Do Fire Pits Keep You Warm?

While fire pits have been around for many years, they have only recently grown in popularity.

Fire pits provide a place for family and friends to gather at all times of the year.

people sit around fire pit

Many people who purchase or build fire pits want to know if they will help them stay warm during the cold months. With this information, you will learn the answer to this question and much more.

There are some things that can be measured subjectively, such as the beauty of the fire pit or how it makes you feel mental.

Heat is something that is not subjective because it is the same for all. When the temperature rises for one, it rises for all in the vicinity of the fire pit.

When answering the question does a fire pit keep you warm we must realize that any flame, no matter how minute, is going to produce heat energy?

All fire pits produce warmth, some more than others. A few factors will determine if a fire pit will keep you warm on a cold night, and they include the following.

  • The fuel source is one of the essential factors for heat production. We will discuss the options later.
  • The amount of heat produced by a fire pit also depends on the size of the fire.
  • The warmth factor produced by the fire pit will also depend greatly on the outdoor temperature.
  • The heat generated by the fire pit will also be determined by the size of the pit and its materials.

Understanding How Fire Pits Create Heat

In order to understand what you can expect from the heat level of fire pits, you need to first comprehend how heat is produced.

When you view most fire pits, the manufacturers talk about BTUs. BTU stands for British Thermal Units.

Although some people become confused about BTUs and their meanings, they are not overly challenging to understand.

What Are BTUs?

A BTU measures how much energy is required to increase the temperature of a pound of water by a single Fahrenheit degree.

While the definition of BTU function can become much more complex, we will stick to the basics for the purposes of this article.

Having a rough idea of how BTUs work will help you better understand what you can expect from a fire pit and the amount of warmth it provides.

What Are the Differences Between Convection and Radiation?

We will not go into too much scientific detail because you honestly do not need that depth of information to understand the heat generated by a fire pit.

You need to know the differences between convection and radiation because both will impact the amount of heat you experience from a fire pit.

Radiant Heat

Most of the heat you feel coming from a fire pit is considered radiant heat. Radiant heat consists of infrared waves and visible light. These are photons, and when they touch your skin, you are going to feel the heat.

Have you ever hovered your hand over a candle or a hot stove eye? If so, you know what radiant heat is and how it feels.

You may have also experienced radiant heat in your flooring. Some homes have heating systems installed under their flooring to keep the floors warm and make you more comfortable during the winter.

Convection Heat

Convection heat differs from radiant heat because it can travel in multiple directions.

When it comes to fire pits, convective heat is not very important because it travels up into the air and is rarely felt by those sitting around the fire.

The only time you will feel convection heat is if the wind changes direction and bends the flame towards you. Suddenly, you will feel a gust of heat, but it will likely be short-lived.

As a word of caution, you should never build a fire in a fire pit on a windy day.

The flames can bend dramatically and cause you to singe your hair or even lose your eyebrows, which does not make for a fond fire pit memory.

Which Fire Pit Fuel Gives You the Most Heat?

As mentioned above, the fuel you use for a fire pit has a direct effect on how much heat it produces, along with the size and refractory materials.

If you have never owned a fire pit, you need to research the options and learn what level of heat each fuel offers. Below, you will learn about the most common types of fuel and what they provide.

Propane Fire Pits

Propane is a common choice for fire pits. One of the most significant downfalls to using propane for a fire pit is the cost.

The reason for the increased expense is that homeowners will either need to keep a steady supply of propane tanks or have a line run and a large tank installed on their property. The installation adds to the expense of using propane.

Propane offers a high level of warmth, but the amount you feel will depend on the size of the fire pit.

Small propane fire pits commonly put out about 30,000 BTUs. Large propane fire pits can put out between 50,000 to 60,000 BTUs.

Natural Gas Fire Pits

If you already have access to natural gas, installing a fire pit becomes much easier.

You will simply need to hire a gas line specialist to run the line. Natural gas is a top choice for many people, but it does not offer the BTUs per cubic foot that propane does.

To put this simply, you will end up needing a lot more natural gas than a propane fire pit of the same size.

Aside from the convenience of having access to natural gas lines, many people choose this fuel source because it is much less expensive than propane fuel.

While natural gas fire pits that are rated the same BTUs as propane will give you the same level of heat, it will take more fuel to reach the same heat level.

In the long run, you will end up spending more money on fuel if you choose a natural gas fire pit.

Small natural gas fire pits typically put out 30,000 to 40,000 BTUs, while larger fire pits may offer up to 60,000 BTUs.

When deciding between propane or natural gas, you need to weigh the possible convenience against the expense of burning fuel.

