The weather is finally warming up, and you can’t wait to spend more time outside. Yet once the yardwork is done, there is not much to do. How about doubling your outdoor enjoyment with a fire pit?
Fire pits are a great way to gather everyone around for a nice evening under the stars. The popularity of fire pits has exploded. Sites like Pinterest and the DIY network offer many easy ways to add a fire pit to your backyard.
Fire pits can be elaborate or simple; it just depends on how much you want to spend. For a custom built brick or stone fire pit you could spend $1,000s of dollars, or just go the frugal route like I did and spend much less.
First, check with your local Chamber of Commerce or local law enforcement to make sure fire pits are legal in your area. Follow all rules and guidelines to the letter. As with any fire-related activity, safety comes first.
Next, choose an area in your yard away from buildings, fences, bushes or overhanging branches. One of the easiest ways to create a fire pit is digging a shallow hole, then lining the edges with concrete blocks. Make sure the holes are pointing up and that all the edges touch to avoid any flames from shooting out. Home improvement stores sell concrete blocks for about 77 cents.
Another fire pit option are the free-standing metal bowls with a fire screen. Many cities allow this type of fire-pit. You can buy a simple one at Walmart for about $25, or go for a fancier design for a bit more. Make sure it comes with a long-handled tool for lifting the lid off when you need to add wood.
Start with a flat surface of hard-packed earth, gravel, pavers or stones. Place the metal stand in the center. Gather chairs or benches around for plenty of comfortable seating. When you are ready to have a fire, get a large bucket of water and place nearby. It’s also a good idea to have a hose handy, just in case.
Gather plenty of various sized pieces of firewood so that you have a large supply ready. You don’t want to go stumbling around in the dark looking for more wood. A couple of flashlights or lanterns are a great addition as well.
Start with small twigs and maybe some balls of newspaper. Place medium sized sticks in a tee-pee shape, then light the fire from below. Never add gas or accelerant. Once the sticks are burning, add bigger sized wood pieces. Larger chunks will burn longer and create good coals for roasting marshmallows.
Here is a trick to create changing colors in the flames: Put a 3” piece of old garden hose inside a chunk of copper tubing and toss into the fire. As the rubber burns, it makes the flames turn blue, green, yellow, orange and purple! Fish the copper tube out the next day after all the embers are cooled, and it will be ready for the next fire-just add another length of hose. Copper tubing can be bought at home improvement stores for just a couple of dollars.
Make sure the fire is completely out before going to bed. Stir up the embers or even pour water over the fire. Wait until the next day to clean out the ashes and dispose of them properly. Plastic gloves are handy, as it is usually a messy job.
Fire pits are fun, but where do you find the firewood to keep them going? You may not have to look further than your own yard! Save any sticks or branches. Also, watch for trees being cut down in your neighborhood; often the wood is just hauled away to the landfill and can be had for free.
You can also use up the old scraps from wood-working projects; just be sure the wood isn’t treated with harmful chemicals. You can usually tell if they are green-treated. Don’t burn plastic or Styrofoam items, as they will give off toxic fumes.
Even if you choose to spend the money on a fancy, custom built fire pit, you are bound to recoup your purchase price in one or two seasons. Yet keeping the fire lit can be costly, as well.
Here are some actual classified ads in our newspaper last week:
“One pickup load of firewood $85.”
“One load firewood, delivered and stacked, $150.”
“One pickup full of mixed hardwood, delivered, $175.”
I have a better plan: get your firewood for free. Other people advertise free firewood if you haul it away. Or you can cut and clear it yourself. Some people even discard perfectly good wood, cut in the required three foot or less lengths!
I keep my eyes open, and if I spot a pile of wood on the curb ready for the landfill, I pull over and load it up. I keep a spare pair of gloves in the vehicle for just that purpose. It usually takes less than ten minutes and I’m on my way. One note of caution: check for bark that has insect holes. Sometimes people throw away firewood because it is harboring unwanted bugs. You don’t want to bring that home!
Don’t overlook scrap lumber. Many people throw away small chunks of leftover wood from home remodeling projects. These burn just as well. Just be careful of old nails or hardware and any pre-treated wood.
Last spring I saw a large pile of neatly stacked landscape timbers in four-foot sections. They were about a foot to eighteen inches long, perfect for our fire pit. One section burned for the entire night, making it a very good haul. In fact, we still have at least six sections left for next summer’s bonfires.
The best time to pick up free firewood is in the spring and summer when people are cleaning up their yards. Some cities even offer a recycling program, where you can pick up a load of firewood for free from the landscape division. You just need to provide proof of home ownership with a driver’s license or utility bill. They even offer free mulch made from wood chips, which comes from all the discarded firewood, branches and scrap lumber.
One tool that is very helpful is a small 14” chainsaw. It was on sale and I got a $20 rebate, so I only paid around $15 for it. It is lightweight and easy to control. It helps me cut larger chunks of wood into manageable pieces. I can also trim dead branches from our trees for even more free firewood. Safety is the number one concern when using chainsaws. Always follow the instructions and be careful.
Firewood doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Keep a pair of gloves handy and a sharp lookout, and you will enjoy firewood, free for the hauling.
Once you get your firewood home, make sure to store it properly. You want it to stay dry, so put it in bins or piles and cover everything with a tarp. Don’t place the firewood right against a building, as any insects that might make a home in the wood would have easier access to the structure. Instead, place it a foot or so away. It also helps to pile the wood on pallets, to keep it off the ground. Pallets can often be found for free; a good source is the free section on Craigslist or local Freecycle website.
Fire pits are wonderful. They provide warmth and a cozy ambiance that can’t be beat when your friends and loved ones are gathered together. Who doesn’t love sharing stories over a melty marshmallow or a gooey s;mores sandwich?
So create a fire pit, gather some wood and invite all your friends over for a fun evening out. Your backyard will be the hottest spot in town!
Shaunna loves hosting a fire pit party with her family and friends. See how she lives frugally at The Discount Diva and sign up for her free newsletters! http://shaunna67.tripod.com/id21.html