Fire pits make great features in backyards. Cost, design, and intended use are all essential to keep in mind when choosing between installing different types of fire pits. But which is the safest: a wood, gas, or propane fire pit?
Gas or propane fire pits are safest because the fire is smaller, easier to control, and doesn’t emit sparks like wood fires. However, they can be dangerous if unmonitored or installed in a hazardous location. There is no discernable difference between gas and propane fire pits regarding safety.
This article will outline the safety risks associated with wood, propane, and gas fire pits. It will also explain measures to ensure your safety when using fire pits.
Why Wood Fire Pits Are More Dangerous
The following sections will outline the points that make wood fire pits more dangerous than other types.
Wood Fires Are Harder To Control
Of the three types of fire pits, wood fires are the most unpredictable and challenging to control.
This is because of the sparks that are produced when burning wood. The moisture in the wood heats up, turning into steam that is trapped inside the wood.
When these pockets of steam burst, they can cause flaming debris and sparks to fly out of the fire pit. Any dry brush or combustible material nearby risks catching alight because of a stray spark.
There are additional conditions that can cause a fire to grow out of control:
- Using an accelerant to start a fire
- Using an accelerant to build up a fire that has already started
- Building a fire too big for the fire pit
- Using large pieces of firewood that extend past the border of the fire pit
Additionally, windy conditions feed oxygen in the fire and carry stray sparks further from the designated fire pit, which can also be a problem.
These products can help you use your wood fire pit more safely:
- Fire-resistant gloves like these Ozero Forge Welding Gloves from Amazon.com can protect your hands when adding wood to your fire. They’re made of leather and are also oil-, cut-, and puncture-resistant.
- A spark screen, such as the Sunnydaze Decor Spark Screen from Amazon.com, can contain most of the flaming debris. This one comes in five distinct sizes and is extremely lightweight.
Wood Smoke Is Bad for Your Health
The flames aren’t the only thing dangerous about wood fires. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reminds us of the dangers of wood smoke. Wood smoke is made up of fine particles and gases that cause eye irritation and can impact your lung and heart health.
This video from the American Lung Association on Youtube helps explain the effects of wood smoke on your lungs and how to prevent it.
Why Wetter Firewood Produces More Smoke
Recently chopped wood contains a lot of moisture. If you try to burn this wood, you might notice that it produces more smoke. This is because the wood is burning at a lower temperature.
Evaporating moisture consumes the energy in the fire, effectively producing less heat and resulting in incomplete combustion.
The EPA recommends only burning well-seasoned wood that has been drying for at least six months. The fire will burn hotter, and you will notice much less smoke.
Burning Certain Materials Releases Toxins
Another problem with wood burning is that it isn’t always safe.
Most people know not to throw plastic into their fires. However, many don’t realize that pressure-treated or painted wood can be just as dangerous.
These types of wood can release toxic gasses into the air when burned, just like all the other materials people tell you not to burn for the same reason. Breathing these chemicals can be extremely damaging to your lungs, so it’s important to avoid this risk altogether.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows which types of wood are safe to burn. (High-quality hardwood stored for at least six months.) And that makes burning wood in your firepit even more dangerous.
You might find this useful: Can You Burn Paper In A Fire Pit?
The Dangers of Using a Fire Pit Fueled by Gas or Propane
Gas-fueled fire pits appear less hazardous, leading to complacency in fire safety.
As with wood fires, gas and propane fire pits must never be unattended. If you must leave for any reason, ensure you turn off the gas supply. Any number of things could happen when a fire is left alone. Such as:
- An unexpected fire could occur if combustible material is too near to the heat or flames.
- A child or mobility-impaired adult could fall into an open fire pit.
Though gas-fueled fires do not produce smoke, they do produce carbon monoxide. Fire pits in an area with poor ventilation could cause carbon monoxide poisoning in those around the fire. Some other hazards include:
- Gas leaks. Gas and propane fire pits must undergo regular maintenance. If your gas-fueled fire pit begins to smell of gas, immediately turn off the gas supply and vacate the area.
- Improper use. Gas fire pits are not all designed to cook over. Grease from food could block valves and build up pressure, leading to a gas explosion.
- Burning other materials. Because gas and propane fire pits produce less soot and ash, they need less frequent cleaning. Suppose you burn other materials in your gas or propane fire pit. In that case, it could build up flammable materials that block the valves or create sparks and embers.
- You are storing extra propane tanks indoors. Though this is not directly related to your fire pit, your spare propane cylinders pose a risk indoors. If your home or garage does catch fire, those propane cylinders will explode and fuel the fire.
12 Ways To Use Fire Pits More Safely
Fire is dangerous, no matter what type of fire pit you might have. Here is a summary of suggestions to help you use your fire pit more safely:
- Maintain a clear perimeter of 10 feet (3.05 m) around your fire pit, and keep them 15 feet (4.57 m) away from buildings or any flammable materials. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally knock things into the fire pit and that sparks don’t fly out and hit things they shouldn’t.
- Make sure to keep some ‘in case of emergency’ materials nearby. These could include a bucket of sand, a watering hose, or a fire extinguisher.
- Lay concrete or stone as the foundation of your fire pit to prevent grass or natural materials from catching alight.
- Never leave your fire unattended.
- Ensure children stay well away from the fire pit to reduce the risk of falling in.
- Do not add accelerants to your fire pit. They can cause an explosion or cause the fire to burn more wildly and unpredictably. They can also make fire pits more difficult to extinguish.
- Only burn wood that is dry and has not been pressure treated or painted.
- Avoid throwing trash into the fire as it can release harmful toxins into the air.
- Rake your coals and douse them with a slow stream of water before leaving your fire pit to prevent it from reigniting itself.
- Check weather forecasts and local regulations for seasonal burn bans. Windy conditions can cause your fire to get out of control.
- Use a spark screen.
- Use fire-resistant gloves.
Gas or propane fire pits are safer, but constant vigilance is always necessary regardless of the type of fire pit you install. Be sure to check your local regulations, keeping in mind seasonal changes, to know if the conditions are safe to light your fire pit. When you are complacent about fire safety, you might find yourself in a bit of trouble! Take every measure to protect yourself and your family when using your fire pit.