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You have a bag of perfectly squishy marshmallows, some new outdoor chairs, and a friend who tells a chilling ghost story. Now you just need a fire pit to bring all these elements together for summer -- not to mention spring, fall, and winter -- nights.
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, fire pits are 2016's top outdoor design element. Sure, you can buy all kinds of premade outdoor fire features, but if you want to go full paleo, check out these tips on how to build a fire pit on your own.
Pick a safe location
Gisela Hausmann, an avid home improver who wrote a book about building her fire pit, stresses that you never set one up near overhanging branches or close to a structure that could easily catch fire, including a deck! Choose a flat, level spot in your yard that you can comfortably circle with seating. Also consider size.
"If you plan to grill hot dogs and watch the flames dance, a standard 36-inch-wide pit will do fine," says Hausmann. Just make sure to stake out the pit before building so you can eyeball the dimensions.
Get the right building materials
Large stones or cast-concrete curved blocks are the building materials of choice for a fire pit. If you're going with stones, always check with a stone supply store to make sure your selection is suitable, as natural stone can crack or break in intense heat, says Hausmann.
"The best way to ensure that the stones don't crack is to insert a steel fire pit liner inside your structure, which will shield your stones from the heat and is available at most home improvement stores," she says.
Decide between a wood-burning or gas fire pit
For some, nothing beats a crackling wood fire, but just know that some municipalities don't allow wood-burning fires due to the smoke. In that case, gas will be your only option -- and we must say, there's something nice about the convenience of a fire pit with the turn of a knob. You can hook up a gas line to a barbecue propane tank, or install a propane line connected to what's powering your kitchen.
Obviously, when you're dealing with gas, safety is paramount, says Lindsey Conklin, general manager at fire pit manufacturer StarfireDirect. So if you're nervous or unsure about what to do, hire a professional to install the gas line and you can stick with just building the fire pit itself.
Choose a shape
You can build fire pits in just about any shape you want, from round to square to octagonal, although in general a circular pit spreads heat the most evenly. (If you're using a liner, it can serve as a handy building guide; just place it on the ground where you want your fire pit, then place your first layer of stones around it.) Once you've got your first layer of rocks in the desired shape, use a shovel tip to outline the outer perimeter on the ground. Then remove the stones (and liner if you used one) so the area is clear for the next step.
The term "fire pit" is somewhat misleading, because you don't want your fire to be down in the ground. But you will need to dig down and remove a couple of inches of dirt from your pit. Then fill to almost ground level with gravel or sand. This provides drainage so your fire pit doesn't turn into a pool of water the instant it rains.
Once your pit is properly dug and layered for drainage, place the first layer of stones along the pit's perimeter just below ground level, followed by additional layers depending on the height you want your fire pit to be. Use concrete or concrete adhesive to hold each layer together. You can also dry stack, as in the photo below.
Reach the right height
The height of your fire pit is largely up to you, although 1 or 2 feet foot tall is generally good, because that's high enough to keep the ashes in but low enough so people can admire the fire and cook those hot dogs.
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