Can you put a fire pit on a timber deck?
The appeal of outdoor fire—the heat, the light, and the captivating flicker of the flames—goes without saying. Plus, outdoor fire pits mean cozy gatherings of family and friends in the woods or backyard.
Or on your timber deck…
Yes, with proper safety precautions, you can install a fire pit on your timber or Trex composite deck and bring that one-of-a-kind ambience to your outdoor space anytime. Read on for safety tips and to find the best fire pits for timber decks.
Assessing Deck Compatibility
Fire pits operate at high temperatures, so you must protect your deck surface, whether the deck material is wood, PVC, or composite. That requires a non-combustible barrier between the deck and the fire pit. Examples include pavers, tiles, or even an elevated steel cabinet, which many gas-fueled fire pits include. Yet even non-combustible materials can transmit heat and possibly scorch the deck, so you should also have a heat shield under the fire pit to ensure timber protection.
Because fire pits give off so much heat, including radiant heat, they need adequate space (clearance) from other surfaces and objects, including walls, railings, and furniture. As a result, the size of your deck and its design configuration will influence the fire pit you select and where you place it in your “outdoor living room.”
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Fire Pit for Your Timber Deck
The main selection factors are deck safety, legal compliance, and the type of fire you prefer (fuel source). Local regulations might prohibit using portable timber-burning fire pits on decks or require using a fire pit pad and/or pavers. Fire pits that use other fuel sources entail fewer restrictions. Unless you plan to add a heavy hearth, the weight of the fire pit is not usually a factor. If your deck materials include vinyl decking, take additional steps to protect it from heat.
Fire Pit Options for Timber Decks
Make sure the fire pit you choose is labelled and certified for use on timber decks. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding installation, clearance requirements, and maintenance.
Timber-burning fire pits
The traditional option, timber-burning fire pits, are the next best thing to a campfire. But like campfires, they can produce excessive heat and smoke. Before considering this option, check with your local fire marshal or building officials. Some municipalities don’t allow portable or permanent timber-burning fire pits on decks or restrict their use.
Propane- or natural gas-burning fire pits
Gas fire pits—fueled by propane or natural gas—are frequently designed as tables and are a safe option for timber decks. These fire pits produce no sparks or embers, a significant risk with wood burners. They also start and stop instantly, and many include an adjustable knob to control the flame size and heat output (BTUs).
Gel-burning fire pits
Also known as fire bowls, these small stone or concrete fire pits can also be trays and urns. They come with decorative rock surrounding a can of gel fuel, creating little smoke and no embers, spark, or ashes.
Alcohol-burning fire pits
Similar in concept to fire bowls, these fire pits use isopropyl alcohol to create a pleasing ambience with no smoke and no residue. (This makes them ideal for roasting marshmallows!)
How to Safely Install a Fire Pit on a Timber Deck
Fire bowls and propane-fueled fire pit tables are safe fire pits that don’t require much installation. Just site them properly and perform regular deck maintenance. Be sure to look up when you site any fire pit. You don’t want rising heat to char your pergola or overhangs.
For permanent fire pits that operate on natural gas, get professional help, which may be required by law. Trying to save a few hundred dollars isn’t worth the risk of an accidental fire or gas explosion.
Implementing Safety Measures
Fire pits are safe to use on timber decks only when installed and operated properly. Use only non-combustible and/or fire-resistant materials around the fire pit. You should also understand the limitations of these materials. For instance, non-combustible rocks or tiles can still transmit enough heat to scorch your deck or worse. Porous cement pavers dissipate heat better, but you may need a fire pit mat to act as a heat shield. Tabletop fire pits might not require a supplementary base but make no assumptions. Check the manufacturer’s instructions.
How you operate the fire pit is also important. Use the spark screen, if included. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. Never leave the fire unattended. Show members of your household about using the fire pit safely. Don’t add liquid accelerants to the fire.
Maintenance and Upkeep
Every fire pit needs regular maintenance to ensure it remains safe, performs as designed, and has a long service life. The deck where it’s installed also needs attention.
Timber-burning fire pits leave behind ashes that you should remove when cool and placed in a sealed bag. Fire pits that run on propane, natural gas, gel, or alcohol require much less cleaning. Use a vacuum to remove dirt and debris and clean blackened areas with soot remover. You should also clean your deck.
Inspect for wear and damage
Periodically check the fire pit for any signs of wear, such as rust, and for damage. Also, inspect the deck area under and around the fire pit for signs of heat damage or discolouration from trapped moisture.
Check the gas connections
Inspect the gas lines and connections if propane or natural gas fuels your fire pit. If you smell gas, find the leak by spraying the connections with a soap-water solution and watch for bubbles.
Protect the fire pit
Keep your fire pit under a weather-proof cover to reduce rust and prolong the fire pit’s service life.
Protect the deck
Don’t leave the fire pit in the same spot for long periods, or it could leave stains where it contacts the deck. Shift it from time to time, as you would deck furniture, to prevent. Likewise, don’t leave pavers or protective mats on the deck for long periods. They can trap moisture and leave stains, too.
What types of timber are most suitable for fire pit placement?
All timber is flammable, but not equally so. Redwood and cedar are somewhat resistant to fire. Dense tropical hardwoods like ipe and mahogany are even more fire-resistant. Pressure-treated pine, the most common timber for deck boards, is less resistant, but that’s not an obstacle to installing a fire pit if you take precautions.
What are the regulations, and what permits are required for installing a fire pit on a deck?
The fire and building regulations governing the installation and use of fire pits on a deck vary depending on your location. Homeowner associations (HOAs), environmental authorities, and insurance companies might also have a say. The most common issues include:
These govern the placement of the fire pit in relation to the house, deck railings, and flammable materials, and the use of fireproof materials to protect the deck.
These laws might restrict open flames on decks or in certain areas. They might also regulate the type of fuel you can use, the size of the fire pit, and the safety precautions required.
You will likely need one or more permits from the local building and/or fire authorities before installing a fire pit on your deck, especially if you’re adding propane or natural gas lines. In fact, the code might require that a licensed professional perform the work.
Many HOAs have guidelines for fire pits on decks that are more restrictive than the local building and fire codes. Check with your HOA before you start.
Ask your insurer how installing a fire pit affects your coverage. You might need to add a rider to your policy.
Air-quality authorities in some areas might restrict what fuels you can burn. They might also restrict your use of the fire pit depending on the atmospheric and/or weather conditions.