Fire pit in a backyard surrounded by patio furniture

Providing warmth in cool weather, flickering light on dark nights and toasted marshmallows for any family hangout, a roaring fire is a perfect tool for creating a cozy backyard atmosphere. But before you buy an outdoor fire pit, fireplace or table, it’s a good idea to do your research. Do you know the fire codes in your area? Have you considered permanent or portable? What about the fuel source, style and materials? This fire pit buying guide has all the info in one place. Read on for everything you’ll need to know to buy the best fire pit for your family—and stay on budget, too.

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1Fire Pit Styles

There’s a fire pit that’s a perfect fit for just about every backyard. Here are the top styles to consider.

Fire Pit Bowls

Fire pit bowl in backyard

These large, freestanding bowls or cubes generate enough heat to keep you and your family toasty on cool fall evenings. Typically lightweight, fire pit bowls are easy to put away in the off-season.

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Fire Tables

Fire table in backyard

This style is like a modern coffee table with a fire in the center. There’s usually enough room on the ledge around the flame to set down plates or glasses, making it a cozy spot for entertaining. Look for a fire table that comes with an insert, so you can conceal the fuel box and use the full tabletop when the burner is off.

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Tabletop Fire Bowls

Tabletop fire pot on patio table

Talk about a unique centerpiece! These fire pits are much smaller than a standard fire pit (which means they don’t produce a ton of heat) and can be used to make a major statement on a patio table.

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Chimineas

Chiminea fire pit in backyard

This style of outdoor fire pit is often made of steel or cast iron and tends to have a rustic look akin to a wood-burning stove. You can also find chimineas with a modern aesthetic that are ideal for an urban oasis.

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Outdoor Fireplaces

Outdoor fireplace in backyard

If you have the space, a fireplace is the ultimate in backyard lounging luxury. (Set it up next to a hot tub and you may never go indoors again!) Since they tend to be heavy, an outdoor fireplace will become a permanent feature of your outdoor décor.

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2Fuel Types

There are two main types of fuel that fire pits rely on: wood and gas (either from a propane tank or a natural gas line). If you live in a city with an open-air wood-burning ban, gas may be your only option. If not, you’ll have to decide on the fuel type that works best for your family.

Wood-Burning Fire Pits

Wood-burning fire pits run on, you guessed it, wood. They’re available in portable and built-in (where the pit itself is permanently bricked in).

Pros Cons
A wood-burning fire pit is the only way to get that campfire scent that so many of us associate with summer. You’ll need to know how to start a fire from scratch.
Wood fires burn hottest, so you can get a backyard bonfire going even during the winter. There will be wood to buy (or chop) and ashes to clean up.
If you want to roast marshmallows or hot dogs with the kids, using firewood is the most authentic way to do it at home. The smoke may irritate those with asthma or other respiratory issues.

Natural Gas Fire Pits

Natural gas is an ideal fuel source if you’re planning to create a built-in fire pit that makes a statement.

Pros Cons
Natural gas fire pits are virtually mess-free. They require professional installation (which means higher upfront costs).
You won’t need to stock up on fuel (since it comes from your home’s gas line). Technically, gas fire pits are decorative and should not be used for cooking because grease or food drippings can clog the burner.[1] That said, many people still roast marshmallows.[2]
They’re quick and easy to turn on and use.

Propane Fire Pits

These backyard fire pits run on the same stuff you’re probably already buying for your barbecue. They come in a range of sizes and styles, from large fixtures to small tabletop accents.

Pros Cons
Many of these pits are portable, so you have the luxury of moving them around or putting them away as needed. You need to remember to check the tank and go for refills as required.
The propane tank is often hidden in the base, so there are no unsightly tanks or hoses to worry about. As with natural gas fire pits, propane fire pits are supposed to be decorative and are not meant for cooking—although some people carefully roast marshmallows because they generally don’t drip.[3]
Like natural gas fire pits, they’re easy to keep tidy.

