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Fire and Brimstone

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Updated: June 8, 2020

When the four Aristotelian elements of earth, wind, water and fire are brought together with the elements of stone and wood, a synergy can develop that brings both function and form to landscapes. Fire is the one element that can often be overlooked in landscape design and construction, but if considered as part of the overall design it can bring a richness to outdoor spaces that would otherwise be lost.

Like Moths To A Flame

For thousands of years humans have attempted to master and control fire and in the modern world the fire pit allows us to do just that and benefit even more from the warmth, light and beauty that fire has to offer. Fire can convey passion, purification, anger, destruction, and, of course, literal blazes and infernos. It has since the dawn of time, captivated and mesmerised humans with its beauty. Fires create both a focal point and a social point – a gathering place that creates ambiance within a landscape, allowing those who gather beside it an opportunity to converse. Their functionality can not only bring warmth and conversation but also provide opportunity for food preparation.

Fire pits have become an integral part of the outdoor lifestyle, a social hot spot, and their inclusion in landscape designs allows the enjoyable use of an area to be extended across the seasons from the warmth a fire pit provides. Fire pits are undoubtedly a great way to bring people, family and friends together.

Fuel The Flames

The type of fire pit selected for installation will vary in accordance with other landscape design elements. The selection of a fire pit type will often be determined on price, but that is only one element that should be considered in the selection of one type over the other. The main types of fire pit are:

  • Wood burning fire pits
  • Natural gas fire pits
  • Propane fire pits
  • Ethanol fueled fire pits

The type of fuel source may be dictated by factors such as location, cost, ease of maintenance and personal preference.

When it comes to fires there is something organic about burning wood in a fire pit that has given rise to this type of fire pit as one of the most popular. This traditional fuel source is relatively cheap, efficient and adds warmth, a pleasant smell and magical charm to an area. The cost of wood over other fuels and the need for storage may however prove restrictive in some circumstances and the smoke, and ash produced from some wood types can detract from the overall charm. There is also the maintenance required to keep wood fire pits clean after each use to remove ash.

The move towards more environmentally responsible fuel sources has seen a rise in popularity of propane, ethanol and natural gas fire pits installations. The selection of one over the other will come down to portability, energy efficiency, cost and safety. All these fuel types burn relatively clean but with natural gas a permanent fire pit table is required as the gas is supplied through a stationary line that delivers gas to the dwelling.

Propane fire pits provide greater flexibility as they can be portable. The fuel source is delivered in cylinders, which are available in a range of sizes making them easily moveable and relatively easy to hide from view depending on the style of fire pit.

Ethanol fire pits have become a very trendy option as a form of heating indoors, Bioethanol is clean burning, so there is no need to flue out any harmful emissions or install costly ventilation systems when used indoors. The portability of ethanol units allows them to be relocated to alfresco or outdoor areas with ease and their contemporary designs will further enhance any modern landscape.

Fire Pit Designs

There are hundreds of fire pit designs available on the market and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Designs will vary according to the fuel type used in a fire pit.

A fire pit can be as simple as a metal bowl or a brick pit embedded in situ.

The extension on these themes is endless and there are suppliers offering a wide range of fire pit designs for either DIY installation or custom-built options.

The use of stone and bricks in fire pit designs increases the possibilities for functional and aesthetically pleasing installations to suit any landscape and budget. The use of masonry products in the construction allows for elaborate designs and construction of fireplaces, not just fire pits. The inclusion of raised hearths can add elegance and increase functionality by affording a spot to sit around the fireplace and another addition to consider is a fire grill and pizza oven. Such inclusions further extend the practicality of a fire pit or fireplace in the landscape.

Fire Pit Safety

Safety is paramount when considering the installation of a fire pit. Location is of the utmost importance, ensuring that the fire pit is installed on a level surface and not close to any combustible materials or too close to permanent infrastructure in the landscape that may be compromised by heat or flame. Allow at least 3m of open space between the fire pit and the nearest structure and ensure that it is not placed under any overhanging branches. This is of particular importance with wood fire pits where operators do not have the same level of control offered by gas pits and wood fire pits can produce embers and hot ash that may pose a risk in the landscape. The flame on gas fire pits can be regulated in the same manner as a stove or barbecue burner and can be extinguished literally with the touch of a button. Never leave a lit fire pit unattended, this is an important consideration particularly where pets and small children may be concerned. All fire pit installations should include a fire blanket or extinguisher to avoid any possible mishaps.

Accessorise

Any hipster will to tell you, it pays to accessorise to complete an ensemble for maximum appeal. Fire pit accessories are just as important. There are some accessories that are mandatory such as ember screens for wood fire pits and wood storage units available in a variety of styles. Covers are highly recommended to protect the fire pit from the elements and cooking plates are an excellent addition to extend the functional use of a fire pit.

Fire glass is an accessory that comes specifically with gas fire pits that can provide a unique look to an outdoor space. Flames can be seen leaping from glass of different colours and sizes, which provides beautiful refractions of light, especially in the dark. This adds to the visual appeal that gas fire pits can provide and is an experience that wood-burning fire pits cannot provide.

In The Heat Of The Moment

Fire in a landscape can be quite provocative and as we search for a deeper connection with our outdoor environments it is an element that should be given consideration in any landscape design. Viewed up close or from a distance, fire is mesmerising. The burning attraction to fire has seen the rise of fire pits as an integral part of landscape design, fulfilling the obsession that has long drawn us into a relationship with the flames, which will continue to be fuelled eternally.