As Fire Pit Sales Rise, Consumers Need to Take Precautions to Safely Enjoy Their New Purchase

Looking for an alternative to indoor get-togethers, many homeowners are buying fire pits and chimineas to create a more comfortable outdoor gathering spot throughout the colder months.

Manufacturers of fire pits and chimineas, increasingly popular terracotta outdoor fireplaces, report surging sales over the holidays. In the rush to buy, however, consumers must heed these items’ fire hazards and related regulations.

If used improperly, situated close to a house or shrubbery, or left unattended, fire pits and chimineas can result in a house fire causing major damages and potential injuries and fatalities. According to news reports, at least 5,300 injuries—one-quarter of them suffered by young children—were attributed to fire pits and other outdoor heaters in 2017, up from 1,900 injuries in 2008.

With sales skyrocketing, a commensurate increase in fire-related injuries is a stark possibility in 2021—unless consumers diligently understand and comply with fire regulations, building codes and product standards, which often differ on a state-by-state basis. Homeowners looking to buy a fire pit or chiminea (and even those currently owning these items) can check their state’s Uniform Fire Code rules online.

Each state, for instance, will specify the distance at which a fire pit or chiminea must be placed from the house. In New Jersey, outdoor fireplaces approved for use by the state must be situated at least 15 feet from the house or other structure like a garage or shed. Shrubs, outdoor furniture and other combustible materials within the 15-foot zone must be removed. In some but not all states, a building permit may be required before a fire pit can be installed.  

Questions on state and regional fire regulations and building codes can be answered by a local fire marshal’s office. On a general basis, expect the following regulations:

  • The fuel area for the fire pit generally cannot be larger than 2-feet deep and 3-feet in diameter.
  • The fire pit must have a metal dome-like screen to contain embers.
  • Only natural materials like wood can be burned in the fire pit or chiminea and not trash, plastics, liquid or gas fuels.
  • Check local forecasts to comply with rules governing when to burn, such as when winds are below 15 mph or on days when air quality is good or better.
  • Maintain at least 10 feet in diameter as a non-combustible area surrounding the fire pit.
  • Avoid setting a chiminea on a wood deck, but if you do so, use a non-combustible fire rated mat underneath it. Additionally, always place the chiminea away from railings, house and overhangs, and make sure the product has a UL Listing, which requires the product to be manufactured with a spark arrestor screen.

Once in use, a fire pit or chiminea must be monitored at ALL times. When the fire has burned out, carefully dowse the ashes with water to ensure no embers remain. Wait 24 to 48 hours before disposing the ashes in a metal ash can and then dowse the contents again with water. Since the best laid plans can go awry, always keep a hose or fire extinguisher in easy reach.

Now that you’ve taken these simple precautions, everyone can safely gather around the fire pit or chiminea to enjoy a much-needed change of scenery.

Rick Albers is Senior Premier Account Specialist - Assistant Vice President with Chubb Personal Risk Services’ Risk Consulting Group.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.