Technology has brought us many comforts that our ancestors had to do without, but lots of life’s simpler pleasures, relished by humans for centuries, still hold appeal today. Campfires are the perfect example of this: their primeval fascination and reassurance have never faded. And thanks to modern technology, we have gas fire pits – campfires at the push of a button.
A gas fire pit is basically a decorative campfire which is fed by gas and generally ignited by an electric switch. They can be situated outside or indoors, and come in all shapes and sizes – they can be as exotic-looking as you like, your imagination’s the limit.
Here’s how you can build your own gas fire pit.
Before You Get Started
Gas fire pits burn either natural gas or propane – both have their pro’s and cons. Natural gas is cheaper, and you can utilize your existing gas line, but your gas pit will be fixed – you won’t be able to move it around. Propane is more expensive, but it’s convenient in situations where tapping into the gas line would mean tearing up an existing construct, like a patio. And it means that your fire pit can be mobile, as the propane tank can move around with it!
A gas fire pit is made up of several components which you need to consider when designing your pit:
- a base, such as paving or concrete
- a liner, if your fire pit is sunken, to keep the soil from caving in
- the surround, your pit’s retaining wall, built from fireproof blocks
- or, a bowl or another large heat resistant vessel designed to be used as a fire pit, in which case you won’t need a base
- the burner pan, which ventilates and drains the fire pit, supports the burner and separates it from the air mixer in the case of a propane-fueled pit
- the burner, which can be any shape or size
- an ignition
- an air mixer, if the pit uses propane
- plumbing components for controlling gas flow
- fire media, the decorative filler for your pit
Take some time to design your gas fire pit. What blocks will you use for the surround? Or will you rather use a decorative bowl, table or amphora? What fire media catches your eye?
- If you’re going to build the surround for your fire pit, some popular building materials include cinder blocks, cement retaining blocks, baked clay bricks, cement bricks and stone. Just be sure to check with your materials provider that your blocks are fire resistant.
- Fire media is a fascinating part of the unique look and feel of a fire pit. Before igniting, gas filters upwards and around the fire media, spreading and making the flames that much more spectacular once they light. The sky’s the limit with the many interesting and attractive choices available. These include ceramic logs, colored crushed glass, glass pebbles, lava stones and mixtures of different materials. Because media is situated right among the flames it becomes searingly hot, so here you have to be extra careful to choose fire-resistant substances. It’s a good idea to purchase fire media that’s been designed specifically for use in a fire pit.
Once you have a good idea of how your ideal fire pit ought to look, taking practicality into consideration of course, you can start to shop around for your components.
We recommend using fire pit kits when building your pit. There are many variations of these, including burner kits, which usually contain a burner, some fittings and plumbing components, and sometimes a pan, and ignition kits. Using a kit is much more convenient than trying to shop around for all sorts of fiddly little components. If you’re going to use your existing gas line, figure out your gas supply sizing before purchasing a kit, as this will have a bearing on which kit you use.
If you’ve opted for a propane-fed fire pit, include an air mixer on your shopping list. Propane doesn’t burn as cleanly as natural gas and this can lead to soot build-up. An air mixer (comprised of a few simple metal fittings) lets the gas burn without smoking.
It’s crucial to make safety a priority when building your own gas pit, as mistakes can mean loss of life. Get a certified gas technician to look over your plans and help hook up your gas lines. You’ll also need to check out local legal codes before you begin. All fire pits need to have an inbuilt emergency shutoff valve, called a key valve. The key valve might be included in your kit, but if it isn’t be sure to purchase one and carefully read the instructions on installing it.
How to Build an Outdoors Fire Pit
You will need:
- some paving
- a metal liner (for a sunken pit)
- a vapor barrier
- fireproof blocks
- refractory cement
- a burner kit
- a burner pan
- an ignition kit
- an air mixer (if you’re going for a propane-fueled pit)
- relevant plumbing components
- ventilator grids
- fire media
- tape measure
- digging tools, like a spade
- a level
1. Draw up a plan for your fire pit. Include measurements. Read the installation guide for your burner kit and pan, so that you can take any overlaps needed into consideration. Using this information, calculate the interior circumference or perimeter of your surround, how high it will be, how much of it will be above ground if you’re going to sink it, and what its overall circumference or perimeter will be after you’ve added the width of the building blocks. If you’re building a propane-fueled pit and would like to hide the tank under the burner, be sure to include space in your plans. Once completed, ask a registered gas technician to look them over for any safety concerns.
2. Mark out your plans. Start by sinking a stake in the middle of your building site. This will be a guide for measuring out the rest of the site. Using a tape measure and stakes, mark the corners and halfway points. To mark out a circular site, tie some string to your center stake and cut it to fit the radius of your plan – from the center to the outer edge of the surround. Stretch the string out and use it to place stakes at regular intervals. If you’re working on paving or concrete, you can mark out your site with some chalk instead.
3. Clear the grass and soil from your site. If you’ve designed a sunken pit, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and get sweaty! Remember to include some depth for the paving. If your pit isn’t sunken, you’ll just need to remove any grass, and enough soil to ensure that the top of your paving is level with the ground. Skip this step if you’re building on pre-existing paving or concrete.
4. Lay the paving. Use a level to keep things professional-looking.
5. Install the vapor barrier, according to the instructions.
6. Install the metal liner. This only applies to sunken pits. Read the installation guide first.
7. Start laying your blocks. Don’t use adhesive yet – this is for a guide. Leave spaces for the ignition panel and the ventilation grids. If you aren’t planning on using ventilation grids, you will still need some ventilation holes – consult the burner kit instructions for some guidelines on the sizing of the ventilation holes.
8. Mix some adhesive according the package directions, and start securing your blocks in place!
9. Install the pan and burner, according to the instructions. First, though, make sure your pan has some holes in the base for water drainage. If it doesn’t, you can simply add some using a drill. Use a level on the pan, because a tilted pan prevents drainage and messes up the flow of the gas. The pan and burner will often need to be installed part way through building the surround, so keep this in mind. Get a registered gas technician to help you assemble the plumbing components and hook up the gas.
10. Finish off the surround, and wait the prescribed amount of time for the adhesive to cure.
11. Lay down the media. If you’re using loose materials like pebbles or crushed grass, your media layer should be between half an inch and two inches thick. Different media require different thicknesses, so find out how high to pile your media before you start. If you’ve opted for ceramic logs, lay the logs down in a random, natural-looking fashion, starting with the largest logs and finishing with the smallest ones. Make sure that none of the logs block the gas outlets, and space the them roughly 2 inches apart.
Your gorgeous fire pit is now ready to be lit! Built right, a gas fire pit will delight visitors and provide many hours of warmth, comfort and visual charm.