Choosing between a wood and gas fire pit isn’t too difficult, but it does require the consideration of several factors. There are certain limitations and benefits that come with each type. In the end, it may come down to your personal preference.
So I’ve written this article to provide you with all the pertinent information you need to decide. It will cover the pros and cons of each, uses, safety issues, cost, and efficiency. Plus I’ll cover some things you may have never otherwise considered. So read on to discover wood vs gas fire pits: which one is right for you?
Wood vs Gas Fire Pit: Overview
Wood-burning fire pits are pretty self-explanatory. But you have two main options when it comes to gas fire pits: propane and natural gas. If you don’t already have natural gas in your home, you’ll probably want to go with propane. Installing natural gas lines probably isn’t worth it just for a fire pit in the backyard. Propane, although slightly less convenient, does the trick just fine. Plus, propane fire pits tend to be cheaper than their natural gas counterparts.
Sometimes in this article I’ll use the term “gas” to refer to propane and natural gas both, because they are very similar in almost everything but the cost and installation needs. I will, however, also go over briefly which gas option is right for you if you do happen to have natural gas in your home already.
But we should first consider whether it is legal for you to have a wood-burning fire pit at all.
Local Laws and Regulations
Before you get too far into your search for a fire pit, it’s best to check your local laws and regulations. Some areas, especially cities, have passed laws banning wood-burning backyard fire pits. There are generally two possible reasons for this: safety and air quality.
Drought-prone areas that have issues with devastating wildfires may have laws against recreational fire pits. If you live in one of these areas, check the legality of gas fire pits. Many places allow gas fire pits because they’re generally safer than wood fire pits.
When you burn wood, it releases smoke and fine particles into that air, which can contribute to pollution. In many cities, where the air quality is poor already, they often have burn bans. Sometimes these bans are permanent and sometimes they are temporary.
The best thing to do is check how many days a year on average have had burn bans in effect in the past. This can give you a good idea of how many days a year you’ll be able to burn wood in your backyard.
If your area has frequent burn bans, it may not be worth it to get a wood fire pit. Instead, you can get a gas pit that emits little to no smoke and pollution.
While you’re looking up your local fire pit laws, you’ll want to note what they say about the placement of your fire pit. The rule of thumb is that you should keep your fire pit at least 10 feet away from your home or any other structures. But, in some areas you’re required to place your fire pit at least 25 feet away.
However, gas fire pits may have different requirements. Whereas you shouldn’t place a wood-burning pit under an awning, you may be able to do so with a gas fire pit. It all depends on your county’s laws.
It’s fairly rare, but you may also need a permit to have a recreational fire pit. Permits are usually associated with the installation of a natural gas fire pit, but not always. Make sure you’re not breaking any laws with your fire pit, whether you choose a wood or gas one.
Efficiency and Carbon Footprint
As I mentioned briefly above, wood fire pits send pollutants into the air whenever they’re used. However, wood is also a renewable resource. If you have wood on your property to use in your fire pit, it may be the most convenient option for you. However, if you’re chopping down live trees for firewood, the carbon footprint is that much worse.
So, if you’re concerned about your carbon footprint, know that wood will release more emissions than propane. Propane, in turn, will release more than natural gas, which burns cleaner than either wood or propane.
As you can probably guess, natural gas is going to be the most efficient fuel for your fire pit. Propane is next in line, and then wood. But there are many different factors that tie into efficiency, like cost and heat.
- The cheapest of the three, natural gas is inexpensive and fairly clean-burning. But, if the main factor you want from your fire pit is heat, natural gas may end up costing you about the same or more than propane, which we’ll discuss further in the “heat” section below.
- Propane is more expensive than natural gas all over the country. In some places it’s significantly cheaper, in others it’s comparable. You must also factor in the time and effort of replacing the tank when it’s empty.
- Assuming that you’re purchasing it, wood is more expensive than either gas option. However, if you’re not purchasing it and you have a steady supply, you only have to factor in the time and energy it takes to gather and chop it.
Which Fire Pits Produces the Most Heat?
If you’re concerned about which type of fuel will put out the most heat, the answer is: it depends. Heat is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units). The more BTUs, the more heat.
For the most part, wood is going to give you the most heat, but it also depends on what type of wood, how dry it is, and how long it has been seasoned. But, to give you an idea, I’ll run down the average heating capacity for each type of fire pit.
