It could be that you have an open patio with a fire pit at the center and are considering installing a pergola above it. Or maybe, you already have a pergola over your patio or deck and are thinking about setting up a fire pit under it.
It’s possible to achieve both of these objectives, but you’ll have to consider the necessary safety measures. These include the overhead clearance, the type of fire pit, the type of patio or deck surface, and the sideways spacing.
Can you use a fire pit under a pergola?
You can install and effectively use a fire pit under your pergola, provided you’ve taken the necessary safety measures into account. These include ensuring there’s adequate clearance and proper ventilation to curb the risk of fire, heat damage, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
How to put fire pit under pergola
Before setting up a fire pit underneath your pergola, take stock of the type of fire pit, the type of patio/deck surface, and the distance between the pergola and the house. You should also ensure there’s enough spacing between the pit and the perimeter of your pergola where the furniture is.
Consider the Type of Fire Pit
Most homeowners prefer wood fire pits over propane and natural gas fire pits. However, wood generates more heat than the other two options, thus increasing the chances of damage to your pergola and patio/deck surface. What’s more, burning wood produces ash that has to be cleaned off; and soot that can discolor your pergola roof slats.
If you’re going for a wood fire pit, install it over a fire protection stand or buy one with legs, such that the fire pit is raised and sits a couple of feet above the surface. The better option, though, would be to go for a propane or natural gas fire pit, both of which produce cleaner, controllable, and safer flames.
Keep in mind, though, that installation of a natural gas fire pit costs more than the other two options and also calls for more planning. You have to call in a professional to run a new line from the main house to the patio or deck where your pergola is.
Consider the Patio/Deck Surface
If you’re planning to install a wood fire pit underneath your pergola, ensure the patio or deck surface is made out of a material with excellent heat resistance. For instance, brick pavers and special tiles like Life Floor slate tiles effectively soak up radiant heat from fire pits without any damage.
On the contrary, flooring materials like wood or concrete will readily fade or warp under exposure to heat from a fire pit. You can prevent this by installing a fire protection mat or fire protection stand to act as a heat barrier between the fire pit and the floor surface.
Consider the Pergola’s Proximity to the House
Generally, fire pits shouldn’t be set up too close to the house, as they pose the risk of fire. You should only install the fire pit if the pergola is at least ten feet away from the house. Meanwhile, if there are any dry, overhanging branches near the pergola that might catch fire, you might want to cut them back a couple of feet before setting up the fire pit.
Ensure Adequate Spacing
One of the most important considerations prior to installing a fire pit under a pergola is the spacing around the fire pit. The patio or deck that your pergola covers should be large enough to accommodate a fire pit without the risk of people getting too close to the fire.
Generally, your patio/deck furniture should be at least five feet away from the fire pit. However, the spacing can be as close as two feet away if you’re using a gas fire pit. If you have a large patio but the furniture pieces are too close to the center where the pit should be positioned, consider moving them further away towards the patio’s perimeter.
How far does a fire pit need to be from a pergola?
To safely operate a fire pit under a pergola, you need adequate overhead clearance such that the fire won’t cause damage to the structure. For wood fire pits, which produce the most heat, the overhead clearance should be at least 15-feet. Take note that the overhead clearance is the distance between the rafters and the tip of the flame, not the ground.
Anything lower than a 15-foot clearance and your pergola rafters is likely to end up discolored due to smoke and soot from the wood fire pit. The problem with raising your pergola roof higher to accommodate a wood fire pit is that it’s barely functional and aesthetically unappealing. Pergolas are typically set up at 8’-12’ off the ground for optimal shade and a semi-enclosed feeling.
For propane and natural gas fire pits, the minimal overhead clearance is usually much lower, since they don’t generate as much heat as wood fire pits. The minimum overhead clearance for liquid propane gas pits is 94-inches but could be slightly higher or lower, depending on the manufacturer.
Meanwhile, a minimum clearance of 10-feet is required for natural gas fire pits. However, this may vary depending on your natural gas supplier.
Note: You should take into account the height of your fire pit to correctly determine if you have enough overhead clearance. For instance, if the fire pit is 12” high and the pergola sits 12-feet off the ground, then the overhead clearance is 11-feet.
Are Chimineas better than fire pits under pergola?
Apart from a fire pit, another fire feature that you can opt for underneath your pergola is a chiminea. Take note, though, that there are some significant differences between them that should guide you in determining which one suits you better.
Chimineas are safer than wood fire pits under pergolas since they allow for flame control. In a chiminea, the flames are led up and out the chimney for a more controlled burn. By contrast, the flames of a wood fire pit are uncontrolled and release sparks and embers that may trigger fires or discolor the patio/deck surface.
Woodfire pits provide 360-degree heat distribution, which is an obvious advantage over chimineas which are only open on one side. However, this difference gives chimineas the upper hand when it comes to usage underneath pergolas. Strong, all-around heat is considered unsafe in such a setting, making a chiminea the better option.
Note: Fire pits are the better choice for large pergolas due to their stronger heat. Meanwhile, chimineas are recommended for smaller pergolas.
Aesthetically, fire pits beat chimineas. The latter has a restricted opening and the flames can only be seen by those sitting directly in front of the opening. By contrast, fire pits offer a 360-degree view of the flames, adding to the ambiance of your pergola.
Safety tips and considerations
- You need to keep your pergola open to ensure there’s enough airflow when the fire pit is in use. Proper ventilation minimizes the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in enclosed spaces. You should, therefore, pull back your retractable pergola curtains and covers when the fire pit is on.
- If you’re using a wood fire pit, install a spark screen/fire screen to prevent embers and sparks from reaching your pergola roof slats or discoloring the patio surface.
- It’s not only your pergola and patio furniture that are under the risk of damage due to the heat or flames from a fire pit. Ornamental plants are too. If you have potted patio plants placed too close to your fire pit, move them further off towards the perimeter of the pergola.
- Always keep a fire extinguisher near your pergola in case the fire pit underneath it causes a fire breakout.