A fire pit area is one of the best places to spend a relaxed evening with family or friends. There’s nothing quite like gathering around a campfire for conversation with people you love. And roasting a few marshmallows is never a bad idea either!
In this article, we’ll cover one of the best ways to install a patio fire pit area on a budget: a gravel pad.
Before we jump into how to install a gravel patio fire pit area, let’s cover a few questions about why gravel pads should even be an option for fire pit areas.
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Gravel Fire Pit Area FAQs
Here are some of the most common questions we hear about gravel fire pit areas…
What can I put on the ground around my fire pit?
Gravel or crushed stone is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to create a backyard fire pit area! Putting gravel on the ground around your fire pit creates a nice, level base for seating. Plus, it protects the ground and surrounding area with a non-flammable material in case any embers make their way out of the fire pit.
Other options for covering the ground in fire pit patio areas include:
Each of these options have their own pros and cons. In general, they all require a pre-leveled area and are rather detailed to install. Plus, the cost of materials can put them outside many budgets.
Can you put a fire pit on gravel?
This is a common question. As mentioned above you can use gravel to create a patio area around your fire pit.
However, there are really two versions of this question: “Should I put gravel in my fire pit?” and “Should I put gravel around my fire pit?”
Should I put gravel IN my fire pit?
Gravel may not be the best option to place in your fire pit, due to the risk of it exploding under high heat. When certain kinds of rock get wet (including many gravel and crushed stone types) they can trap moisture in the small crevices or pores of the rock. When directly exposed to fire, this moisture can turn to steam, creating pressure and a risk of the rock shattering dangerously.
Some better alternatives for inside the fire pit are:
- Lava rocks
- Lava glass
- Fire-grade brick
- Bare dirt
Should I put gravel AROUND my fire pit?
Gravel is an excellent option for creating a patio or seating area around your fire pit. A gravel fire pit pad is fireproof, drains well, provides a level area for seating, suppresses weed growth, and is one of the most affordable options available!
Does a fire pit need a gravel base?
While gravel is not required, it is one of the most affordable materials to put around your fire pit and is certainly worth considering, particularly if you are on a budget.
Planning for your gravel patio fire pit
Construction of your gravel fire pit area will go much more smoothly if you have a solid plan in place before starting. Here are a few common questions and considerations for the planning stage…
How big should I make my gravel fire pit area?
Your gravel patio should be 5’ to 6’ larger than your fire pit in each direction. A 14×14 or 16×16 gravel pad is usually the minimum size for a fire pit area since most fire pits are 3’ to 5’ in diameter.
You may want to make your gravel fire pit patio a bit larger if you need space for additional seating or other items such as a grill, a wood rack, coolers, etc.
It can be helpful to list out all the items that will be included in your fire pit area and sketch a layout to make sure you’ll have adequate space.
What kind of gravel do you use for a fire pit?
We typically use ¾” clean crushed limestone for the gravel fire pit patios we build. We recommend crushed limestone around fire pits because of its excellent drainage. Plus, it compacts well, giving a solid base for seating and other heavy items.
As mentioned above, you should choose a different type of stone for inside the fire pit itself to avoid the potential of rock explosions.
Can I use pea gravel around a fire pit?
Yes, you can use pea gravel for a fire pit area. Many people like pea gravel for its aesthetics and its comfort when walking barefoot. On the downside, it doesn’t compact very tightly and requires regular raking to keep it smooth. Over time, you may need to add more pea gravel to the patio as it gets kicked around and possibly escapes the patio border.
One option is to build a gravel patio fire pit with a crushed limestone base, then add a layer of pea gravel over the top for aesthetics. (Some folks take a similar approach with their gravel hot tub pads. Installing artificial grass on top of the crushed stone would be another option.)
Like crushed stone, pea gravel can be an explosion hazard if used inside the fire pit area.
How much gravel do I need for a fire pit area?
You will need about 4.5 tons of crushed stone for a 16×16 gravel fire pit area on level ground.
Here are the formulas to determine how much gravel your fire pit area needs, both in cubic yards and in tons. (This assumes all measurements are taken in feet.)
