The soothing ambiance of a real fire can make for magical nights and unforgettable memories. Sitting out under the stars can come with downsides, too, like having to worry about rain or snow. A comfy gazebo or pergola solves the rain problem, but you might wonder if that stops you from enjoying a fire while hanging out underneath it.
Your first step in determining if you can have a fire feature is checking your local, county, and state regulations. Common rules include a minimum distance from other structures, having a method of fire extinguishing on hand, and not allowing the fire to be left unattended. These should be taken as a bare minimum for safety, as well as keeping yourself away from legal trouble.
Past that, it’s a “Maybe.” The answer depends on the type of fire, the structures’ construction, and the placement of the fire.
The pergola’s material, height, and ventilation are the core factors in picking the right fire feature. If the roof is low, the material is full of flammable bits, and the sides are covered in trellis, a propane or electric heating element will work better. The heat is easier to manage, and there is no smoke filling up the space and causing discomfort. Any lingering fumes can be handled with a small fan and minimal ventilation. While it’s not quite a roaring fire, it can add warmth to make cold days and nights more comfortable while still outside.
If your fixture is open on the sides and has a tall roof of 15+ feet in height, then you can potentially install a fire pit for burning charcoal or wood. Most of the heat will dissipate into the air before the structure itself is warmed to the point of combusting. Agrate over the top of the fire will keep substantial embers from reaching anything flammable. As long as the fire is being attended to, which it should be at all times, it should be easy to notice if the ambient temperature is getting hot enough or sparks are flying far enough to set anything flammable in the pergola on fire.
The last consideration is where the fire will go. If space is limited because of several chairs, swings, or other fixtures, then a space heater will be less likely to cause discomfort from being so close. If you do have room, then you’ll want to settle the fire into a flat, solid, inflammable surface. Even if there is wood flooring, you could create a safe place to start a fire with bricks and a sturdy pre-built fire pit. Make sure to add an extra layer of bricks between the pit and wood flooring to provide more insulation.
Long answer short, you can put a fire pit under a pergola or gazebo, but it should comply with any applicable fire safety laws, be well ventilated, be at least 15’ in height, have some breathing room between the fire and other features, and have a sturdy spot to host a well-constructed fire pit. Otherwise, you should stick with a different type of heating element. In many cases, it’s easier to build a pergola around an existing fire pit than the other way around, but there may be options for every case.
There will be some common sense involved in managing a fire. A well-managed fire within a quality fire pit that can bequickly snuffed is different from a six-foot-tall bonfire sticking out of the same pit with no way to cover it. Even if you perfectly install and operate a fire pit or other fire element in your pergola, there is a risk that a fire will burn out of control. Always rule on the side of safety, keep fire extinguishing equipment nearby, and ask a fire safety professional for advice if you are uncertain.
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