- Wood is great for producing heat. It can produce anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 BTUs, depending on the type of wood you use and how much. The nice thing about wood fires is that you can build them as large or small as you need.
- Propane fire pits usually range from 30,000 to 60,000 BTUs. If you want warmth from your fire pit before all else, look for one with a range of around 60,000. Just know that you’ll burn through propane quickly at that range.
- Natural gas also has a range from 30,000 to 60,000 BTUs. However, natural gas has a lower BTU rating than propane, meaning that you need to burn more of it to get the same amount of heat. But, since natural gas is cheaper than propane, this may not be a concern for you.
Related Article: Do Fire Pits Keep You Warm?
Fire Pit Safety Concerns
There’s not much to factor in as far as safety is concerned. Wood-burning fire pits are the least safe. Of course, you can and should do everything you can to make a wood fire safe, but the fact is that they can be unpredictable. Sparks and embers can escape the pit, the wind can change and send coals into the surrounding area, and you can’t turn a knob to put out a wood fire.
Natural gas and propane fire pits don’t produce embers or coals, and most of them have safety mechanisms that will automatically shut off the fuel supply if the pit is tipped or knocked over.
But, no matter what type you choose, fire is still fire. If you have kids around, it’s best to teach them all about proper fire protocols and habits.
Fire Pit Cost
We’ve already covered the cost of fuel for each type, but what about the cost of the pits themselves? Well, it all depends. Fire pits of any type range from less than $100 to more than $6,000. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
In general, wood fire pits are the cheapest option, usually ranging from $50 for a basic metal bowl to $3,000 for having one installed. If you’re looking for a nice standalone fire pit, check out this one.
Once again, for the installation of a permanent propane fire pit, you’re looking at $500 to $3500. But there are plenty of nice, inexpensive standalone options that you can store when you’re not using, like this one. You can get a great propane fire pit for under $300.
Unless you already have a natural gas line in your yard or patio, this is the most expensive option. Since natural gas pits are permanent or semi-permanent, they are generally more expensive. They range from $1,500 to over $6,000. Here’s one for sale on Amazon at the lower end. Plus, add to that the cost of installing the gas line, if you don’t already have one.
Gas fire pits require very little maintenance. It’s best to cover them when they’re not in use, to protect them from the elements. Propane tanks need to be replaced on occasion, but that’s about it for maintenance.
Wood fire pits, on the other hand, require that you clean out the ash often. You’ll also need to either gather, chop, or purchase firewood for the pit. And, of course, you’ll need to add wood to the fire to keep it burning while it’s in use.
Uses and Benefits
If you’re looking for a fire pit with multiple uses, wood-burning is your best bet. You can cook nearly any kind of food on a wood fire pit— provided you have the right supplies. Plus, wood smoke tends to keep pesky bugs away, which is an added benefit.
You can heat up marshmallows over a gas fire pit, but that’s about the extent of your cooking options. Anything that drips juices into the fire should be avoided, as those juices can clog up the pipes of a gas fire pit.
Also, since gas fire pits don’t generate smoke, they don’t keep bugs away like wood fire pits.
Less Tangible Benefits
Many people prefer wood fire pits because they like the sounds and smells wood makes as it burns. The little crackles and pops are relaxing to many. Plus, keeping the fire fed and roaring is a subtle yet fun thing to do for some. There’s a certain atmosphere with a wood fire that people claim is not quite the same with a gas fire.
Of course, many people like the fact that they can turn a knob on their gas fire pit, watch the flames sprout up, and then sit back and relax. The flames may not be as big and colorful on a gas fire pit, but they’re still fun to watch and they create a relaxing mood.
Wood vs Gas Fire Pit: Pros and Cons
We’ve covered a lot of information to this point, so let’s break it down into the pros and cons of each type of fire pit.
There you have it. The biggest factors will be your personal preferences and any legal limits your area may have. Wood fire pits have many pros and nearly as many cons, but for some that doesn’t matter. The look, feel, and smell of a wood fire is worth it for many.
Gas fire pits are easier to use and require less maintenance, but they also have their limits. If you’re looking for an ornamental fire pit, gas is the way to go. For a more functional pit, wood-burning is your best bet.
Either way, a fire pit is a great addition to any backyard, deck, or patio.