Almost as soon as you start researching a DIY fire pit, you’re going to start having questions about gas regulators. What are they? Do I need one? Are they one-size-fits-all? The short answer is – yes, you will need one. But there is a lot to consider and that’s why we’re going to take an in-depth look at gas regulators for fire pits in this article.
What Is a Regulator, and Do I Need One for My Gas Fire Pit?
Yes! You need a gas regulator because it takes the high pressure in your gas line and reduces it to the pressure required by your gas appliance.
Each appliance will have its own regulator because different appliances will likely have different requirements. For example, the pressure measurement that works for your washer, may not be adequate for your refrigerator.
Why is the gas pressure coming into my house so much higher than what my appliances need? In the case of natural gas (or a large, on-site propane tank), the gas has to be moved long distances in order to get to your house, and to different locations within your house. The higher pressure makes it possible to move the gas where it needs to go.
Also, higher pressure helps meet demand. Multiple appliances running all at the same time will affect the pressure in the supply line. A regulator ensures that each appliance receives a steady supply of fuel delivered at the right pressure and flow to allow for optimal operation.
A gas regulator controls the output pressure using a rubber diaphragm, which controls a valve. The diaphragm (#3 in the illustration) is located on the output side of the regulator. Gas flow is depicted by the blue arrows.
When output pressure is too high, the diaphragm “balloons up” causing the spring to compress and closing the valve to reduce the pressure. When the pressure is too low, the diaphragm relaxes allowing the spring to release and open the valve to let more gas in.
Natural gas regulators provide a fixed output pressure (which can be adjusted in some models). The flame height on a gas fire pit is adjusted by using a ball valve, commonly called a key valve.
Propane regulators also provide a fixed output pressure, which is used in fire pits, and feature a key valve to turn on the gas and adjust the flame height.
The key valve is mounted within a structure with key access on the outside. Adjustments can be made by simply turning the key.
However, another, less expensive option for propane is to use a high-pressure, adjustable regulator without a ball valve. In this setup, the flame height is controlled simply by adjusting the output pressure of the propane regulator. Literally, you are turning a knob to add or lessen pressure and thereby affecting flame height in your fire pit.
This type of regulator is easily identified as it has a control knob attached to the top of the regulator. Some people may find it inconvenient, as you will have to open up the fire feature to access the tank in order to turn the gas on and off–and to make adjustments.
Propane vs. Natural Gas Regulators
Both propane and natural gas regulators work in the same way. The only difference between them is the output pressure. Be sure to get the right type of regulator for the gas you are using.
Propane for Fire Pits: 7” WC to 11” WC
Natural Gas for Fire Pits: 3.5” WC to 7” WC
Both WC and PSI are measurements for gas pressure. One PSI is equal to 28” WC.
If you’re unfamiliar with the abbreviation “WC,” it stands for water column and it is one way to measure gas pressure. The other measurement is PSI (pounds per square inch). WC is usually used for measuring low-pressure systems like household appliances.
How to Install a Gas Regulator for a Fire Pit
A propane regulator is easy to install as it is integrated into your Celestial Fire Glass LP connection kit. The most common propane regulator is one that attaches to a 20 lb. propane tank. This may be a connection that includes a key valve, or a more basic regulator that does not.
*Natural gas regulators for fire pits are to be installed by licensed gas professionals only.
Ideally, gas regulators are installed in a location where they’re not exposed to wide temperature ranges. This is typically inside of a house or other structure. If a natural gas regulator for your fire pit is installed outdoors the temperature can affect the rubber diaphragm and spring in the regulator and cause inconsistent output pressure.
How to Troubleshoot a Fire Pit Gas Regulator
Gas regulators are a common source of problems with outdoor gas fire pits. An improperly installed, or malfunctioning gas regulator can cause a variety of problems ranging from a loud whistling sound to an insufficient flame size.
A whistling noise can be caused by either the gas pressure being too high or by not using a whistle-free flex hose.
The first thing you want to check is the hose. You can recognize a whistle-free hose by its varying rib sizes. A whistle-free hose will feature alternating sections, some with small, tight rings and some with larger, looser rings.
This design prevents a resonant sound from building up in your hose. By changing the size of the ribs of the flex hose, sound cannot oscillate and build upon itself along the length of the hose.
If the hose is not the problem, test the output pressure of the gas regulator. Make sure it falls in the proper range for the type of gas you’re using.
For natural gas, the pressure should be between 3.5” WC and 7” WC. For propane, it should be between 7” WC and 11” WC. A licensed gas professional can easily test the output pressure of your regulator.
Low flame height is a common problem with outdoor gas fire pits because they require higher pressure than standard outdoor grills. Gas grills are used for cooking, so they don’t need a large flame.
However, people want gas fire pits for providing warmth and an ambiance for your outdoor space. This requires a much larger flame, thus, higher gas pressure.
So, check the regulator. If you’re having this problem with a propane fire feature, the problem is most likely that you are using a regulator designed for a BBQ grill instead of a fire pit. In the industry, these are called low-pressure regulators. Replace the regulator with a high-pressure regulator and you’ll get the beautiful flame your fire feature deserves.
If you’re having this issue with a natural gas fire pit, have your gas installer check the line pressure feeding your fire feature. It should be between 3.5” and 7” WC. It’s likely that the gas supply for your fire pit is on the wrong side (leeward) of a lower pressure regulator feeding your BBQ grill.
Dropping Flame Height on a Gas Fire Pit
If the flame height drops suddenly, it’s likely a problem with the regulator.
If the flame slowly drops over time, there are a few other things to consider. It’s normal to have to adjust flame height with propane regulators from time to time due to the variations of pressure within the propane tank. If it’s more than an occasional adjustment, you may need to replace your regulator.
However, a slowly declining flame could also be caused by a low vaporization rate, most often caused by extremely cold temperatures.
Where to Buy a Gas Regulator for Your Fire Pit
At Celestial Fire Glass we carry both natural gas regulators and propane regulators which are specifically designed for use in outdoor gas fire features. You can also check at your local plumbing supply store, or shop online. Just be sure to purchase the correct pressure for the gas you’re using.
Why You Should Have Your Gas Regulator Professionally Installed
Working with natural gas is dangerous because there is an unlimited supply of gas. If there is a gas leak it can build up in your house and put you and your family in danger (and even your neighbors). This is why it is necessary to work with a licensed gas installer to make your gas connections with natural gas.
Propane can be dangerous also, especially if you have a whole-house propane tank. If you have this arrangement, we highly recommend you have a licensed gas installer make all your gas connections.
If you’re connecting to a standard 20 lb. propane tank, such as those used in gas BBQ grills, you can make the connection to the tank yourself.
Be sure to provide ample ventilation in your gas fire pit structure and have your fire pit located outside in a well-ventilated location.
Regulators Made Easy
Whether you are hooking up one of our easy connection kits or hiring a professional, keep in mind which type of gas you are using so you can order accordingly.
If you’re using propane, you have one more decision. Do you want the convenience of the key valve or a less expensive, high-pressure regulator?
All in all, the whole process is pretty straightforward. But, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a shout.