(length x width x depth)/27 = cubic yards of gravel needed
cubic yards x 1.4 = tons of gravel needed
For a 16×16 gravel patio with gravel 4” deep (0.33’), the formulas would look like this:
(16’ x 16’ x 0.33’)/27 = 3.13 cubic yards of gravel needed
3.13 cubic yards x 1.4 = 4.38 tons of gravel needed
Note: If your site is on a slope, measure the depth of gravel needed at the high side (minimum of 4”) and the depth of gravel needed at the low side. Add those numbers and divide by 2 to find the average gravel depth for the entire pad. (For example, if the high side needs 4” and the low side needs 12”, (4+12)/2 = 8” of gravel on average across the pad. You can use this number in the formula to calculate how much total gravel is needed.
How deep should a gravel patio area be?
Your gravel fire pit patio area should be at least 4” deep. 4” of crushed stone will lock together tightly and provide good support for anything that’s placed on top, from seating to firewood racks.
Do I need a permit for a gravel patio fire pit?
In most cases, no. Permits are typically not required for building either fire pits or gravel patio areas around fire pits. However, be sure to check with your local municipality to see what the regulations are in your area.
Gravel pads are typically considered “impermanent”, meaning they can be easily removed. As such, they are generally not subject to the same permitting requirements as concrete pads and other “permanent” property upgrades.
As for the fire pit itself, a permit is usually not required for construction. However, be sure to check if there are any other regulations governing the use of fire pits in your area, especially if you live in an urban or semi-urban area. Additionally, some areas require burn permits for fires, though fire pits are typically exempted from these requirements due to their small size.
How do you build a fire pit with gravel?
Following are the basic steps to build your gravel patio fire pit. For even more in-depth instructions, follow our guide to build a shed foundation, which is essentially the same process.
1. Measure the slope
You’ll want your finished gravel fire pit area to be perfectly level. To achieve that result, it’s important to know the slope of the site before you start excavating.
At its simplest, finding the slope of the site simply requires measuring the highest and lowest points and determining the difference. This is most easily accomplished with a laser level or transit. If you don’t have a laser level, you can also use a string level or a straightedge with a stick level. This section of our shed foundation guide gives more detailed instructions. This video is also helpful.
If your intended gravel fire pit area does have a slope, you can either:
- Build up the low end.
- Dig out the high end.
Building up is the simplest and most common solution but digging out can be better in certain site layouts.
2. Clear the topsoil
On a mostly level site, you’ll want to clear at least 4”-6” of topsoil away. This will keep the finished gravel patio area at the same height as the surrounding area. It’s a good idea to tamp down the remaining soil after the topsoil is cleared. We typically use a mini skid-steer, but you can also use a flat shovel for the job (although it will be a workout).
3. Install a perimeter
We typically use 4×6 pressure-treated lumber for the perimeters of our gravel pads. It’s important to make sure the lumber perimeter is level when installed, since it will be the guide to keep your gravel level when you install it.
To keep the perimeter fastened in place, fasten the corners with 4” galvanized screws. We also recommend drilling through the lumber at 6’ to 8’ intervals and using rebar stakes to fasten the perimeter to the ground.
You can find a more detailed guide here, including instructions for installing the perimeter on sloped sites.
4. Add weed barrier
A good weed barrier will keep pesky plants from sprouting up through your gravel fire pit patio area. For the most durable result, use a heavy-duty stabilization fabric that will not only stop weeds but will also provide extra support for the gravel fire pit area. We use a woven stabilization fabric under every gravel pad we install. More details on installing stabilization fabric here.
5. Add gravel
For best results, your gravel patio fire pit area should be constructed with at least 4” gravel. We recommend ¾” clean crushed limestone based on both the drainage and support it provides. If you succeeded in leveling your perimeter properly, it should be easy to level the gravel to match!
Once the gravel (or crushed stone, technically) is in place, we recommend tamping it to keep it locked in place. This section of our gravel pad installation guide give more details.
If you want to finish your gravel patio fire pit area with pea gravel, keep the crushed stone a few inches below the edge of the perimeter and fill the rest of the space with the pea gravel.
Note that this method will also work to create a simple gravel patio without a fire pit. Depending on the layout of your property, you can even add gravel under a deck to create a simple patio area, though you obviously can’t add a fire pit there!
Of course, you can always hire a site preparation company to install your gravel fire pit area if it’s more than you want to tackle yourself (we also do residential and commercial excavation services). We’ll give you a free quote ourselves if you’re in our service area. You can also review some of our completed work to get inspiration for your own project.
Let’s get that fire pit cooking!