Wood-Burning Fire Pits

It is challenging to pinpoint the amount of BTUs wood-burning fire pits put out because they vary greatly according to the wood type and amount you burn.

It is essential you know that seasoned wood puts out much more heat than green wood. If you plan on cutting your own firewood, you would be wise to cut it this year and let it season for a year before using it next year.

Seasoned wood burns hotter and cleaner. If you purchase firewood from individuals or companies, you will almost always find it is seasoned unless the seller tells you otherwise.

The type of wood you use is essential for the amount of heat the fire pit will produce.

Below, we will take a look at the most common woods used in fire pits and how many BTUs they put out.

  • Osage Orange 32.9 BTU per cord of wood
  • Shagbark Hickory 27.7 BTU per cord of wood
  • Beech 27.5 BTU per cord of wood
  • Black Birch 26.8 BTU per cord of wood
  • Apple 25.8 BTU per cord of wood
  • Mulberry 25.7 BTU per cord of wood
  • White Ash 23.6 BTU per cord of wood
  • Black Walnut 20 BTU per cord of wood
  • Cherry 20 BTU per cord of wood
  • American Elm 19.5 BTU per cord of wood
  • Sycamore 19.1 BTU per cord of wood
  • Black Ash 18.7 BTU per cord of wood

Firewood BTUs are measured per cord of wood in the millions. For your information, a cord of wood is 128 cubic feet in size.

As you can see from the numbers above and the size of cords, it can be difficult to determine exactly how many BTUs your fire will put out.

One of the best things about using firewood in your fire pit is that you can add extra wood to get the fire incredibly hot.

You cannot do that with other fuel sources, including natural gas and propane. If you are looking for heat from a fire pit, wood-burning options are going to be your best bet.

With a wood-burning fire pit, you can typically get more heat from the same-sized fire pit that uses natural gas or propane.

Those who want a roaring fire may find it easier and more beneficial to build their own fire pit.

With a few concrete blocks and a metal stand, you can easily build a fire pit that is the perfect size for your needs. You can find simple fire pit plans online.

What Are the Maximum BTUs of a Hot Fire Pit?

During the winter, there is nothing better than sitting by a fire and enjoying nature at its finest.

If you are trying to bring the heat with a fire pit, you can expect to heat it up to around 100,00 BTUs, if you use firewood.

It is important to note that you will stay nice and toasty if you can get your BTUs up to at least 60,000.

To put this in a way you can better understand, think about your home’s oven. Most household ovens get up to 16,000 or 17,000 BTUs.

The warmth coming from an oven would not keep anyone warm and offers only mild radiant heat.

Although 60,000 BTUs is considered nice and warm for most people, it also depends on where you are in the world and the time of year.

For instance, if you are in the dead of winter in the Artic, you are going to need all 100,000 BTUs!

Tips for Making a Fire Pit Hotter

No matter what type of fuel your fire pit burns, airflow is essential for heat. While your fire pit is lit, you need to ensure ample airflow to keep the flames hot.

To understand what makes airflow critical, you need to know about the secondary burn.

Secondary burn occurs when the gases being emitted by the fire catch fire themselves. Just like the name suggests, this produces a double layer of fire.

The secondary burn occurs higher than the baseline of the fire and creates that heat that makes you warm as you sit around a fire pit.

You need secondary burn, but without proper airflow, you will not achieve it in your fire pit.

To ensure proper airflow for secondary burn, you need to ensure you empty the ashes often.

While it can be tempting to leave the ashes in the pit for convenience, these can build up and prevent air from flowing.

For another tip for getting your fire pit as hot as possible, you need to know how to stack the wood.

Many people make the mistake of putting their wood in the middle of the fire pit. This is the worst place to stack the wood because it will not allow for airflow.

Instead, you need to place the wood around the outer edges of the fire pit. Doing this will heat the walls and give you a hotter fire and a warmer feel.

Stacking your wood on the outer edges will also give you a hotter secondary burn.

In addition to the two tips above, you also need to be careful when stacking your wood too high in the pit.

If you will look at your fire pit, you will see secondary holes. These burn holes are essential for air circulation.

If you stack wood higher than the secondary burn holes, you will cut off your fire’s air supply and prevent a secondary burn, which will greatly reduce the heat you feel coming from the pit.

Fire Pits Can Keep You Warm

Now you know fire pits can keep you warm while outdoors in the winter. If you want the maximum level of heat, choose a wood-burning option and use the tips above to create a hotter fire.

Air circulation is critical for getting a hot fire. By stacking your wood carefully and keeping the fire burning clean, you will get the heat you need.