If you’re struggling with the fact that summer’s over, take heart. In many regions, fall’s the loveliest season of all — cooler days, crisp evenings, clear skies. And a backyard fire pit can be ideal for autumn nights. Here’s how to keep it cozy and create the perfect backyard fire pit.

Choose your fire pit

There are 2 main types of fire pits: gas fire pits and wood-burning fire pits. Both are fabulous for gathering the family to enjoy an autumn evening.

Gas fire pits

A gas fire pit is ready to light with the flip of a switch. They’re also clean-burning and more environmentally friendly. The downside is that it’ll cost more to install (no DIY option) and needs a fuel line to bring the gas to it. And since it’s attached to that gas line, it’s permanent, which means you can’t bring it with you should you move. (The next owners will love it though!)

Wood-burning fire pits

For purists, there’s nothing like throwing another log on the fire to make the most of an autumn night. A wood-burning fire pit is cheaper and easier to install and maintain. It can also be potentially portable, either to another part of the yard or even cross-country if you move. But you’ll also need to account for the aspect of wood — chopping, storing, and lighting, as well as potential local burn bans.

If you’re handy, a wood-burning fire pit is relatively easy to DIY. Just search the web for plans and tips. Mostly what you’ll need is a free weekend, a few supplies, and some elbow grease. Of course, anytime you undertake a home improvement project, make sure that you’re approaching it with safety as your first concern: wear appropriate eye protection and closed-toe shoes, follow tool-safety guidelines, and never lift something that’s too heavy for you.

Aesthetics to consider

Aside from choosing the type of fire pit you want, there are wide varieties of options in the look you want to achieve — a modern bowl or a rustic brick look, for example. Also, consider the size, which will depend not only on how many guests you expect to entertain, but how big the area is that you’re considering. A fire pit should always sit on a level, open area, at least 15 feet from other residences and at least 10 feet from other structures and plants.

Adhere to safety

When you’re using your fire pit, make sure you follow fire-safety precautions:

  • Only use a fire pit in an open space — again, at least 15 feet from other residences and at least 10 feet from other structures and plants (and not on a wooden deck). Check around for combustible materials, like leaves and wood, and make sure there aren’t any overhanging trees.
  • Don’t enjoy your fire during windy conditions since the breeze could blow the embers around and ignite trees or structures. To best position your fire pit, check this wind rose tool that shows the direction that winds most frequently blow in your area.
  • Ensure all guests — especially children — stay far from the flames, even when they’re roasting marshmallows. Use long sticks and show them how to safely douse a fire.
  • And on that note, keep a bucket of water and/or fireproof blanket near your open flame.
  • Never pour gasoline on the fire, and don’t put on so much kindling that the flames climb too high, which makes them harder to control.
  • Never leave the fire unattended. Double-check that all embers are out and the gas is off before leaving.

Follow fire regulations

As much as we like to think we can do what we want in our own backyards, there are some people who might have to approve your idea of a backyard fire pit first:

  • Your insurance company
    Is a fire pit approved on your policy, or do you need a special rider?
  • Your homeowners’ association
    Are home fire pits allowed? Various fire restrictions in certain areas could preclude wood burning fire pits.
  • Your city
    If you don’t have an HOA, you should check on potential burn bans in your city.

Whew … that’s a lot of safety reminders and approvals, we get it. But the result will be enjoying your backyard fire pit on autumn nights, knowing that your family and loved ones are using it safely.

And one last thing, for all you s’mores lovers: chocolate-striped cookies rather than graham crackers. You’re welcome.

DIY hacks | Home and garden | Home safety

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about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.