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Here's How To Find The Best Fire Pits For Entertaining Outdoors This Fall (PHOTOS)

09/17/2012 02:36 pm 14:36:39 | Updated Aug 29, 2014

It felt like Mother Nature flipped a switch on Labor Day. We know that we still technically have about a week left in summer, but the weather has been decidedly autumnal since that last vacation day. But we're not ready to hibernate just yet. We'd love to continue to have guests over in the backyard this season, and we think the most inviting way would be to have them gather around a cozy fire. So we've done our research and talked to experts to bring you this buying guide to help you choose the best fire pits for entertaining outdoors this fall.

Why invest in a fire pit? Emmy Award-winning television personality and HGTV Design Star finalist Cathy Hobbs agrees that extending our living spaces to the outdoors for all-year-round use is possible with a fire pit. "Aspects such as outdoor kitchens and fireplaces have long been desired luxury items, and a fire pit is an immensely desirable alternative to a traditional outdoor fireplace." She tells us that this feature has become a popular design element, not only for residential homes, but for vacation destinations, hotels and outdoor nightclubs. "I have experienced and appreciated fire pits as a key décor element as it relates to creating a luxury environment and creating a seductive mood." And Hobbs says decorating around a fire pit is similar to how you would treat a fireplace inside the home, "with seating enveloping it." She suggests built-in bench seating for lounging or dining or grouping chairs conversationally.

Choose the style and material. Fire pits are on the market in a range of styles, and are most often made from stone, metal or decorative tile. In term of aesthetics, Hobbs says, "I believe the integration of stone, concrete and wood is one of the most desirable combinations. Concrete is a great choice for those looking to achieve a sleek modern look, while the use of stone and wood lends itself seamlessly to a more rustic and natural environment." When we asked Dan Fritschen, author of Remodel Or Move which material he suggests for durability, he told us that similarly to an inexpensive barbecue grill, lightweight metal pits may rust and fall apart over time. If you are hoping to have the pit for years to come, it is worth investing a little more money into it and choosing a heavier stone model.

Are you looking to provide ambience or heat, or both? Fritschen reminded us that "just because our pit provides a flame, doesn't mean it will keep us warm." Many portable fire pits that use propane for fuel don't give off much heat. But wood-burning pits will produce substantial heat. It's important to note that these take a little more effort to get started, are considerably more messy and give off smoke. Whether you choose a propane or wood-burning fire pit, Hobbs says there is something desirable about an outdoor fire, whether it is for warmth or for aesthetic reasons. "There is simply a certain amount of romanticism associated with it."

Remember, safety comes first. Although fire pits can be a beautiful accent to your home, don't forget that they contain, well, fire. Fritschen suggests using a spark arrestor, or a safety screen, especially in dry environments to contain the flames to the pit and only use the pit on dirt, paving stones, concrete or another non-combustible surface. He also says to maintain a 10 foot radius around the pit from your home and any other structure, equipment or furniture in the yard. Another of Fritschen's rules of thumb is not to install the pit under any long hanging trees, and he suggests keeping a clearance of 30 feet vertically to avoid any accidents.

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