Whether you buy one or build your own, adding a fire pit to the yard or patio creates an elegant and cozy focal point for your outdoor living space. Great for outdoor entertaining or an intimate evening at home any time of year, fire pits are available in a myriad of sizes and styles and add style and function to your property. Maintenance is key toward keeping your backyard showpiece looking and functioning well all year long. Shayne Newman, president of YardApes Landscaping and board member of the Professional Landscape Network, offers these tips for keeping your pit in top condition.
Finding the right spot for your fire pit drastically impacts ease of maintenance. Newman recommends finding a site that has some wind protection to avoid smoke problems or scattered ash. Nearby trees with potential overhang should be pruned regularly for safety. An area of at least 10 feet in diameter around the pit should be kept clear of any yard debris.
A hot fire raging in cold conditions can cause pit stress. When installing masonry fire pits in cold regions, footers should be extended to the frostline or built on a reinforced concrete base to reduce risk of cracking. Cracking issues are common, says Newman. Although some cracks are only of cosmetic concern, all should be evaluated. Severe cracks should be patched before continued use.
Wood burning pits are fairly forgiving, but burning trash or pressure treated wood can release harmful toxins that are unhealthy to breathe and can damage pit surfaces. Dry, split wood is recommended. Do not burn green wood. Newman suggests using broken pallets or yard-picked leaves and sticks as kindling to help get your fire started. Use of accelerants can be dangerous and can discolor or damage the fire pit and is strongly discouraged.
When possible, flames should be allowed to naturally subside. Although water should be kept available for emergency purposes. dousing an active fire by pouring water on it can cause rapid temperature shifts that may crack or otherwise damage the vessel.
Because ashes are acidic, shoveling ashes from the pit regularly is important for preventing long-term damage to fire pits. Newman suggests keeping a metal ash can on hand to collect ashes the day after the pit has been used. Embers can smolder long after the fire has subsided, so care should be taken when clearing ashes and may be doused with water once they have been removed. Spent ashes may be collected in a metal bucket with a lid and properly disposed once full.
If residue buildup becomes an issue over time, masonry fire pits may be cleaned using a solution of one part muriatic acid to nine parts water to scrub the interior. Once clean, rinse with water and allow to dry 48 to 72 hours before use.
Fueled by natural gas or propane, gas fire pits can be a good choice for existing patios for their ease of use, safety and low-maintenance requirements. Although they generally produce less heat than wood burning pits, they are “instant on” and produce no messy ashes to clean. To keep your gas fire pit in good working order, keep burners clean for proper gas flow and check fuel lines regularly.
As with cast iron, rust buildup is common with metal fire pits. Surface rust is easily removed by scrubbing with a stiff wire brush and wiping away the residue. Protective coatings like oil and silicone are available to minimize rust development, but it is important to determine which are appropriate for the type of metal. Consult manufacturer instructions before applying any surface treatments.
Whether a simple vinyl cover or something more ornate, Newman offers that keeping shielding your pit from the elements is an easy way to extend the life of your backyard or patio showpiece.
Although Newman concedes the use of a screen may sometimes detract from the beauty of an open flame when gathered around the pit on a chilly evening, many prefab pits include flat or domed screens to reduce the spread of embers for safety and to reduce char and clutter.
If you plan to use your fire pit to cook outdoors, grates or other cooking surfaces should be promptly cleaned. Grease, juices and food residue can build up on the inside of the fire pit, causing stains and exacerbating deterioration.
Having the right tools on hand can help keep your fire pit looking and functioning in top form. “You can go to the hardware store and pick up a simple fireplace tool kit to use with your fire pit,” says Newman. “You’ll want an ash scoop, a long poker, some tongs for moving the logs around to keep them burning evenly.”
Permanent pit installations can usually handle year-round weather conditions with minimal maintenance, but if your pit is portable, storing a moveable pit under cover or in a garage or shed during extended periods when not in use can make it easy to avoid the added elbow grease necessary to clean off-season buildup of dirt and debris before sharpening those marshmallow sticks for the season.
Originally: Fire Pit Maintenance Tips