Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are gaining in popularity these days as people are choosing to expand their living space and make better use of their yards. I have noticed that many are confused about the regulations surrounding these structures. How do state and municipal laws deal with this issue?
Being that an outdoor masonry fireplace is not part of a house, its construction is not regulated by building codes – it is the jurisdiction of your local Fire Department. The Seattle Fire Department guidelines can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/fire/FMO/firecode/infobulletins/2002-2.pdf and they are more or less the same standard rules followed across the country inside city limits.
In addition, outdoor and indoor fires are regulated by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. They mandate burn bans according to the current quality of air. To determine if an air quality burn ban is in effect, call 1-800-595-4341, or visit their web site at www.pscleanair.org.
I must say that the language in the code is quite vague as it pertains to enclosed fireplaces and barbeques. There are very specific rules in regards to open fires and fires contained in portable, store-bought pits, but regulations seem to exclude permanent cooking and heating structures. The code refers to Recreational Fire which is described as a fire “that is not contained in an outdoor fireplace, grill or barbecue pit.”
This raises a few questions: What comprises an “outdoor fireplace” or a “barbeque” for that matter? Is a fire pit with no chimney considered a fireplace, and if not, can a steel screen suffice to classify it as enclosed? How close can a firepit/chimneystack be to your house or other structures?
At any rate, there does not seem to be any mention of outdoor fireplace design in either building or fire codes in Seattle or Washington State.
That being said, the guidelines given for Recreational Burning serve as a good list of suggestions when it comes to planning a permanent firepit, grill or hearth.
Recreational fires are allowed under the following conditions:
– No air quality burn ban is in effect.
– The fire is not more than three feet in diameter and two feet in height.
– The fire is located at least 25 feet from any structure or combustible material. Conditions which could cause a fire to spread shall be eliminated prior to ignition.
– Trash, yard waste, rubbish, or paper products are not being burned.
– Fire extinguishing equipment is readily available for use. This should include a shovel and two buckets of water, or a charged garden hose or fire extinguisher with a 4-A rating.
– The fire is continually attended by an adult until it is completely extinguished.
The rule about distance from combustible surfaces is of course the real variable here. A gas-fueled fire pit could be made with very little concern for proximity to your house (assuming the gas connections are done professionally), whereas one that is wood-fueled would need to be placed in a way that avoids smoke damage and takes loose sparks and embers into consideration. Any design should include spark-arrestor screens just to be safe.
In any case, always use common sense in your design and a disaster can be easily avoided.
by Mark Shepherd www.ShepherdStoneworks.com
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