Ahh, those delicious days of summer are so precious that Connecticut Yankees try to extend them any way they can. It’s not surprising, then, that the latest backyard trend is the ever so popular, socially engaging fire pit. They’re so popular that builders often include them in their construction plans. When the sun goes down and the crimson glow of a warm fire lights the night and fills the air with the sweet perfume of wood burning in a circular pit, people come together around the modern day campfire and memories are made.
There are all kinds of fire pits available for purchase, including many variations of portable pits that allow homeowners to move them about to wherever they are entertaining outdoors. However, the permanent stone fire pit is especially favored here in Fairfield County, where field stone is readily available and weekend warriors are always ready for yet another do-it-yourself (DIY) challenge. Recently, one such warrior (my son), said that he bought a kit that came with everything that he needed, including a metal bowl insert and a screen to keep sparks in check. He purchased it at one of the big box stores and said the price was pretty reasonable.
It took him six hours to build, but he wanted to make his unique. He opted for a mosaic surface. He purchased a box of colorful chips, a bonding material and spent the next two weeks completing the project.
For most people, building a fire pit from scratch will take at least a few days. While it might look simple to construct a stone fire pit, there are some challenges that even the most ambitious warrior needs to consider (there are projects that you don’t do it yourself — DDIY). Before you consider building a stone fire pit, consider the following:
DIY: First, check with your town’s building and fire departments to verify whether or not you need a permit to build a fire pit. Every town has different requirements, and it’s up to you to check it out.
DDIY: Don’t start the project without checking about the permit because disassembling a proper fire pit can be more complicated than building one. If concrete is used, then know that environmentally, concrete will not decompose.
DIY: First make sure that there are no overhanging trees where you intend to place your pit.
DDIY: If you want a fire pit with a chimney; then you’re better off not doing it yourself. Scott Kilcoyne, owner of Kilcoyne Construction LLC (www.westportconstructioncontractor.com) in Southport, explains that if that chimney is not built correctly, your fire won’t burn properly. A professional knows how to create a proper funnel. Kilcoyne has years of experience in building fire pits and has noticed that more people are giving more thought to their outdoor experience. He says that the more popular fire pits he creates are of fieldstone with bluestone tops. The blue stone top matches the slate which is often used for the patio. He also said that while many homeowners opt for the basic fire pit, some go so far as to create a complete and elaborate outdoor experience. “While many people are going for simple, it really depends on the client,” he states. “I’ve seen people who had waterproof televisions installed outdoors.” He also says that if it’s a simple fire pit, then certainly many people can do it
DIY: If you are planning on a basic fieldstone fire pit, put a pole or post in the center of what will be your fire pit. Then with a string you can mark the circumference using chalk, rocks or some people prefer to mark with spray paint. Then dig a hole the size you desire at least one foot deep, although some recommend up to 18 inches. The next step is important because you need to line the hole with gravel for drainage. Mike Ajro of Mike’s Masonry (mikesmasonct.com) in Danbury does a lot of work in Trumbull and Fairfield County. He explains that the hole should be at least 13 inches deep. Mike lines his fire pits with fire bricks and lays gravel on the bottom of the pit. He also says it is important to be careful with bluestone because if you build too big a fire, the stone may crack. He prefers to use concrete on the top, into which he places little stones for aesthetics.
DDIY: If you’re already tired and don’t like to dig or the hassle of lugging stones, then consider going for a kit. It’s a lot less backbreaking.
DIY: If you’re good to go, then shape the perimeter with rocks. You will definitely want to use larger rocks on the base.
DDIY: Be aware of the potential dangers of using porous stone or rock because it is possible for these stones to actually explode. Don’t embark on any project without research and instructions. It’s important to be informed as to the possible safety hazards.
DIY: Finally, make sure that you try it out before inviting anyone over. It’s always a good idea to have another person with you for the test. One gentleman (my husband) got so close to the fire that he singed his hair! Be careful. When the project is complete, grab some lawn chairs, wave some neighbors over and have plenty of marshmallows to toast and celebrate. Just like a campfire, your fire pit will keep you warm right through the fall and into winter.