Fire Feature 101: Tips for a Safe Fire Install in Any Season
Dealing with fire is not like playing horseshoes – close doesn’t count. Outdoor fire installations built with gas require extra special care. Make a wrong move and the fire feature doesn’t operate properly. Make a REALLY wrong move and things can get dangerous.
The good news is by following best practices (in addition to all national and local code requirements) a fire feature can be a safe and beautiful backyard addition. Here are a few of the top tips to ensure your next install is all that it can be.
IT’S ALL ABOUT AIRFLOW
Let’s take it back to Fire 101, shall we? Fire needs fuel to burn and it needs oxygen. If you’re building a bonfire, the wood is your fuel. For an installed fire feature, gas is your fuel—either liquid propane (LP) or natural gas.
Let’s talk about ventilation first. Since your fuel is gas, it needs somewhere to go. You do not want to create a closed-in space where gas can build up to a dangerous level. Here are some practical tips:
- Propane is heavier than air and will settle. Don’t forget about ground-level ventilation. And don’t allow for any low areas where gas can settle in a pocket and build up.
- Don’t enclose a space with more than two walls. This way there is always a cross breeze to clear the air and prevent gas from gathering.
- If a fire feature is built into an enclosure, ensure you have the correct amount of vents built-in. We provide charts for minimum ventilation size requirements—the amount will vary depending on the BTUs of your unit.
- Trust your nose! You may notice the smell if gas builds up. However, Carbon monoxide can be produced which has no smell—which is why ventilation is important!
Airflow is also important for proper combustion, especially with propane. Our LP units have custom air mixers that give the correct blend of propane and air so that the gas will burn cleanly. A bad mix can produce lots of soot which doesn’t look nice and can cause a big mess.
The air mixers for LP need to pull in the surrounding air, which is another reason why ventilation and airflow under your unit or in an enclosure are important. Even with an air mixer, without enough airflow the unit will not light or burn effectively. This can because of big problems with getting a fire feature to burn properly.
One more vent tip: don’t let your fire enclosure or supports block any vents. You may plan in proper ventilation, then unintentionally block the vents with the structure of the fire feature, defeating the plan entirely. Don’t let this happen to you!
Installation should always be performed by a licensed contractor. Installers must follow all local codes as well as National Fuel Gas Code, ANSI Z223.1. We suggest having products serviced annually by a professional certified in the US by the National Fireplace Institute (NFI) as NFI Gas Specialists or in Canada by WETT (Wood Energy Technical Training). Installers must follow all instructions carefully to ensure proper performance and safety.
KNOW YOUR MATERIALS
NEWSFLASH: FIRE IS HOT. (Also in a related report, water is wet.) Ok, we all know fire is hot, but it is easy to overlook this fact with materials in and around the fire. Just because something feels like it should be fireproof, doesn’t mean it will perform well in high heat!
- Only use fire glass or fire rock as a fill media. The wrong kind of materials can melt and ruin your nice fire feature. Or even worse, some can explain. Yes, you heard us right, the wrong glass can pop like little firecrackers and really ruin your next party.
- Don’t install fire too close to materials that don’t respond well to heat. Some types of stone or tile will crack in high heat. Consult with your material manufacturer to make sure everything meets the specification.
Knowing material quirks can also be helpful. Lava rock is very porous and may hold lots of water. If your system is exposed to weather, the rock can stay very wet. The next time you light a fire it might take 15 to 20 minutes for a full flame to burn off all the water held in the rock.
Oh, and keep the area clean. This may not count as a material, but it’s part of the environment. Clean up any debris, trash, leaves, etc from the fire feature before you turn it on. These things may burn in unpredictable ways or damage the burner.
What’s that sound? Is your gas fire singing you a little tune? Does it sound like the flames are whistling at you every time you walk past? If that’s the case, you probably need to adjust your gas line. A restriction in flow or incorrect flex line can cause a whistling sound. But this issue is preventable and fixable by keeping flow unrestricted and using whistle-free gas hoses.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS: SAFETY FIRST!
Just like mom said, the rules are there because we love you and want you to be safe. You are literally “playing with fire,” so to speak. There are certain rules that you just should not break. Like – ever.
- The main gas shutoff should be in an area you can access at all times. The only shut-off can’t be under the feature and should not be blocked.
- Make sure everyone around knows when you are going to start the fire. You might dig a surprise party but the last thing someone wants is a “surprise fire.”
- Do not ever connect the fire to timed automation. The system should only ever be turned on physically and manually. Even an “autostart” system should be turned on with a switch, not an automatic timer.
- And of course as always, only have your system installed by a licensed professional. Check your local requirements, it can vary based on where you live! No—your cousin No-Eyebrows Jimmy who will do it for free does not count. If your system is automatic, follow all electrical codes as well.
ENJOY YOUR FIRE FEATURE, WITHOUT WORRIES
The good news is an outdoor gas fire feature can be extremely safe when handled properly, following basic rules. In fact, there are a lot of benefits over a wood fire pit.
Wood produces more smoke and fumes, exposing you to many more irritants. The flame is less predictable and requires constant attention. Gas fire gives you that experience with the flick of a switch and the controlled installation should make it much safer overall.
Fire and water are two natural elements that brought us civilization. It’s no wonder we are still drawn to them both. So yeah, let’s install more fire features in more backyards. Just do it safely!