Fire pits are among the most versatile and appealing outdoor heating options available. They provide warmth and ambiance all year round, which isn’t something you can say of a patio heater. But what’s the ideal fuel for a fire pit? Here’s what you’ll need to know to compare a gas vs wood fire pit to make the best decision for your outdoor enjoyment.
Fire always poses a certain risk, especially when you’re outdoors in dry conditions. Any fire pit can contain the fire and while either fuel type can become unsafe, ember generated by combusting wood can float away and lead to forest fires. Always make sure your fire pit is on non-flammable surface like concrete or brick, and well away from any combustible surface.
Gas fire pits use highly flammable carbon monoxide as their fuel. While carbon monoxide poisoning from inhalation isn’t as much of a concern as it is with indoor heating, explosion is still a risk with an outdoor gas-fueled fire pit. This is especially true if you’re using the fire pit in an area that’s closed off in some way, either by a wall or two or a roof. This may allow leaking gas to collect and burst into flame at the first introduction of a spark. Improperly installed gas lines can also be a risk factor in uncontrolled carbon monoxide gas fires, so if you do choose to install a gas fire pit, be sure to follow industry best practices for safety.
Wood fire pits pose less of a risk of explosion (unless you use firestarter liquids or other highly volatile fuels to help build your wood fire), but burns from falling logs or embers are a valid concern. If you have a lot of kids or pets who are likely to run around your backyard and you aren’t sure you can properly teach them how to behave safely around a fire, you should think carefully about whether wood is the right fuel for you.
Fuel Efficiency of Gas vs Wood Fire Pits
Gas burns cleaner than wood, and it also doesn’t produce physical waste. We’ll cover cost efficiency below, but in terms of green energy concerns, gas is generally considered to be more efficient than wood.
Wood does produce soot and ash, though ash can be used as a compost material to make the rest of your outdoor areas look nice. That polluting output is part of what gives wood fires their signature aroma—it’s the smell of charred wood. However, that smell can linger as long as there’s soot coating the interior of your fire pit or the walls in the surrounding area, which means more time spent cleaning than with a gas fire pit.
Fire Pit Maintenance
As mentioned above, wood fire pits take more maintenance because they leave physical debris behind in the aftermath of a fire. Cleaning a fire pit is necessary not only for cosmetic reasons but also for safety as debris materials such as hot wood embers and creosote, a sticky byproduct of burned wood, can cause a fire hazard.
This isn’t an issue with gas, which is a clean-burning fuel. However, you may need to routinely inspect gas lines to make sure there are no leaks or weak points.
Home Resale Value
Both fire pit types are likely to add value to a home, particularly if they’re permanently installed in an attractive way. Gas may deliver better return on investment because it is low maintenance, but some people simply prefer the beautiful ambiance of a wood fire. Neither one is greatly preferable to the other in this area.
Permits for Fire Pits
Local laws and permit requirements are likely to vary widely by location. If you live in a drought-prone area where wildfires a major concern, wood fire pits may be subject to rigid legal restrictions. Permits are likely to be a factor in installing gas fire pits in any location because the process of running gas lines can be dangerous and usually requires official approval.
Gas vs Wood Fire Pit Project Cost
The average cost of installing a gas fire pit, depending on features, is $900 – $3,800, while building a wood fire pit averages $500 – $1,300, also depending on features.
As you can see, when it comes to budget, wood does tend to come out on top, especially if you have a steady supply of firewood available on your property or you live in a heavily forested area where wood comes cheap. If you live in a heavily developed area or scrubland where trees are scarce, though, firewood may be harder to come by. Gas fuel is a utility you’ll need to continue paying for over time, and if you rely on gas to power your water heater and furnace, this added cost could become burdensome when it comes to winter bills.
Wood fire pits are also much easier to install, which means they’re more affordable. Most gas-powered fire pits need to be plumbed into a gas line, which means installation is either permanent or semi-permanent. If you don’t have existing gas lines running to the area where you plan to install the fire pit (or to your property in general), you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars more than the $700 average cost for a built-in fire pit.
Making Your Fire Pit Choice
Ultimately, personal factors can help you make the decision on whether you want a gas or wood fire pit. If you aren’t planning to stay in your house very long and don’t think a permanent fire pit installation would make a worthwhile investment, going for a portable wood pit can be an ideal choice. But if you want to make your dream home even dreamier, a built-in gas pit could be just the right solution. Think about the three criterion categories outlined above so you can arrive at the best option for your lifestyle.