The fire pit is one of the ultimate forms of luxury in the modern world. What used to be essential for humans to live is now a luxurious addition to a house or living space for friends and loved ones to gather around to enjoy a crisp fall night or simply each other’s company. But they may come with a price to the environment that a climate-changing world can hardly afford.
For people in certain areas of the country, such as Denver, Colorado, having a fire pit as part of their modern outdoor furniture decor comes with a certain set of rules. In the dry and fire-prone areas of the country, many can only have natural gas fire pits. Wood or other materials aren’t allowed to be burnt openly without special permission or a grant from the local government.
Below are the rules for owning a fire pit in Denver, though surrounding areas like Lakewood may have different rules. Always check your local area’s rules and guidelines for having an outdoor fire pit. You don’t want to cause a neighborhood fire or pay a hefty fine for trying to enjoy your own space.
Denver Fire Pit Laws:
Open burning of wood (or any products other than propane, natural gas, or charcoal briquettes) is outlawed in Denver without permits from the Denver Department of Environmental Health and the Fire Prevention and Investigation Division.
Even if you aren’t burning wood or other harmful materials, is burning natural gas through a fire pit bad for the environment? When it’s your only option in your area, it’s important to keep it in mind and learn about why or why not. Don’t just assume that just because it’s allowed, it’s environmentally friendly. Keep reading to learn more about how these gases affect the air.
What Gases Do Fire Pits Use?
The two main gases that most gas fire pits use are propane and natural gas.
- Propane is widely considered to be a cleaner burning fuel than fossil fuels, wood, and other materials. It has a lower carbon content, making it a cleaner fuel source than other gasses. It doesn’t harm water or soil because it isn’t toxic. Using propane reduces carbon monoxide in the air, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, The Clean Air Act listed propane as an approved clean fuel in 1990.
- Natural gas fire pits are fed by a gas line that’s connected to your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, natural gas is an odorless mixture of hydrocarbons, predominantly made up of methane. It accounts for roughly 30 percent of energy in the United States. It is considered a fossil fuel, which begs the question: is it harmful to the environment? Because of its name, it gives off the misconception that it’s safe for the environment. But according to the National Resources Defense Council, it’s a major contributor to air and water pollution as well as climate change. Plus, methane is the primary contributor to ground-level ozone, which is an air pollutant and greenhouse gas that hurts the environment.
So, in short, propane is the more eco-friendly option for your fire pit. But both are preferable options to wood or chemical burning. Wood burning is a fire hazard, a pollutant with its smoke, and could be harmful for humans to breathe in. Also, it’s harmful to the environment as it produces smog and other negative particles in the air.
The Washington State Department of Ecology states that about 10 percent of the air pollution statewide during the winter time can be attributed to fine particles from wood smoke coming out of wood-burning stoves or fireplaces.
So, while they may be a comforting, crackling oasis to share stories around, they aren’t the best thing you can do to be greener in your daily life.
Consider Trying Ethanol or Isopropyl
There are new fire pits that burn ethanol or isopropyl alcohol gel. These ventless, flueless fireplaces produce no smoke and can be used both indoors and outdoors, and unlike gas fireplaces connected to gas lines, they can be moved from location to location.
According to Forbes, they emit steam vapor and carbon dioxide with no toxic smoke, compared to harmful fuels and gasses produced from wood or natural gas. There’s no soot or ashes from these fires as well, and they are surprisingly low-cost to install. Plus, the ingredients are natural, sustainable, and largely harmless.
- Ethanol – made from renewable sources like corn, potatoes, and rice
- Isopropyl – made of isopropyl alcohol, water, salt, and thickeners.
The ethanol fireplaces need to be refilled, while the isopropyl pits come with ready-to-use canisters. Both can stay lit for hours after only a few minutes—or seconds—of ignition. If you’re looking for a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative, consider these pits over propane and natural gas. The human world is adapting while the physical world is changing. Do your part by opting for more renewable methods for your fire pits.
In many parts of the country and the world over, traditional wood fire pits are being outlawed in an effort to reduce wildfires, smoke, smog, and other air pollution. When you have to use alternative methods, like natural gas or propane, it’s important to know the environmental differences between the two.
To recap, propane is considered better for the environment than natural gas, but both are better than burning wood. If you really want to go the extra mile, consider ethanol or isopropyl fireplaces, which can be moved around to be used either outside or inside, and don’t produce smoke, ash, soot, or burn harmful gasses.
You may not think your small, personal fire pit can have a profound effect on the environment, but when you add up all the fire pits in your city or area, the capacity for pollution can be very high. It may not be the biggest issue concerning climate change or pollution in the world today, but every little bit of eco-friendly help counts. Consider a more sustainable option for your fire pit this winter to do your part.