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Keep warm with a fire pit this winter.

Keep warm with a fire pit this winter.

Chilly nights are creeping in as the cooler months approach, and while it’s tempting to hibernate until daylight saving starts again, there’s a hot trend in home entertaining that makes it not only possible but enjoyable to be outside in winter.

A fire pit turns your chilly outdoor area into a cosy space you’ll want to enjoy. There are many options on the market and the one for you will depend on the size and space you have to work with. We’ll take you through some of the options that will make your place a hot spot this winter, and what to be aware of before you break out the marshmallows.

Know your rules and regulations

While fire pits are undeniably hot right now, in some urban areas they can be contentious. Before you invest, check with your local fire authority to clarify the dos and don’ts of having an outdoor fire. Also check with your local council as to whether you’re permitted to install and use a fire pit. Building and council codes can vary but keep in mind the main concerns of having a fire pit revolve around the following:

  • The distance between your fire pit and the nearest vegetation, residential, or commercial structure and the risk of starting an accidental fire.
  • The likelihood of smoke from the fire pit disturbing or harming your neighbours.
  • The fuel needed and used to light up your fire pit.

If you’re having a fire pit professionally installed, it’s important to hire a builder who knows and abides by the local fire and building codes. Using a professional is usually the quickest way to get council approval. But if you’re keen to DIY, just be sure to do your homework, get the proper council approval and assess whether or not it’s viable for you to have a fire pit in the first place.

Make safety a priority

Building a fire pit can be as easy as circling stones in your backyard or as complex as getting one designed and built on your decking. Either way, always keep safety first by following the guidelines below:

  • Your fire pit should be at least 3 metres away from any structure or combustible surface. 
  • Your fire pit should be situated on a solid and level surface like stone or gravel. This way it reduces the risk of fire escaping beyond your fire pit.
  • If your fire pit is fuelled by wood, never use gasoline or kerosene to start your fire. Instead, use dry wood such as kindling, ensuring it doesn’t extend beyond the edge of the pit.

Refine your design

As more styles enter the marketplace, the days of the old concrete block or rusted drum fire pits seem to be numbered. When choosing a fire pit, you’ll have plenty of options to consider, including:

  • Permanent in-ground or aboveground fire pits made from non-combustible materials such as concrete, fire bricks, or landscaping stones, which will withstand extreme temperatures.
  • Portable fire pits that are lightweight and easy to move from place to place, making them easy to clean and use. They often double as a grill and make cooking over the fire an option for winter gatherings.
  • Tabletop fire pits and fire bowls are compact, mobile and versatile, making them perfect for tables and smaller spaces like courtyards and balconies. 
  • Chimineas are popular hand-decorated terracotta outdoor fireplaces. While some people use them as outdoor decorating pieces, they’ve been used for hundreds of years to warm up the coldest of nights.

Fuel for thought

The three types of fuel used in Australia’s outdoor fire pits are either wood, gas or biofuel. Which fuel you use to light your fire all comes down to a matter of personal preference and how much warmth your outdoor space requires. Below are a few useful pointers which can help you understand fire pit fuels better:

Wood: The crackle and scent of burning wood creates a romantic and cosy ambience. On the downside, while it produces the highest heat output, it can take effort to get the flame going, it can be messy, and it may produce an unpleasant amount of smoke. 

Gas: There are strict requirements of gas fuel supply and usage. But if the council only permits you to use gas as your source of fire pit fuel, you must comply.

Biofuel: Like ethanol, biofuel has the lowest heat output of all three fuel choices. It has become a popular fuel source for outdoor fires because of its low-maintenance contemporary aesthetic.

Location, location, location

For both safety and aesthetics, the positioning of your fire pit needs to be carefully considered. Its fuel source will also depend on where you choose to locate it on your property.

Backyards: If you have a backyard of a decent size, then you’re spoilt for choice. You can choose to have your fire pit built in-ground, portable or a chiminea. If you’re opting for timber as your fuel, you’ll want to consider nearby structures, branches or any other flammable materials such as grass or furniture that are at risk of catching alight from flames and flying embers.

Smaller spaces: If you’re short on space, never fear – you don’t have to miss out on toasted marshmallows! Choose a smaller design that won’t overcrowd your area. A fire bowl, tabletop or portable fire pit will most likely be the most suitable for what you have to work with. For the fuel source, a smaller space such as an inner-city courtyard or apartment patio is more suited to clean-burning biofuel like ethanol.

Balconies: Although your options are somewhat limited, a balcony can still benefit from a fire pit. Small fire bowls or tabletop fire pits are the most logical options. Considering you’ll be heating a confined area, it’s best to opt for gas or a clean-burning biofuel.

Cosy up and enjoy!

Once you’re set, all that’s left to do is enjoy your new winter entertaining space. Keep in mind your safety basics to keep your guests and yourself safe, and always monitor guests when you’re around the fire, especially little ones. Never leave the pit unattended, even when the fire has burned down to coals, and be sure to extinguish it fully after use.

Have an emergency plan by keeping a fire extinguisher or a garden hose close by, just in case the fire gets out of hand. It you’re unable to put it out quickly and safely, call triple zero (000).

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