For 17 years Sally and Steve enjoyed the relaxing and therapeutic benefits of their outdoor hot tub spa. Recently, though, they realized they really weren't using it much, and that it was taking up a lot of space on their patio. Space that could be better used for entertaining and enjoying the outdoors.
They decided to rethink their patio environment, ditching the hot tub and replacing it with a gas-fueled fire pit. Sally said, "We have people over a lot, and the hot tub was taking up space that could have been used for seating and socializing. So we bid the tub a fond farewell and started plans to include a gas fire pit in our outdoor living area."
For Steve and Sally, a gas fire pit was a no-brainer. "With a gas fire pit, you can enjoy it on the spur of the moment, whether for just a few minutes or all evening long – fire it up and go! The new ones are really fuel efficient, so gas cost is not a big consideration versus the hassle of gathering wood, dodging smoke, and dealing with the hazards of sparks and burning embers. Plus, a gas pit is just more environmentally friendly than a wood-burning pit," said Sally.
Before breaking ground or removing the hot tub, the couple did a thorough assessment of how to use the new space on their patio, relying extensively on Steve's garden and landscape design background. The existing patio featured a dining area on the top level, with the hot tub two steps down on the lower level. "We weren't interested in a major makeover of our space, we liked the size and layout of our existing patio. We initially thought we'd simply swap out the hot tub for the fire pit, putting the new pit in the secondary-use area of our patio. But we quickly realized that we would gather around the fire pit far more often than we would be dining outdoors, so we opted to make the gas fire pit the focal point of the patio, and moved the dining area to the lower level where the hot tub was," said Steve.
After removing the hot tub – which Steve and Sally were able to upcycle by offering it to a friend's nephew – they deconstructed the "chipmunk condo and snake hangout" that was the old landscape's railroad tie retaining wall. Crushed limestone and pea gravel were used to level and raise the grade of the lower patio, where the hot tub had been, so it was just one step down from the upper level.
Next, the fire pit enclosure was built using the Unilok® Sunset Fire Pit Kit from Van Ness Stone, in a circular design, five courses high including the top coping layer. Gas fire pits require proper ventilation, and in the case of Steve and Sally's, a minimum of two vents – as gaps between bricks -- totaling 36 square inches of venting in the bottom course of the fire pit bricks. A call to the fire pit insert manufacturer's, Hearth Products Controls, friendly technical support team revealed that, as long as the total ventilation was 36 square inches inches, the ventilation gaps could be as small as two inches provided they were set uniformly around the installation. Steve and Sally opted for several two-inch vents on the first course of bricks and several more on the second course, providing a uniform look while exceeding safety and ventilation requirements.
Using the mounting bracket provided with the fire pit insert, the gas key valve was mounted on the inside of the fire pit and the round match lit insert was dropped into the sleeve that was sandwiched between brick courses numbers three and four. Gas connections were plumbed, sealed and leak-tested by a licensed plumber, then the fire pit was lit – voila! –for the first time.
Topping off the new patio feature, a 2-inch bed of lava stone was laid in the insert and ceramic fire logs were added for a finishing and inviting touch. The gas fire pit was ready for its unveiling with a group of Steve and Sally's close friends.
"We were really meticulous in our planning of the project," said Sally. "The time spent up front in the planning was well worth it because the project went smoothly, and Steve and I are so happy with how everything came out. When people come over, they all want to hang out around the fire pit, and I can't blame them – it's just so relaxing."