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Do Fire Pits Keep You Warm? Here’s The Answer

We have an outdoor fireplace, but we’re on the fence about buying a fire pit. Ideally, we’d like more heat during the winter, but we want to make sure the fire pit would actually keep us warm. To find out more, I did some research. Here’s what I found.

Both wood and gas fire pits can keep you warm as they reach up to 70,000-100,000 BTUs. However, factors such as wind, temperature, and location affect their ability to heat properly. For the most efficient heat, choose an infrared heater. When using wood fire pits remember to check for any burn bans.

Let’s take a look at exactly how much heat fire pits provide and some tips to make them even more effective.

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my fire pit in tennessee
My family’s fire pit at their cabin in Tennessee.

How Much Heat Do Fire Pits Give Off?

Fire Pit TypeBTUs
Wood10,000 to 100,000+
Gas10,000 to 70,000

Wood Fire Pits

Wood fire pits get anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 BTUs and up, depending on the wood type, wood dryness, wind, outdoor temperature, the structure of the fire pit, and other factors.

For comparison, the average fireplace heats about 30,000 BTUs or about 1,500 sq. ft. of space. Keep in mind this is for indoor spaces that are fairly insulated, so there will be much more heat loss outdoors.

The heat radius of wood fire pits is generally around 3-10 feet, but it’s highly dependent on wind, outdoor temperature, the fire pits walls, and the size of the fire.

For the best heat, make sure the wood you’re using is properly seasoned, and use hardwoods such as oak and hickory.

Wood that’s properly dried has a moisture content under 20% and burns quicker, hotter, and more efficiently. It also burns cleaner, producing much less smoke.

Recommended: 7 Tips to Keep a Fire Going in a Fire Pit

Since the ideal distance to stand near wood fire pits is 3-10 feet, having less smoke blow around is almost a must. It also means less smoke blowing from your backyard to the neighbor’s property.

Using seasoned hardwood is worth the trouble.

To check if your firewood is properly seasoned and has under 20% moisture content, I use and recommend this moisture meter from Amazon.

Gas Fire Pits

A gas fire pit in the backyard

Gas fire pits often output around 10,000 to 30,000 BTUs, with some models going up to 70,000 BTUs. It’s difficult to find models that go higher than that due to manufacturer restrictions and safety.

Similar to wood fire pits, much of the heat from gas fire pits is lost as it travels upwards. This means an immediate heat loss of about 40%. For this reason, many gas patio heaters have a lid that reflects heat downward.

Gas fire pits most commonly run on propane, but some use natural gas.

However, natural gas requires the use of a gas line, which typically isn’t moveable unless you have a separate attachment. Having a gas fire pit that’s mobile is nice as you can move it behind a windbreak or a more ideal location depending on the weather.

The heat radius of gas fire pits ranges from 2-10 feet. Again, this depends on the weather, flame size, and other factors. For best results, opt for one with higher BTUs and a medium that retains a lot of heat.

Mediums such as steel, brass, concrete, or ceramic balls work nicely in gas fire pits as they retain plenty of heat.

Keep in mind gas fire pits lose much of their heat when wind speeds exceed 15 miles per hour.

Recommended: Can You Cook on a Gas Fire Pit? (S’mores, Hot Dogs, & More)

Which Fire Pit Provides The Most Heat?

Wood Fire PitsGas Fire Pits
Bigger Flame and HeatSmaller Flame and Heat
Higher MaintenanceLow Maintenance
More Pollution and SmokeCleaner Burn

Generally, wood fire pits give off more heat than gas fire pits as they burn more fuel (wood fire pits can get over 100,000 BTUs). However, in times of extreme cold and wind, wood fire pits need to have a large fire, and gas fire pits aren’t that effective.

If you’re deciding between the two, and want the most heat, opt for a wood fire pit. Just make sure your area allows them and there aren’t any burn bans.

These wood fire pits on Amazon give off the most heat as they have openings on the side, allowing heat to travel outward and not just upward.

Both wood and gas fire pits are fairly inefficient and come with different pros and cons such as maintenance and smoke.

So, if you’re looking for the most efficient heater is an infrared patio heater.

Recommended: How to Calculate Fire Pit Size, Dimensions, & More

Most Efficient Backyard and Patio Heaters

infrared patio heaters
Infrared heaters.

The most efficient (and eco-friendly) options for backyard fire pits and patio heaters are (in order):

  1. Infrared Heater
  2. Gas Fire Pit
  3. Wood Fire Pit

“[Infrared heaters are] 89% more efficient and less polluting than gas”

Mensa Heating

Infrared heaters are resistant to wind chill as they use light to directly heat objects.

Infrared is an invisible light that carries heat. On the light spectrum, it’s just below red (infra meaning below).

a rainbow with infrared light
Infrared is the invisible “color” next to red. It’s the only one that carries heat.

It’s the same way the sun’s light heats the earth’s surface.

On the other hand, radiant heat, such as that from fireplaces and fire pits, needs a medium such as air or stone to travel through.

Many infrared heaters are also waterproof and can be used in covered patios, gazebos, and more.

Here are a couple of quick tips when using infrared heaters:

  • Avoid wearing shiny jackets as they reflect infrared light away from your body
  • Read the manual of your infrared heater for proper distance and safety measures

Of course, no heater is the most eco-friendly option.

For example, wearing a merino wool under-layer with a windbreaker over it is a good way to both insulate you and break the wind chill. I have several wool sweaters and then wear my puff jackets over them and find it works in most cold conditions.

How Cold is Too Cold for a Fire Pit

The ideal temperature to use a fire pit is between 40ºF and 70ºF. However, you can technically use fire pits at any temperature. Avoid using fire pits during wind speeds of 15 MPH and above as it makes gas fire pits less effective and blows wood fire pit embers around.

Recommended: Can You Use a Fireplace When It’s Windy?

Fire pits work just fine below 40ºF, but the colder it is the more the fire loses heat. It’s more efficient to be indoors or in an insulated space with a fireplace or other heat source if possible.

Final Verdict

If you live in the city, go for a gas fire pit or infrared heater such as a patio heater. If you live in an area with no air quality issues, consider using a wood fire pit.

However, if you’re looking for the most warmth, the winner is still a large wood fire pit. Before buying one, check that your area allows them and there aren’t any burn bans.

To check if your area has an active burn ban, type in “burn ban” and your county in Google. Your county’s website should come up with a message. For example, my county’s site says “Burn Ban is NOT IN EFFECT”.

Recommended: Are Backyard Fire Pits Legal? Here’s How To Find Out

More Tips For Fire Pits

  • Promote windbreaks to help the fire pit radiate heat and prevent smoke from blowing around
  • Use ceramic or stones in gas fire pits to retain more heat
  • Limit the flame’s height, generally about the same height as the fire pit’s walls (no higher than 2 feet)
  • Keep fire pits at least 10-25 feet away from the house, fence, wall, and plants (including overhead tree branches)
  • Keep a hose with the water on and a fire extinguisher or a bucket of sand nearby
  • Protect wooden decks from wood fire pits by using a thermal barrier or other protector. Metal fire pits can reach over 800ºF and up to 200-400ºF in radiant heat. The center flame itself can be as hot as 1000-2000ºF.

Sources