3Fire Pit Materials

Fire pit materials including weathered steel, copper, cast iron and concrete

Whether you love the patina of copper or the sleek surface of stainless steel, there are a few things to know about some of the most common fire pit materials.[4]

  • Weathered steel: This rough, reddened steel and works well in a rustic backyard but is not as durable as stainless or powder-coated steel.
  • Powder-coated steel: Though it’s the most expensive type of steel, it also has some perks; it’s easy to clean, is incredibly durable and comes in an array of colours.
  • Stainless steel: It’s lighter than iron and is resistant to weather and corrosion. The cost usually falls between copper and cast iron.
  • Copper: This durable material develops a gorgeous patina over time, but you can also treat the surface to return it to its original lustre. The downside? It can be expensive.
  • Cast iron: This material is affordable, conducts heat well and resists corrosion, but it’s also heavy.
  • Polyresin: It imitates the look of stone while costing and weighing less than faux stone.
  • Faux stone and concrete: Incredibly sturdy and durable, this material is also very heavy.

4Portable or Permanent

A portable fire pit versus a built-in permanent fire pit

The option that best suits your family will depend on the size of your outdoor space, your budget and your family’s needs. A permanent fire pit will often be larger, heavier and may even be bricked in place, while a portable fire pit is freestanding.

Portable Fire Pits

  • They tend to take up less space.
  • You can set them up yourself.
  • They can be moved around the yard or packed away when heavy weather hits—or if you want to use the area for something else.
  • Unless you find a model that can hook up to your natural gas line, you’ll have to replace the fuel source (wood or propane) each time it runs out.

Built-In Fire Pits

  • They’re often larger and heavier.
  • They can be customized to suit your space.
  • If you choose, they can tap into your natural gas line, so you won’t need to worry about buying propane tanks or wood.
  • They’re often more expensive and will likely require professional installation.

5Local Regulations

Many remote and rural areas allow fire pits of all kinds unless there are active fire bans, often due to drought. However, most urban areas across the country, including the cities of Toronto,[5] Vancouver[6] and Montréal,[7] do not allow open-air wood-burning appliances (including outdoor fireplaces, chimineas, fire pits and burn drums) on private property because the risk of spreading fire is too great.

On the other hand, fire pits that run on natural gas or propane are often allowed in city backyards.[8][9] Check with your local fire authority for the specific regulations in your area.

6Choosing a Location

When scouting your yard for the perfect place to install a fire pit, keep these tips in mind. (Note: Exact regulations will depend on your local fire authority.)

  • Place the burn bowl a minimum of 10 feet away from structures like sheds, fences, garages and your house.
  • Keep the space above the pit free of clotheslines, low-hanging trees and pergolas.
  • Clear the area around the pit of stray debris and foliage.
  • Place the pit on a stone, brick or concrete foundation if possible.[10][11]

7Fire Pit Covers

A cover for your fire pit is a must-have accessory for protecting your investment. Not only will it stop rain and snow from damaging the material, but it will also keep out leaves, sticks and even little critters. Look for a cover in a weather-resistant material and ensure it’s the right size to fit snugly, so it won’t blow off.

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8Patio Heaters

Patio heater in backyard

If your main goal is to warm up your backyard throughout the fall, a patio heater is a low-maintenance, space-saving alternative to a fire pit. Patio heaters run on propane or electricity and come in a range of sizes and styles to suit most outdoor spaces. For some families, they’re a great alternative to fire pits for these reasons:

  • Pole-style heaters are generally safer for kids and dogs since the heat source is out of reach.
  • There are no flying sparks or embers.
  • Patio heaters come with temperature controls, so you get the right amount of warmth every time.[12]

Shop Patio Heaters

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Article Sources

  1. BBQ Guys. Can I Cook on My Gas Fire Pit?
  2. The Outdoor Greatroom Company. Can I Cook Over My Gas Fire Pit?
  3. Backyard Toasty. Can You Roast Marshmallows on a Propane Fire Pit?
  4. HGTV. Metal and Steel Fire Pit Options.
  5. City of Toronto. Open Air Burning.
  6. City of Vancouver. Outdoor Fire Safety.
  7. Service de securité incendie de Montréal. Outdoor Fires.
  8. City of Toronto. Open Air Burning.
  9. City of Vancouver. Outdoor Fire Safety.
  10. Consumer Reports. Safety Rules: CR’s Guide to Fire Pits.
  11. The City of Calgary. Fire Pit Safety.
  12. PortableFireplace.com. How to Decide: Patio Heater vs Fire Pit.