Nothing beats gathering around a roaring fire with family and friends, especially when you're outside in the fresh air, under the stars. It’s incredible how the addition of a firepit can transform an entire backyard into an outdoor living room, encouraging everyone to spend more time outside, away from screens, sharing stories and conversation, and living in the moment.

With a little know-how, you can make most of the fire pit experience and get the maximum amount of enjoyment of it, from start to finish.


Safety first!

Don’t play with fire. It’s much easier to relax a few feet away from a pit full of flames when you know you’re doing it safely.

  • Make sure your fire pit is at least 10 feet from the nearest building. 20-25 feet is even better.
  • Make sure the location of your fire pit is somewhat sheltered from the wind.
  • Clear the area of foliage or anything else that might catch on fire or melt.
  • Always keep a bucket of water or hose nearby, just in case.
  • Never use lighter fluid to start the fire. Accelerants are dangerous to both people and property.
  • Never leave your fire pit unattended.
safety fire pit noblige / Getty Images

Light it right

Before you get your matches out, you need the right materials to keep your firepit burning long and strong.

  • Fuelwood. Kiln-dried, store-bought firewood bundles are best, but in a pinch, any log larger than your forearm will do.
  • Tinder. No, not the dating app. We’re talking about easily-ignited, fast-burning material that gets the first flames roaring. Cotton balls, silver birch bark, dry pine needles, cardboard, and newspaper are examples of readily available tinder.
  • Kindling. Mostly small branches and twigs, kindling ignites faster than fuelwood and help the fire spread.

The secret to lighting your fire pit is to place a lit match at the bottom of the woodpile directly in the center. The rising flames will use the wood above as fuel and eventually everything will catch fire.

lighting fire pit PeopleImages / Getty Images

Use protection

Taking a few simple protective measures will prevent property damage and extend the life of your fire pit.

  • If your fire pit is on the deck or patio, use a fire pit mat designed to protect underlying surfaces from scorching.
  • If your fire pit is above the grass, consider adding stone tiles or gravel to protect the ground below.
  • Add a shallow layer of sand to the bottom of the fire pit to protect it from heat-related damage.
  • If your fire pit is made of metal, keep it dry with a fire pit cover between uses to prevent rust and corrosion.
firepit sand altmodern / Getty Images

Get cooking

It’s no secret that fire pits are fantastic for toasting marshmallows, but why stop there? Harness the power of the flame and make a meal of it! Place a cast-iron grill grate directly over the top to cook steak, hot dogs, burgers, foil-wrapped baked potatoes, halloumi, vegetable skewers, watermelon... you name it. If you can cook it on the barbecue or in a skillet, you can cook it on the firepit.

Burn sage to keep bugs at bay

People have burned sage leaves for centuries to connect with the spiritual realm, but they also happen to be a handy insect repellent! The smoke from sage emits a pleasantly fragrant aroma that blood-sucking pests like mosquitoes despise. If you don’t want to be bugged when you’re trying to enjoy your fire pit, toss a bundle or two into the flames.

burning sage firepit SarahHartMorgan / Getty Images

In-ground firepits

Sunken fire pits create the illusion that flames are springing straight from the ground. They’re smaller and keep the blaze better contained than above-ground firepits, but they're also easier to fall into! Use extra caution, especially when there are small children and pets around.

In-ground fire pits can be as basic as a hole dug into the ground, or a formal stone-lined pit built into a patio.

in ground fire pit nortonrsx / Getty Images

Above-ground firepits

A perfect focal point for any outdoor space, permanent above-ground firepits are usually installed with a stone surround, sometimes with matching built-in benches. The stones warm up with the heat of the fire, which is perfect for year-round enjoyment. Because the flames rise higher than in-ground firepits, it’s important to install your above-ground fire pit far enough away from nearby trees and houses.

Portable firepits

Portable fire pits are perfect for urban backyards and small patios, and they come in an endless variety of designs, shapes, and sizes. They’re also easy to clean out: just dump out the ashes, rinse, and start over.

No firepit? No problem! A Swedish fire log, sometimes called a Canadian candle, is nothing but a freestanding vertical log strategically chopped across the top. The best part is that it’s self-feeding, and the fire can last for up to five hours.

portable fire pit constantgardener / Getty Images

Make it cozy

Now that you know the basics, it’s time for the fun part: creating an outdoor space with the perfect ambiance. Here are a few ideas for inspiration:

  • Arrange comfortable group seating around the fire pit for conversation. Make sure to include plenty of places for people to rest their drinks.
  • Hang outdoor string lighting between nearby trees or makeshift posts to make the firepit area feel like a homey enclosure.
  • Recreate the “camping in the wild” experience with natural arrangements of large rocks or limestone boulders.
  • Surround your fire pit with stone tiles, and add a stone walkway leading up to it.
cozy fire pit outdoor space Anchiy / Getty Images

Save your ash

Don’t put that ash in the trash! Leftover firepit wood ash has plenty of surprisingly practical uses.

  • Sprinkle some along your walkway and driveway during the winter to melt ice and snow. Wood ash is full of potassium salts, which act as an environmentally friendly de-icer.
  • Use it as a plant fertilizer. Ash improves the pH of alkaline soil and contains essential nutrients that help keep plants healthy.
  • Ash also repels slugs and snails.

Store leftover ash in a sealed waterproof container.

veger / Getty Images


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