“The fire is the main comfort of the camp.” ~Thoreau
Whether you enjoy “roughing it” in the wilderness or lounging in a comfortable cottage, many can agree that the highlight of any relaxing getaway is gathering together in front of an inviting, crackling fire.
But what fuel is best for your backyard fire?
A wood-burning fire has the inherent ability to bring people together and provide stunning ambiance. Pascal Garrido, co-owner of Muskoka Fire Pits, handcrafts gorgeous wood-burning fire pits that can be found in stores across Ontario. The family-owned-and-operated business focuses on the fireside experience as well as quality, sustainability, and beautiful design. This begins with the sourcing of materials, as their fire pits are made from old propane tanks. “It is somewhat of a ‘green product.’ We’re reusing something found in the scrapyard,” says Garrido.
Garrido also makes a case for wood-burning fire pits over newer innovations like propane and gas-fueled fire pits or tables. Along with the amplified amount of heat it can provide, a wood-burning fire pit gives a unique visual treat perfect for get-togethers, says Garrido. “There is no comparison, really. A wood-burning fire compared to propane is not the same—you can sit and look at a wood-burning fire for a whole evening. It’s a feeling, an experience.”
There’s definitely something about a fire that draws our attention, but unfortunately, for city-dwellers at least, an open backyard fire may not be permitted for a variety of safety issues. Travis Cairns at Southshore Group Inc., a landscaping company out of Barrie, says, “Wood-burning is the easiest to build and is most cost effective for a customer. But the downside and biggest deterrence of wood fire pits is fire codes in municipalities. That’s usually the main reason people go to gas. With gas, the biggest draw is that you can have it anywhere, anytime.”
Without the mess, upkeep, or safety hazards of a wood-burning fire, propane and gas fire pits are as contained and safe as a barbecue. “They have the same exact type of burner, just in a different shape,” says Cairns. “But obviously, it is more of an expense.” The benefits that gas and propane fire pits offer, particularly in terms of convenience, may make up for their higher price point. “The advantage is the ease of use,” says Cairns. “You don’t have to worry about inviting some friends over, having a last-minute fire, and not having any wood to burn. You can just go outside, flip a switch, and that’s it.”
Ryan Lima, owner of Norscape Landscape & Pond Supply in Oro-Medonte, emphasizes that many homes (especially in rural areas) still need wood-burning fire pits for the sake of property maintenance. “A classic downfall for wood-burning fire pits is the rising cost of wood,” says Lima. “But because of our location, we sell more wood-burning pits than gas or propane.” Cairns agrees with this particular benefit of wood-burning pits. “There are times, for sure, if a customer has a bigger lot out of town, where I would almost push a wood fire pit because they can use it to clear out the brush and clean up their property.”
The final verdict on wood-burning vs. propane and gas fire pits? “It depends on the client and their property and what their needs and wants are,” says Cairns. So, if you’re living within the city limits and looking for a safe, convenient flame to gather round, a propane or gas fire pit may be right for you. If your local burning by-laws are more flexible, and you wouldn’t dream of abandoning those roaring natural wood flames (I can think of a few “fire-bugs” in my family), local businesses in the area can help to place, design, or install a wood-burning fire pit perfect for your property. Just remember to keep a bucket of water nearby!
by Allison Dempsey & Emily Bednarz
Muskoka Fire Pits / Blue Ocean Lighthouse (Gravenhurst)
Southshore Group Inc. (Barrie)
Norscape Landscape & Pond Supply (Oro-Medonte)