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The Fire Pit Is the New Living Room Hearth

Investments in outdoor entertaining space surge amid COVID-19

spinner image  Circular wood fire pit
Jason Finn / Alamy Stock Photo

These days, hosting friends for dinner or drinks indoors is off the table for many, amid concerns about transmission of COVID-19. Instead, the backyard fire pit has become a focal point for gathering.

Topping many home improvement wish lists, fire pits can run the gamut from elaborately hardscaped to simple, portable and inexpensive. And stay-at-home orders and limitations around socializing have sparked an overwhelming yearning for these cozy backyard spaces designed for entertaining.

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"As people have been isolating in their homes and social distancing, they naturally have gone outside … and looked for places that they can connect with other people,” says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard in Atlanta. “Our contractors and dealers are just seeing an absolute explosion in interest in fire pits."

Expanded outdoor living

Debbie Silverman, 61, of Salem, New Hampshire, envisions year-round use of the patio with built-in fire pit she's currently having constructed at her lake house. She's anticipating creating s'mores this summer, and warming her toes by the fire with friends in cooler weather.

Silverman began construction of the fire pit in the midst of the pandemic and sees value in the expanded outdoor living space. She has plans to do a lot more al fresco entertaining and “hang out and enjoy it in the evening,” she says.

Similar to the hearth in a living room, a fire pit serves as a cheerful congregation spot with crackling flames that create ambiance. The options range from easy-to-assemble metal bowls to intricate designs of stone, concrete or brick requiring professional installation.

It is not just the craving for connection during quarantine that has led to unprecedented demand for fire pits. At Weckesser Brick in Rochester, New York, sales of DIY fire pits have quadrupled over last summer and the manufacturer is racing to keep up, says owner Tim Weckesser.

"People are home and … have money that they were going to spend on a vacation [to invest in] a patio and fire pit,” he says.

spinner image Family relaxing around fire pit outdoors
Tetra Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Portable or permanent

Investments in fire pits may be increasing due to COVID-19, but Weckesser predicts that the enjoyment will far outlast the global pandemic.

"People are being more cautious about going out … but I do feel like this is a trend that will continue,” he says. “Fire pits allow for family to get together, and it's a good reason to just gather around and have a good time."

Nancy Lubarsky, 63, wanted a small, portable fire pit for her beach house in Long Branch, New Jersey, where she is spending time until it's safe to travel again.

"We just wanted to make it as ‘vacation-y’ as possible and have a place where we could sit around the campfire,” she says.

Lubarsky ordered a metal fire pit on a stand with a mesh screen cover from Amazon. Her husband assembled it and, within hours, the couple had a cozy campfire on their patio. She looks forward to roasting marshmallows with her 4- and 8-year-old grandchildren on their next visit.

Silverman, of New Hampshire, knew she wanted a more permanent structure. She searched Pinterest for inspiration and hired a landscaping crew to bring her vision for a rectangular fire pit with built-in seating to life. She designed a space below the brick benches to store firewood. Silverman plans to use the space all year.

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"It's not just a summertime thing,” she says. “We're not afraid to sit outside in the cold."

Here are some considerations for constructing or purchasing a fire pit:

spinner image Gas fire pit and outdoor decor
Nadine Mitchell / Alamy Stock Photo

Burning wood or gas?

Before inviting families over for a socially distanced visit around the fire pit, Raboine suggests reviewing local regulations. Some municipalities prohibit burning wood. In those cases, a fire pit can be connected to the gas line on the house or powered with a propane tank similar to those used on a gas grill.

The interest in gas fire pits is growing, but wood remains the most popular option.

“A lot of people love the smell of a campfire with the burning of wood,” Raboine says.

Location, location, location

Think carefully about the safest spot for your fire pit.

Local regulations often establish setbacks requiring fire pits to be placed a specific distance from the house and other structures to minimize the risk of fire.

Choose materials such as steel or brick that are rated for high heat and set them on a noncombustible surface such as concrete, crushed stone or patio pavers with an 8-foot (or larger) radius around the fire pit to prevent embers from sparking flammable materials.

Most important, Raboine adds: “Make sure you fully extinguish [the fire] with water when you are done."

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