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Are Backyard Fire Pits Legal?

Are Backyard Fire Pits Legal?

Sometimes when it is chilly out, relaxing in front of a nice bonfire is an excellent idea or you might just like that smoky flavor gotten from a tasty meal prepared over a wood fire. Either way, a firepit is one of the most common answers in each situation. There is just something primal in a fire and we are always drawn to it and the memories and stories shared in front of flickering flames.

And what is better than having a nice firepit in the comfort of your own backyard while you watch a beautiful sunset, the stars, or enjoy a delicious meal? A backyard fire feature will definitely make the backyard comfortable for entertaining guests all year round.

However, when building or placing your firepit, it is very important to ensure that you are not violating any fire laws in the state or county you are in. This could also lead to you wondering if you are even allowed to have a backyard firepit. This inadvertently brings us to the question:

Is it Legal To Put Fire Pit in Your Backyard?

With air quality concerns all over the news and even periodic burn bans in effect in portions of the country, this question comes up very frequently.

The short answer to it is, yes! Fire pits are legal in most cities; however, each city or county has different rules or guidelines for building and using firepits. It is very good to crosscheck these regulations before building or using a firepit in the city you are in before building.

Even though wood burning fire pits provide a pleasant aroma of burning wood as well as providing a great ambiance, natural gas and propane fire pits are also a more environmental alternative option. They burn cleaner and therefore they are not affected by burn bans.

The guarantee of having a fire pit in your backyard depends on a few factors;

  • What the local regulations determine as the safe distance required for fires to be from buildings (most likely between 20 and 30 feet)
  • What a recreational fire is defined as (in location, size etc.)
  • The guidelines for open burning in the area and the legalities involved.
  • What types of fires will necessitate you getting a permit from the proper authorities.

In order to make sure that your firepit complies with the state or federal regulations, you can review them in this article.

Can You Burn Other Household Stuff in Your Backyard?

You might be looking to get rid of some things just to make some space but burning some household items is illegal. Smokes, chemicals, and poisonous gases emitting from burning such materials are not only offensive to the nose but can be dangerous to the health of the people in the vicinity and even the wildlife around. Some materials which seem safe to burn can be very much toxic and pose a health hazard to the entire city.

At times it can be confusing determining what to and what not to burn. In times like these, check the local policy on what is regarded as acceptable burning material. The next section outlines a list of materials found in the household that can be burned and otherwise.

What Materials Can You Burn in the Backyard?

In most counties, not every firewood is acceptable to be burned. Only clean, dry wood which has been split is acceptable for burning. Some local stores sell this acceptable firewood in convenient packets, so you do not have to worry about swinging an axe to split your wood. Here is a list of a few firewoods which are acceptable and safe to burn;

1. Oak

The oak produces significant heat and has the advantage of burning slowly and steadily. It is also one of the most quickly available firewood to be found. This makes it perfect for campers and bonfire enthusiasts to make use of

2. Ash

Ashwood is the ideal choice for firewood because it retains less moisture than the other categories of firewood available today. It also produces less smoke than its counterparts which is a very nice bonus. Therefore, it is perfect for use in a bonfire or campfire.

3. Hickory

Hickory burns much hotter than other hardwoods. It does not hold onto moisture and burns quite well. Its most notable trait is the taste it gives grilled food.

4. Cedar

Cedar is the perfect choice for firewood on a chilly night as it produces prime heat. It can be misleading in that it does not give out especially large flames. It also gives off a unique aroma with an amazing smell when it is burned.

What Materials Can You Not Burn in the Backyard?

Most common household items are illegal to burn due to the fact that they give off large amounts of smoke and sometimes release harmful chemicals along with the smoke. Here is a list of these common materials that people burn that are toxic or emit excessive smoke;

1. Paper

Paper is a readily available fuel for the fire in most households but should not be burned. Sometimes burning paper (in the form of sensitive paperwork or personal documents) can give you that sense of added security but it is prohibited. Paper that is being burned causes too much unnecessary smoke, and due to it being treated, it releases unhealthy chemicals into the air.

2. Cardboard

Burning cardboard gives off offensive smoke and it could also result in a surge in the fire that could be dangerous to anyone within the vicinity.

