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October 23, 2013

Enjoy the backyard year-round with an outdoor fire pit

By Elizabeth Scussel
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Len Petrucci crafted this fire pit in his daughter’s backyard. Petrucci built the fire pit with a simple list of supplies, including weed blocker, treated lumber, pea gravel, bricks, glue, and a caulk gun.

You’ve said goodbye to barbecues, fireworks and warm summer nights. Chances are, you’re ready to bid adieu to your backyard for the season, as well. However, the passing of summer doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to pack up the patio until spring.

An outdoor fire pit can be the perfect way to keep cozy amid the crisp autumn air. Whether toasting marshmallows, sipping a glass of wine or just admiring the dancing flames, a fire pit may help you enjoy the turn in season.

“In the fall and winter months, most people wouldn’t just sit around in the backyard like they do in the summer,” explained Len Petrucci, of West Bloomfield. “A fire pit is a gathering place, and it’s a way to enjoy your backyard all year. In the wintertime, a crackling fire outside creates a peaceful ambiance.”

After years of using a portable fire pit, Petrucci, who manages a local logistics company, decided to construct a more permanent structure. He built his first fire pit out of the sandbox his children used when they were young.

If you’re crafty, and a do-it-yourself fire pit is what you’re looking to create, Petrucci recommends finding the location you want and leveling the land first. His recommended supply list includes weed blocker, treated lumber, pea gravel, bricks, glue and a caulk gun. It should cost about $300.

“There really aren’t many tools involved,” Petrucci said. “After leveling the ground, cut the grass out and apply the weed block. You can cut the center hole a bit deeper, but it’s not necessary. Dig a trench for the treated wood perimeter, fill the interior with pea gravel and glue the bricks together for stability.”

Petrucci now has two successful fire pit projects under his belt — one at his home and one at his daughter’s home. 

“I know the things I’m good at. I can’t rewire a house, but I can build things like this,” Petrucci said. “My biggest piece of advice for people building their own pit is to have patience. This project won’t take 20 minutes.”

If you want to leave the work to the professionals, there are many options. From premade kits to customized pits, the possibilities are numerous, with details such as granite, marble and glass tops, and designs from simple basins to multifunctional fire pits that double as cocktail tables.

A popular alternative to traditional wood-burning fire pits is an outdoor gas pit. The trend is growing, explained Bob Holmes of Shores Fireplace and BBQ in St. Clair Shores. If a gas fire pit is your chosen route, Holmes strongly suggests leaving the gas line work to professionals.

“Each year, we get more requests for outdoor gas pits. They are becoming more and more popular because there’s no smoke or sparks,” Holmes said. “However, safety codes vary from city to city. Do not leave a job like this up to Joe Blow the Plumber. So many things can go wrong. Check with your city hall and see what is allowed — then leave it to professionals.”

Holmes credits the influx in fire pit popularity to people going out less.

“People are spending more time at home,” he said. “From outdoor kitchens and bars to fire pits, people want to turn their backyard into usable living space.”

Please note that fire pit rules and ordinances vary from city to city. Check with your city before installing or purchasing a fire pit for your backyard.