There aren’t many things better than sitting around a blazing fire in the comfort of your backyard, surrounded by family and friends. But what if your yard is too small for a fire pit, and the only space available is on your deck? Or, maybe you just want the convenience of having a cool, comfortable lounge space right outside your door?
If you have wood, composite, or vinyl decking, you might be wondering if adding a fire pit to your deck is even possible since flames and combustible materials don’t mix. We’re here to tell you that it is, but it depends on the kind of fire pit you choose, where you want to install the fire pit, your local city codes, and more.
Below, we’ve outlined the top six things you need to consider before installing a fire pit on your deck, so you can create a safe and cozy outdoor retreat!
1. GAS VS WOOD BURNING FIRE PITS
Gas fire pits are generally safe to use on combustible decks if installed properly by an NFI Certified professional, but you need to check the manufacturer requirements and your city’s code before putting any type of fire pit on your deck.
It is not safe to place a wood burning fire pit on top of a wooden, composite, or vinyl deck, unless it has been okayed by the manufacturer and city code, and it is placed on top of a non-combustible base, like concrete or natural stone. The base also needs to extend out at least 24 inches all the way around the fire pit.
If a non-combustible base is not used, sparks and embers can fly out, land on the deck, and potentially start a fire.
2. COMMON DECK SURFACES
Wood decking is highly combustible. Some gas fire pits are approved for installation on a wood deck, but wood burning fire pits are not, unless preapproved and the proper cautionary measures have been taken.
Composite decks are made from a combination of wood, wood particles, plastic, and recycled materials, and are considered combustible. Popular examples of composite decking include Trex® and TimberTech® brands.
Vinyl decking is made from plastic and chlorine, also known as PVC, a combustible material. Vinyl also expands easily and is likely to crack when exposed to excessive heat.
Poured concrete slabs or stone pavers make great durable surfaces for decks. Concrete and stone are non-combustible materials and will not catch fire, making them the best deck surface for a fire pit.
3. CHECK THE FIRE PIT INSTALLATION MANUAL
When shopping for a fire pit, always consult the installation manual to make sure it will be a good fit for your space.
Manufacturers publish important clearance and installation requirements in these manuals, so it’s important to read them before making a purchase (most manuals can be found on the item pages of our website).
For example, let’s take a look at a snip from the installation manual for the French Barrel Oak Cosmo Gas Fire Pit Table made by American Fyre Designs:
On the “Minimum Clearances” page of this manual, it says:
“Clearance Below Unit” is 0 inches and “Floor must be a hard, level surface. Combustible materials permitted.”
Both requirements verify that this gas fire pit table is perfectly safe to use on a combustible deck, whether it is wood, composite, trex, or vinyl.
4. WEIGHT REQUIREMENTS
Fire pits can be heavy, especially if they require a stone base.
Once you have checked the manufacturer requirements and found the right fire pit for your deck, you may need to find out if the deck is strong enough to support the added weight.
Follow these steps to determine if your deck can handle the weight of your fire pit:
- Find out the weight of the fire pit and any additional accessories needed
- Add this to the weight of your outdoor furniture and maximum amount of people who will be on the deck at once
- Compare this total to the maximum weight your deck can handle
- If you are unsure of your deck’s weight capacity, you will need to consult a structural engineer
5. RESEARCH YOUR LOCATION
Next, you will need to make sure the fire pit is placed a safe distance away from your home, and will not come into contact with walls, overhangs, low-hanging tree branches, plants, or anything else that can easily catch fire.
In most cases, a fire pit should be kept at least 20-25 feet away from a house or combustible structure, and typically needs a minimum of 3 feet of clearance on each side and 6 feet above. If you have an awning over your deck, you’ll need to consider flame height and BTU output, too. You may even need to go for a fire pit with a lower BTU output to ensure you have the proper overhead clearance.
Every fire pit is different, so you’ll need to refer back to the manufacturer’s requirements before placing a fire pit on, around, or under any combustible surfaces, structures, or materials.
6. ACCESSORIES FOR SAFE BURNING
There are a few accessories available that can make your fire pit safer. These include screens and spark guards, covers, and non-combustible bases.
Screens and spark guards
Typically made of steel and mesh, screens are used to keep sparks, embers, and ash from flying out of a wood burning fire pit.
Metal or stone covers
When not in use, covers prevent fire pits from sustaining unnecessary damage and provide protection from the elements. In some cases, covers are required to validate the manufacturer’s warranty.
Pads and bases
Non-combustible bases can be made from natural stone, pavers, or metal. They’re placed underneath a fire pit to protect the surface below from radiant heat transfer and flying sparks or embers.
Before purchasing a fire pit for your deck, research your city’s code and regulations, find out the maximum weight requirements of your deck, and decide whether you will need a base.
Once you have this figured out, pick out a few fire pits you like and check the installation manuals and the manufacturer’s requirements to make sure they are good options for your deck’s surface and your outdoor space.
Finally, narrow down the list to your favorite fire pit and pick out any accessories you’ll need to ensure a safe and fun burning experience.
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WE'RE HERE TO HELP
Have questions about installing a fire pit? We'd love to help you out! Contact one of our NFI Certified specialists at (800) 919-1904 today.
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