3. Magazines

Magazines, newsletters, colored gift wrapping and adverts are all made with ink. Such ink when burned can release fumes that are toxic to breathe in.

4. Particleboard

Particleboard is the component used to usually make cheap furniture. This particleboard is held together by adhesives which when burned emit toxic gases.

5. Wooden Pallets

Wooden pallets should not be used as fuel for a fire pit. This is due to the fact that some of these pallets are treated with a chemical called methyl bromide. This chemical is harmful and can be released into the air once the wooden pallets are burned.

6. Plastic

Burning plastic puts toxic chemicals into the air which are bad for people, most especially young children.

7. Poison Ivy, Oak or Sumac

Trying to get rid of these plants from your backyard via burning is a very dangerous option. The irritant oil found in poison ivy, oak or sumac plants releases it in the form of fumes into the air. These fumes can cause severe lung irritation and allergic responses when breathed in for some people.

8. Trash

Getting rid of trash through burning is very illegal. Trash is one of the worst materials that can be burned in a residential neighborhood as burning trash releases harmful toxins into the air while producing excess smoke too.

9. Pressure Treated or Painted Wood

Wood that has been pressure treated or painted should never be burned. Pressure-treated wood releases smoke that is toxic to inhale. Painted wood, especially lead-based painted wood gives off very toxic fumes.

10. Green Leafy Branches

Green leafy branches or plant life contain a high level of moisture which does not make it suitable for firewood. This high level of moisture causes excessive smoke that fills up the yard very fast.

The wildlife in the vicinity most often gets the brunt of the smoke and toxic chemicals caused by burning harmful substances. Excessive smoke could kill off small birds and force small animals to move out of their homes. Toxic and poisonous fumes could also infect the environment and water supply thereby carrying the harm farther than one might expect.

Backyard Fire Pit Regulations in the U.S.

Most towns and cities allow for small recreational fires in the neighborhoods. Building a recreational fire entails burning a reasonable amount of wood and the smoke given off from this burning is to a reasonable level so as not to affect your neighbors.

Also, the fire should not be contained by a cooking apparatus, a grill, or an incinerator and must be within a predetermined size. Some municipalities set this size at 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet in height.

The regulations guiding the use of fire pits can vary greatly from county to county, city to city, and even neighborhood to neighborhood.

The state of Georgia for example has several different laws which depend on which county you are in. In Cobb County, recreational fires are allowed for only a specific timeframe between 10 am and 10:30 pm, except for on windy days. In Gwinnett County, there are strict guidelines that must be followed between May 1st and September 30th and are set in place by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

In Chicago, fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are permitted, provided that they have a lid of some sort and are only used for firewood. Anyone who wishes to burn leaves has to leave the city limits and head to an area with looser restrictions.

In general, most of the fire safety regulations put in place by cities and counties are not just about being a respectful neighbor, a good majority of the laws are put in place so that individuals do not set their homes and properties ablaze and put harmful chemicals into the air.

Here are some standard fire safety regulations which cut across all states, regarding backyard recreational fires:

  • The fire must be a safe distance away from any combustible surfaces. This entails that the fire should be at least twenty-five feet from your house, shed, decks, or vehicles. 
  • If your backyard has a lot of trees, then it is important that you make sure that no branches are hanging over the fire as well.
  • One major concern for recreational fires that take place within a neighborhood is the effect it has on your neighbors. Therefore, you will have to ensure that your fire is at least 10 ft. away from the property line.
  • Wind conditions present a major threat to the safety of the neighborhood when someone has any sort of fire going as embers could be picked up by the wind and taken anywhere. When there are any wind conditions that are over 15 miles per hour, a backyard fire pit becomes illegal.
  • Recreational fires as a rule must not be built any more than three feet high and three feet wide. This is because towering fires pose a fire safety threat.
  • Adult supervision is a must when there is a fire burning. The adult should also be the one attending to the fire. This essentially means that even if you are just 25 ft away working on a project or chatting with someone, you are in violation of fire safety regulations.

This article is just a guideline to ensure safety and in no way covers all the regulations in every county or city. Be sure to check your county or city fire safety regulations online before getting a fire started or call the local fire department during business hours for clarifications.