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How to build the perfect fire pit

Fire pit

Want to upgrade your cottage experience? Give up the campfires and build a fire pit for the family to gather round.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Be safe

Before you enthusiastically bust out the lighter fuel, there’s a bit of bureaucracy that has to happen first. To confirm that you’re designing your pit to code, you’ll want to do your due diligence by looking at the fire permit requirements for your region.

Although regulations will vary according to municipality, there are a couple of red flags to avoid: stay away from trees and low hanging limbs, building and power lines; and avoid building over top of cables, underground cords or septic tanks.

Finally, you may also need to double-check your home insurance policy to ensure that no changes are required.

2. Choose a location based on function, not fashion

Fire codes may dictate location, based on distance from both your home and your neighbour’s property line.

Safety aside, selecting a site for your fire pit is also about function. Ask yourself the following: Is it protected from the wind and far enough away from the house that smoke won’t blow inside? Is it close enough that it won’t be difficult to go inside to stock up on s’more supplies? Is there a convenient place to stack chopped wood nearby? Is there adequate room for seating—and level seating, at that?

3. Build a better pit

There are three trademarks of a well-built fire pit: it’s level, it provides drainage, and it has protection against frost heaving in the winter. That might sound daunting, but with the right materials, it should only take an afternoon to construct.

First, prepare your site by digging a hole, which you then line with gravel. Use a mason’s level to ensure that it’s even before you build a ring of concrete rings, which will form the edge of your pit. As you add each ring, stop to make sure they’re level.

Once that’s complete, you can add a steel fire ring within the base for added safety and durability (heat dries out concrete blocks, which can cause them to crack). Popular Mechanics and This Old House both have DIY tutorials on their site—but if you’re not up to the task, a contractor can help you do the dirty work.

4. Get creative

Keep in mind that this is the grown-up version of a bonfire, so some finishing touches might be in order. Looking for a particular aesthetic? The ring of stones can be spray-painted in a uniform colour with high-heat stove paint. For a higher-end pit, swap out the gravel in favour of shattered glass to create “fire and ice.” Or, if you’d prefer a “fire bowl” to a “fire pit,” you can use a cast-iron sugar kettle or another up-cycled metal material instead of an interior steel ring.

5. Take care of your fire pit

Like any renovations or improvements that you make to your home or cottage, you’ll want to ensure the longevity of your investment. Don’t use water to douse your flames, if it can be avoided—this may cause stones to crack. (Cracks may happen, but severe ones should be patched.) The morning after a fire, remove the ashes. This will aid oxygen in travelling to the bottom of the pit for a better burning fire. Finally, when the pit isn’t in use—particularly for long periods of time, such as over the winter months—cover it to protect it from the elements.