Pits Against Nature
Fire pits allow entertaining outdoors no matter the weather.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Paulette Phlipot
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And, invariably, someone will bring out a guitar . . . ”
“I would never have a house without a fire pit,” says Susan Seder. “It extends the time we can be outside at night in the spring and fall. And it’s a wonderful place for friends and family to sit around and talk.
“There’s something about a fire—the warmth, the light flickering—that brings people close together. It’s different from sitting at a dining room table. And, invariably, someone will bring out a guitar . . . ”
Seder isn’t alone in her enthusiasm for fire pits. They’re a hot commodity right now, as Wood River Valley residents seek to extend their living areas outdoors.
Essentially, it’s like putting a family room outdoors.
“Everyone’s chasing the fire pit,” says Terry Roth, who co-owns Warming Trend of Idaho. “The outdoors has become an extension of the house.
Everything’s going outside and that includes fire pits, barbecues, electric heaters—even outdoor refrigerators.”
The fire pits range from those people have dug in their backyards and lined with stones or granite blocks, to artsy chimneas—traditional Mexican heaters made of clay that sit on a stone or stucco base.
Pat and Patti Carter dug a fire pit in the expansive back lawn of their East Fork Road home, put a copper bowl in it and lined it with stone. The fire pit has long been a hit with the grandkids, who love to roast wieners over the fire or scorch marshmallows for s’mores.
Preston Ziegler sunk a three-foot-diameter fire pit in a stone patio outside his sister Rachel Ziegler’s home in Zinc Spur. Then he built another elaborate three-foot-diameter fire pit, which he incorporated into a patio in the corner of his own nearby backyard.
He completed the look by setting elegant padded wicker chairs around the fire pit, which is situated near a meandering creek.
Like her brother’s, Rachel Ziegler’s fire pit would be lovely enough to look at in itself. But hers is accented by a waterfall that gurgles into a pond filled with koi.
The waterfall and the trees that tower over the scene make visitors forget there’s a highway just on the other side as they stare hypnotically at the flames flickering out of the lava rock.
“It’s real nice for entertaining,” Rachel says. “It’s a place to congregate during a barbecue and it’s so convenient—throw a match in and it lights up.”
Custom-built fire pits, like those the Zieglers have, look very much like part of the yard and can certainly add value to the home. But they can cost several thousand dollars to build and can be difficult to clean up after a rain if they’re not covered.
Far less expensive—and easier to clean—are portable fire pits, which range in price from the $60 discount store versions to very elegant ones costing several hundred dollars.
Portable ones have their advantages. They can be taken to the woods or to the beach. Here in the Wood River Valley people have even been known to loan them to friends for backyard parties as nighttime temperatures edge downward at summer’s end.
Portable fire pits take a variety of shapes—round, rectangular, and square.
They sit on squat legs or longer ones. And they’re made of a variety of materials, including stone, copper and iron.
Some dealers tout copper—generally, the priciest—as the most durable and the easiest to maintain. But copper can melt or change shape in extreme heat.
Three-sixteenth-inch sheetmetal or metal is a good bet, says Tammy Pittman, whose California Fire Pit is carried by Warming Trend of Idaho.
“Ours are among the most expensive of the portable fire pits on the market, retailing for between $599 and $699. But you get what you pay for,” she says. “You can pay $60 for a fire pit at a discount store, but you can count on having to buy another one in a year. They’re made of thin metal that burns through. Or they’ll simply fall apart.
“Ours are built to last. I’ve never had one burn through. And they’re welded together by hand, rather than assembled in some foreign country.”
Gas fire pits are the easiest to use—they can be turned on and off instantly with the push of a button or the turn of a knob, they produce no embers or ash, and there’s minimal cleanup. Gas fire pits are also the easiest to move around and one of the few options in a community like Sun Valley that doesn’t allow wood-burning fire pits.
People in some parts of the country are using a squeeze gel in place of propane or natural gas, adds Terry Roth, co-owner of Warming Trend of Idaho.
Some homeowners jumble lava rock in their fire pits; others, sand. Decorative glass is especially popular right now, giving fire pits a contemporary look when the glass is scattered on top of lava rock. >>>