Are Fire Pits Bad For The Environment? [Do Eco Friendly Fire Pits Exist?]

They can bring a lot of joy to evening’s sat outside or spent in the garden, but are fire pits bad for the environment?

What about chimineas too?

The short answer is yes, fire pits and chimineas are harmful for the environment.

They produce particulate matter that’s released into the air and can harm you, the atmosphere and anyone near the fire.

You can reduce the toxicity by investing in dry seasoned wood but even that won’t make these fire devices completely environmentally friendly.

The rest of this article will go over details for what makes each of these garden heating devices bad for the environment.

We’ll also discuss ways that you can mitigate the damage and finish with some environmentally friendly alternatives – so keep reading!

Are fire pits bad for the environment?

I love a fire pit but the honest answer is that they are not good for the environment.

Chimineas and fire pits involve burning wood, which releases smoke into the surrounding air. This contains compounds like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane.

Each of these is a greenhouse gas, which as you know, contributes to climate change.

We’re witnessing climate change all the time with unusual weather patterns, ecosystem disruption and rising sea levels.

The smoke and particles produced from burning a fire pit also contribute to local air pollution, which has the potential to harm a lot of people unknowingly.

This is because inhaling smoke produced by burning wood can lead to respiratory problems and worsen pre-existing conditions.

fire pit yorkshire hut

Do eco friendly fire pits exist?

Wouldn’t it be good if an eco friendly fire pit model existed?

It’s not possible to get a 100% eco friendly fire pit but there are definitely ways to improve the green credentials of your pit.

Start with the fire pit itself.

If you’re looking at sustainability, it’s best to go for a locally made fire pit that’s been built to last.

For me, I’d go for a UK made pit made from British stainless steel. This is a good sustainable material that’s infinitely recyclable. There are some great fire pit options on all made in Derbyshire.

It’s possible to get concrete and cast iron fire pits, although these aren’t as eco friendly.

Once you have the bowl, it’s all about using it correctly and with the best fuel source.

stainless steel fire pit from sloane and sons
Stainless steel fire pit from Sloane & Sons. Source:

How to reduce the environmental impact of fire pits?

The best way to reduce the environmental impact is to use low emission firewood in your fire pit or chiminea.

Seasoned wood or kiln dried wood with moisture content less than 20% is the most environmentally friendly option available for you.

Making sure that the wood being used is dry is another way to reduce the environmental impact of smoke fumes.

The easiest way to do this is to store the wood in a dry place. The moisture within the wood will evaporate over time, which is why seasoned wood has usually been stored for over a year.

On the other hand, you can invest in kiln dried wood if you want.

This is wood that’s been dried quicker than it would have naturally thanks to the use of industrial kilns. Using kiln dried wood has an extra carbon footprint do the energy use of the kiln.

There are non-wood options too. You may also be able to use fuel such as heat logs or even coffee logs, which are good eco options.

Other benefits include high heat retention and the ability to turn off straight away (unlike a wood fire).

Why burning wet wood is harmful for the environment?

smoke from burning wet wood fire

Wet wood releases more particulate matter (PM) than dry wood when burned. PM pollution contributes to climate change and acid rain. Moreover, excessive PM can affect weather patterns and cause water bodies to become acidic.

While it may seem like using wet wood for a fire once in a while won’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t true. Even the smallest amount of PM makes matters worse. So taking any steps to reduce its production is important.

Dry wood is a greener alternative to wet wood. While it still produces PM when burned, it produces significantly less amounts of this harmful wood smoke.

Why burning wet wood is harmful for people

The excess PM released by burning wet wood has negative impacts on people as well as the environment. They can lead to throat, nose, eye, and lunch irritation, runny nose and shortness of breath. In the worse case scenarios over the long term, these particles can lead to conditions like asthma, heart disease and lung defects.

While burning dry wood also releases PM and can lead to these issues, the probability is decreased thanks to dry wood releasing less PM.

Are bioethanol fire pits eco friendly?

One of the new kids on the outdoor bowl blocks are bioethanol fire pits.

How do these cut it from an environmental perspective?

As it happens, not too bad. Bioethanol fire pits are a good eco friendly option.

Bioethanol is a plant-based flammable fuel. It’s made from the fermentation of crops such as maize and sugar cane. These are renewable resources of course.

A major benefit of using a bioethanol fire pit is that they produce almost zero toxic emissions and carbon dioxide!

The burning of bioethanol primarily produces two things: heat and water. This means you can use them inside and outdoor.

Chiminea vs Fire Pit

If you’re thinking about getting a chiminea or fire pit, which one is for you?

There are a couple of main differences between them.

These include:

  • Chimineas have a controlled burn which makes them safer than garden fire pits
  • A wood burning fire pit will produce more heat
  • A garden fire pit offers more light than a chiminea

Let’s look at each of these differences in detail.

Chimineas have a controlled burn which makes them safer than fire pits

Chimineas have a stack or chimney at the top. Flames and smoke are directed up and out through the top. This makes them safer than an open fire where you and your family must pay close attention to rogue sparks shooting out.

Outdoor fire pits don’t come with the same safety benefit. You will likely have toxic fumes in your face if you sit next to one.

A wood burning fire pit will produce more heat

Fire pits are open and have a 360 degree radius to throw out heat. Everyone sitting around them will benefit from its warmth, which is a huge advantage when you’re sitting with a large group and the evening has got a little chilly.

Furthermore, you can add as much fuel as you want to in a fire pit. This basically means that you can make your fire bigger if you want.

On the other hand, you can’t make a chiminea bigger. They’re only open to one side and have restricted air access.

A garden fire pit offers more light than a chiminea

As mentioned before, fire pits are open 360 degrees. Consequently, they disperse light in all directions. So if you want good lighting, a fire pit will be a better option than a chiminea.

garden brick fire pit

Environmentally friendly alternatives to fire pits

There are several ways to keep warm outside that don’t involve burning wood or fuel.

Anything that doesn’t produce fumes with have a significantly less environmental footprint than a pit or chiminea.

For this reason, electric-powered heaters are a good choice.

Some more environmentally friendly options include:

  • Patio heaters
  • Electric heaters
  • Infrared heaters

While you won’t get the campfire experience with these methods, you won’t harm the environment either. They will keep you warm and get the job done.

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Ben & Murphy Peaks Mam Tor

I’m the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life. Away from the laptop, I love spending time in nature and with my young family (plus Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.

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