modern, making them a popular choice for homeowners seeking a modern look and feel from their outdoor fire pit. 

Conclusion

Outdoor fire pits can be exceptionally safe when they’re built of strong materials and fuelled by clean-burning gases or gels.

Constant alertness and attention are crucial to prevent accidental injury or property damage, and adult supervision is required whenever fire pits are active and hot.

Essentially, outdoor fire pits are just as dangerous as kitchen stoves or household lawnmowers. When used improperly, these items could cause serious harm.

But when users use caution and care, fire safety risks are significantly reduced.

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Last update on 2021-07-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Stuart

Stuart loves blogging about his hobbies and passions. Living the Outdoor Life is a place for him to share what he learns while creating his perfect outdoor space.

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