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Why Use Lava Rock for Fire Pit

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Have you considered using lava rock in your fire pit? Lava rock, also called basalt, is aesthetically pleasing, and there are functional benefits to using it in a fire pit.

You should use lava rocks in a fire pit because it has functional benefits, including providing a porous barrier protecting the components from elements and is low maintenance. It also has cosmetic benefits. 

There is so much to learn about lava rock, including its very makeup. The following is full of exciting details about lava rock. 

Popular Lava Rocks

What Are the Functional Benefits?

Lava rocks have several various functional benefits. 

  • It has a protective porous surface.
  • It creates even distribution of the flame.
  • It shields the burner from exposure.
  • It is heat resistant.
  • It is water resistant.

It Has a Protective Porous Surface

Having a porous surface means there are empty spaces along the rock’s surface which allow liquids or gases to flow through the rock. These empty spaces, also called vesicles, are created because of gas bubbles within the lava flow.

The porous surface allows for water drainage, keeping your lava rocks dry while also protecting the bottom of your fire pit from the surface heat.

It Creates Even Distribution of the Flame

Lava rocks used in a propane fire pit provide even heat throughout the burner pan because of their exceptional ability to hold in heat.

It Shields the Burner from Exposure

If you add a 3 to 4-inch layer of lava rock, it can shield the burner from various weather conditions.

It also shields the burner from the surface flame because it has natural insulating abilities. This leads to a longer lasting and better performing fire pit.

It is Heat Resistant

The heat resistant property of lava rocks adds protection to your gas fire pit.

It is Water Resistant

In this aspect, lava rock is a bit contradictory. Moisture sticks to the high surface area of the rock, making it have a high water holding capacity. Despite this capability, it also has excellent drainage. 

What Are Some Other Benefits?

  • It is easy to clean.
  • It is low maintenance.
  • It is durable.
  • It is more natural looking.

It is Easy to Clean

As long as you keep up with regular cleanings, lava rocks are easy to clean (plus it makes them safer!).

You can simply clean lava rocks with some water. The easiest way is to put them in a bucket and add the water, letting them soak a bit. You could even add a bit of mild soap. This will help remove any dust or debris that may be building up in the lava rock’s porous structures.

Be sure they are completely dry before lighting up your fire pit!

It is Low Maintenance

Lava rock will give you what you put into it. In other words, if you take proper care of your fire pit, you will have long-lasting lava rocks. Cover your fire pit regularly, and you will only have to clean your lava rocks every 6 months to 1 year.

It is Durable

Lava rocks are made from volcanoes. These rocks do not decompose nor require yearly replacement. 

It is More Natural Looking

What is more natural than something from the earth itself, that is not man-made? These rocks are beautiful and give a great, natural look to your fire pit.

What is the Life Expectancy of Lava Rocks?

Lava rock is a replace as needed fire pit filler. Requiring replacement every couple of seasons, depending on how often you use your fire pit. You should clean them regularly to keep them working at their best and safest.

Can You Burn Wood with Lava Rocks?

You may be wondering if you can burn wood while using lava rocks. You can burn wood on lava rocks, but you need to take some precautionary steps to do so.

Place a protective layer of lava rock up to 4-5 inches from the top of your fire pit. You can then place the firewood on top. Do not burn anything without this protective layer of lava rock. If you’re curious, we also have an article on the best materials you can burn in a fire pit!

Note: In some states and counties, it is illegal to burn wood. You will need to check your local laws before you burn wood.

What Are the Different Types of Lava Rocks?

Variations of these colors do exist, but generally, lava rock comes in the following colors:

  • Red/brown
  • Black
  • Grey

Lava rocks also come in different sizes. These varying sizes can include:

  • Crushed gravel size
  • Small up to 1 inch in diameter
  • Large with a diameter of 4 inches or larger

The most common lava rocks used in fire pits are the smaller, 1 to 3-inch rocks.

What is the Cost-Effectiveness of Using Lava Rock?

It is more cost-effective to use lava rock in your fire pit than to use other resources. On average, lava rocks cost about $2-3 per pound. 

How Much Will You Need?

It is vital to the proper functioning of your fire pit to use the right amount of lava rocks in the burner tray. But how do you know what is the proper amount?

If you buy your gas fire pit, you can check the user’s manual for that fire pit on the proper amount of lava rocks to use. In most cases, this amount is 2 to 4 inches of lava rock.

