By Nthabiseng Moloi, MiWay Head of Marketing & Brand
A backyard fire pit is a great way to take the chill out of winter and enjoy the primal call of the open flames
A fire pit can be the ideal finishing touch to your lapa – even better, it can be created with very little cash outlay. All it takes is a little planning for safety and a bit of elbow grease, and the whole thing can be done in an afternoon, ready for the next weekend.
That is because, at its most basic, a fire pit is little more than some paving and a clearing in a suitable spot in the back yard; you can get it done for as little as a few thousand rand if you buy and lay the pavers yourself.
From there, the sky is the limit – you can go completely overboard with fancy stones, elegant benches and neat decking surrounding the fire, or, keep it rustic with simple log seats for guests to sit on.
If you are going the DIY-route, there are a few things worth considering
A good place to begin would be to choose a suitable position, with safety very much to the fore. A good rule of thumb would be to locate the fire pit at least three metres from any other buildings, but do check out any local regulations. In addition, low-hanging branches that might catch alight are a no-no.
When it comes to construction, the fireplace itself should be made of something that can withstand the heat.
A quarter end of a 44-gallon drum is a good option and can easily be sunk into the soil, making the fire the focal point around which you can lay the pavers. Or you can look around at the local homeware or hardware store for other similar options.
All it takes is a little planning for safety and a bit of elbow grease, and the whole thing can be done in an afternoon, ready for the next weekend
You could also cast the fireplace itself out of concrete
This will require some skill and knowledge of working with concrete, but a great result can quite easily be achieved should you have that ability.
Whatever you choose, it’s a good idea to make sure that rainwater can drain out of the cavity.
The pavers themselves should be selected based on their ability to handle the heat of the fire. Most concrete products will be safe to use; if looking at tiles or other materials, make sure these will not splinter or crack should you stack up the fire to epic proportions (and you know you will).
Laying pavers themselves starts with levelling the area, then putting down a layer of sand around 10cm deep. Make sure all weeds and grass are removed and consider laying a sheet of plastic under the sand to discourage anything from growing underneath the pavers. The sand should be compacted and levelled, before setting the pavers in place.
You could even stop at the sand; it feels good underfoot and with an enclosure, can create a lovely sitting area for hanging out around the flames.
Of course, if DIY is not your thing, you can get a professional landscaper or contractor in to build your fire pit
When it comes to using the fire pit, safety should be a paramount concern. Make sure you choose the right location – plan how far from existing buildings and trees you are going to locate the fire pit. Local regulations will apply so check with your municipality and make sure you have the correct materials.
Consider the following tips to bear in mind:
- Thatched roofs, such as those commonly found on lapas, are highly combustible. It just takes one errant spark and the whole thing can rapidly go up in smoke. So if you do have thatch nearby, play it safe and put some extra distance between it and the fire.
- Whenever lighting a fire, start by assessing the conditions. If it is windy, it might not be a good idea; if there is a drought, or conditions are particularly hot and dry, take extra precautions such as having a hose ready, or leave the fire for another day.
- Watch out for loose, flammable clothing. Long hair, too, can easily catch fire, particularly as many hair products are flammable.
- Do not use petrol to start a fire! It can explode; rather use firelighters.
- Keep a close eye on children and pets – we all remember how powerful the allure of a fire was when we were small (and how sore it was when we got burnt).
- Finally, before calling it a night, make sure the fire is thoroughly and properly extinguished, particularly if you are in one of the more arid areas of the country.
Of course, your home insurance policy is there to provide cover if anything goes wrong. However, by being responsible and taking reasonable precautions, your fire pit should deliver endless opportunities for quality leisure with friends and family.
MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970).