Converting a wood-burning fire pit to gas will involve a few changes to the basic structure. There will also be some upfront costs and if you’re converting to natural gas, it will require the services of a licensed gas installer. However, what is gained is often well worth the cost of conversion.
Wood fires create a distinctive aroma that many find nostalgic, but that’s where the love affair often ends. The smoke permeates clothing and hair leaving you smelling like a smoked ham long after you’ve left the fireside.
An adequate place to store a wood supply is often a problem for homeowners too. It shouldn’t be stored indoors because of the potential for termite infestation. But even if you have enough space in your yard to keep a stack of wood, it often gets wet or damp. That makes it hard to light, and it creates an excess of smoke.
But the fire danger is often the biggest concern and the reason why many places do not allow wood-burning fire pits. Wood fires kick out embers that can be caught by the wind and deposited in areas with flammable materials such as dry grass or a neighbor’s roof.
Not only do gas fire pits burn cleaner and safer, but they’re also much more convenient. You can light them with a push of a button and control the flame simply by turning a valve. So, let’s take a look at what’s involved in making the conversion.
STACKS OF WOOD should never be stored indoors. Wood stored outdoors should be at least 30 feet from your house.
Which Fuel Will You Use?
The easiest and quickest conversion is from wood to propane. Many people are already familiar with 20-pound propane tanks like those used in BBQ gas grills. They are relatively small and easy to install.
Natural gas will be a more involved conversion because you will need to secure the services of a licensed gas professional to make the connections and install the gas burner. Unless you already have an existing gas line (for a BBQ grill, etc.), you will also need to have a supply line installed.
Gas Fire Pits Require Venting
Gas fire pits must have ventilation, so a wood-burning fire pit will have to be retrofitted with vents. Propane is heavier than air, so vents for this type of fire pit or fire table, will need to be installed low on the structure.
Natural gas is lighter than air, so vents must be located near the top of the structure. For proper sizing and placement of ventilation see our article, “Do I Need Ventilation for My DIY Fire Pit?”
Choosing Your Burner Size
Instead of wooden logs, a gas burner will create heat output and flames for your gas fire pit. The size of the burner is determined by the limits of your gas supply and the size of the fire pit.
For instance, a 20-pound propane tank cannot support a burner with a BTU/hr. rating higher than 125,000. But a 90,000 BTU/hr. burner is adequate for a fire pit hosting 4-6 people.
To step up to a larger burner that can accommodate more bodies around the fire pit, you’ll need a limitless supply of natural gas, or you’ll need to get creative with your propane options like linking two 20-pound tanks with a special connector.
To determine what size will best suit your situation, check out “How Many BTUs Do I Need for My Gas Fire Pit.”
You can buy drop-in burner pan kits that include everything you need to set up a gas fire pit. However, if you’re converting a round wood-burning pit, chances are it’s not conducive to drop-in pans.
Again, you will need to do a little retrofitting by installing a flexible metal collar between the top layer of bricks or blocks and the finishing row or the cap. This collar supports a flat pan that sits underneath the burner. Propane burners require this feature since propane drops like water when released. The pan keeps the gas from settling deep within your fire pit structure.
On propane and natural gas fire pits alike, the pan also holds fire media such as fire glass. Fire glass or lava rock help to hide the burner and disperse the flame to give it a more natural shape.
Three Ignition Types
You will need a way to ignite the fire in your new gas fire pit. Match-lit is the most basic method and the least expensive.
A battery-operated ignition allows you to start the fire with a push of the button, while an electronic ignition starts with the flip of the switch. Both have remote options.
An electric ignition costs more and will require the services of an electrician to install it. Plus, the operating box must be installed within the structure to help protect it from the weather.
Worth the Cost
The benefits of a gas fire pit far outweigh those of a wood-burning fire pit for many people. Propane provides the quickest route to conversion, but it will cost more to operate.
Natural gas costs more upfront because you will need to hire a licensed gas installer to make the connections. However, natural gas has much cheaper operating costs and if it’s done well, it could add value to the resale value of your home.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get converting!
Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have about this process.