Fire up your backyard for outdoor living with these stylish ideas for firepits

Spending an evening by a crackling fire under a starry sky is one of the pleasures of summer in the West, especially when warm days dissolve into chilly nights. But you don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to a favorite camping spot to huddle around a flickering fire―you can bring a firepit into your own backyard.

There are lots of choices, from built-in firepits edged with stone and fueled by gas, to simple and portable copper or steel types just big enough for a couple of logs. Before we dive into our favorite ideas for your backyard fire pit, make sure you’re up to date on fire safety regulations and how to keep it burning with clean fuels.

Firepit Safety

Having an open flame in your backyard calls for safety and courtesy: Situate the firepit away from flammables such as dry grasses and where smoke won’t bother neighbors. Observe fire ordinances and don’t use your firepit on no-burn days or when it’s smoggy or windy. Use a spark screen, especially under dry conditions. Never leave a fire unattended and keep a fire extinguisher or a garden hose with a sprayer nearby.

Compressed logs (such as Java-Log; see below) or wood logs with a low resin content (such as oak) are the safest choice―don’t burn scrap lumber or trash. In a portable firepit, burn only one or two logs at a time (place them in the bottom, not on top of a raised grate, unless the manufacturer states differently). Built-in firepits generally can hold more logs, but don’t overfill.

Use Clean Fuels

One common complaint about firepits in suburbia is the air pollution caused by the smoke that burning wood sends aloft. Gas firepits are cleaner-burning. But where gas isn’t practical, there’s a new alternative: compressed logs made from recycled coffee grounds (mostly leftovers from manufacturing instant coffee), molasses, and a bit of wax. Called Java-Logs, they produce 88 percent less carbon monoxide and 50 percent less soot than wood. Compared to sawdust logs, they burn cleaner, emit a taller, more natural flame throughout their burn cycle (up to three hours), and have a mildly sweet scent instead of a chemical smell. If you don’t want to order them online, Java-Logs are available at most California Whole Foods Markets.