Fire pits can produce many wood by-products such as soot and smoke which can be hazardous to your health. They also increase the possibility of a fire starting, especially when used carelessly or with combustible materials.
Fires release toxic smoke that may include poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde vapor, and acrolein. These gases are strong irritants to the eyes, nose and respiratory tract, can reduce lung function, and will irritate mucus membranes in the lungs. By breathing these gases, people can also develop asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Fire pits can cause house fires by igniting combustible materials such as wood shake/shingle roofs, eaves or wooden porch railings, decks, and fences within 6 feet of the pit.
What is a firepit?
A firepit is an open pit in the ground with a circular wall and/or roof and/or (unlike a traditional wood-burning fireplace) no flue. Fire pits are often made of brick, stone, or metal and can be ornate or plain depending on your taste.
Fire pits are often used to keep warm or to cook food, however, gas firepits do not produce the same problems as their open wood-burning counterparts.
However, gas firepits are still dangerous and should be used with caution.
Fire pits are convenient to use for warmth or cooking because they are easily accessible outside or in an outdoor room. Unfortunately, the same convenience that makes them popular also makes them potentially hazardous.
Fire pit made out of
The materials used for your firepit can affect how safe it is. Brick, stone, and metal tend to retain heat better than other materials. However, the heat they generate will be conducted to whatever is nearby. For this reason, you must use a fire pit made from a non-flammable material such as metal or stone.
Other crucial aspects of your fire pit should match those which apply to regular wood-burning fireplaces:
- the surrounding area should be free of combustible materials such as lumber, dry leaves, pine needles and other flammable material
- the fire pit should not be used under overhangs where condensation builds up on windows or trees
- always keep something which can be used to put out a fire on hand
- never leave the fire pit unattended
Some safety precautions to take
The following are important steps to take when using your new fire pit.
- When starting a fire, do not use lighter fluid or other accelerants. These can create dangerous fumes and cause fires that cannot be put out.
- When you are finished with your fire, be sure that it is completely out before leaving it unattended or going to bed. This means that the ashes should be cold enough that they cannot be smoldered. To ensure this, wait at least one hour after extinguishing your fire and then stir the ashes to make sure that they are cold.
- Do not use flammable liquids such as paint to decorate your fire pit and do not leave flammable items (such as newspapers) near the fire pit.
- Always place your fire pit on a flat level surface away from trees, bushes and overhangs.
- Be sure that the area around your fire pit is clear of combustible materials. This means at least five feet in all directions and more depending on how high they are from the ground and how dry they are.
- Do not use your fire pit for cooking. Cooking releases grease which can cause dangerous flare-ups. Always use firewood (not charcoal briquettes) and wait until the ashes are cold before disposing of them in a metal container with a lid or drowning them in water.
- To keep your fire pit looking nice, remember that it will rust over time. This can be limited by making sure that it is cleaned thoroughly after each use.
What types of fires should I not build in a fire pit?
DO NOT build fires that produce sparks, burning wood chunks, or flaming embers. These types of fires are very dangerous and one small spark could ignite combustible materials (for example your roof) within 6 feet of the fire.
Do not burn painted or treated wood, however, this applies to outdoor burning in general and does not apply to a fire pit specifically.
This information applies mainly to gas firepits due to their lower chance of producing hazardous by-products. However, it is still important to take the precautions outlined above when using your fire pit for heating or cooking purposes.
Alternative outdoor heaters to fire pits
If you still want to enjoy the effect of an outdoor flame but want a safer alternative, there are several options available. One option is an outdoor gas heater. They provide heat and can be purchased in many different styles and sizes, while still being relatively inexpensive compared to installing a permanent structure such as a fireplace or stove outside. Portable propane firepits are typically made of stainless steel with a ceramic or fiberglass bowl.
Another option is the outdoor fireplace. This is typically more expensive than an outdoor fire pit, but can produce much more heat (2 million BTU’s vs. 70,000) and does not require special installation like an indoor fireplace would. An outdoor fireplace will also typically have more aesthetic appeal with an opaque glass window at the front of it. If you are truly concerned with safety though, this might not be the best option for you as the glass window allows children to be closer to the fire than they would be in a pit or heater.
Not only do outdoor fireplaces produce significantly more heat, but they are aesthetically pleasing as well.
There are also some other options if you are looking for an alternative flame, but not heat. These include outdoor LED lights that produce a flame effect at the base of the light and there is also gas fire glass, which produces no flame or smoke, but gives off the light that would be produced with fire.
None of these options are as dangerous as building an open fire outside, but they provide the same aesthetic appeal for a fraction of the risk. If you still want that “campfire” experience, however, simply take your glass fire pit outside and enjoy it there!
Although the use of fire pits, chimineas, and similar products are fairly safe, it’s still important to keep safety in mind. Although open flame outdoor heaters are fairly safe compared to other options, they do increase the risk of injury due to burns or scalds. They can also release hazardous by-products if not properly maintained which can be dangerous around the home or if someone were to inhale them. If possible, consider using an alternative outdoor heater that doesn’t produce open flames such as a gas heater, outdoor fireplace, or even LED lights with a flame effect.