Lava rock is typically sold by cubic foot or in pound increments. Each cubic foot of lava rocks weighs about 25 pounds. Measure your fire pit to ensure you buy the proper amount of lava rock. 

There are online calculators you can use to get the exact amount of lava rock that will fit your fire pit. Typically, for a 24-inch burner plate, you will need 1 cubic foot of lava rock, and another cubic foot of rock for every additional 6 inches of plate diameter.

How Do You Put Together a Fire Pit Using Lava Rocks?

It is recommended to use smaller lava rocks on your first layer of rock. This will increase support by adding a solid foundation for the following layers of rock. This method also provides thermal protection.

When first opening the container of lava rocks, dump some lava rocks into a bucket and rinse them off to rinse off any dust it may have accumulated during shipping. After you have rinsed them, dump the rocks onto a towel and allow them to fully dry for a few hours.

You can add the lava rocks once the fire pit is properly put together, which includes:

  • The burner being in place
  • The gas being connected
  • The plate being positioned

Place enough lava rocks around the fire pit and burner so it is just enough to cover the burner, being careful not to pile them on too thick. Now your fire pit is ready.

What Are the Potential Dangers?

Lava rock that has been in a fire pit can pop and explode from the fire pit when heated if the lava rock is not completely dry. It is advisable to cover your fire pit regularly in order to prevent this from happening.

These hand-made metal covers are great to make sure your lava rock, or any other of your fire pit materials stay dry when not in use. Though they are pricey, they will save you money in the long run by helping your fire pit materials last longer. If you cannot cover your fire pit, it is best to allow any wet lava rocks to completely cool before lighting up your fire pit.

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Helpful Tip: In addition to covering your fire pit regularly, you should also routinely check your fire pit’s drain holes to ensure they are not blocked and draining water properly. Water build up along the bottom of the burner pan will keep lava rocks from drying, thus causing potential danger.

What is That Smell?

Some people may get concerned with the smell of a propane gas fire pit. The bottom line is if your fire pit has been installed correctly with regular upkeep and servicing, it actually should not smell bad.

But what if it does smell bad? If you smell anything at all, turn it off and do not use it again until you have it serviced. That rotten egg type smell could be an indication of a gas leak, which could be dangerous.

That being said, during your initial setup, the curing process, you may smell some odors. These odors are not anything to be alarmed about as it is a normal part of the installation process. Lava rock, in particular, is a material in which some owners have noticed some scents.

What about a burnt or smoky smell?

This smell coming from your fire pit simply means it is time to dust. Before you attempt to dust, make sure you give your fire pit plenty of time to completely cool. Then you can use a dust rag to wipe all surfaces dust can build up. It is important to dust or else it can generate heat which can damage parts of your fire pit.

How Do You Care for a Fire Pit with Lava Rocks?

It is recommended to remove lava rocks from your fire pit at least once a year to rinse them off in order to prevent any dust or debris buildup on the rocks.

What Are Lava Rocks Exactly?

Lava rocks are igneous rocks that form from an erupting volcano. They form when the lava cools and hardens.

Lava rocks have chemical and mineral components.

What Are the Chemical Components?

There are a few main and subsidiary chemical components in lava rock. These components include the elements:

  • Iron

In fact, they contain a high amount of iron. Iron was discovered around 3500 BC and has a melting point of 2800 degrees Fahrenheit! This aids in the heat resistant property of lava rocks.

  • Magnesium

Magnesium was discovered in 1755. Its melting point is 1202 degrees Fahrenheit. This element is what helps enable lava rocks to be lit and also make them burn brighter!

  • Calcium

Calcium was discovered in 1808. It has a melting point of 1548 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Iron and Magnesium are known as the ferromagnesian group, which simply means they form essential chemical components. These ferromagnesian elements have a fast cooling rate.

Lava rocks also contain a minute amount of silicon and aluminum. Silicon was discovered in 1824 with a melting point of 2577 degrees Fahrenheit. Aluminum was discovered in 1825 and has a melting point of 1220.581 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Are the Mineral Components of Lava Rock?

Lava rocks are made up of a variety of minerals. The most common minerals include:

  • Pyroxine
  • Olivine
  • Amphibole
  • Plagioclase feldspar

Lava rocks occasionally include small amounts of minerals that include:

  • Hornblende
  • Biotite mica
  • Magnetite
  • Quartz

Where Can You Buy Lava Rocks?

Lava rocks are an incredibly accessible material. You can find lava rock in shops or online. Some shops you can physically find lava rocks include:

  • Home Depot
  • Lowes
  • Walmart
  • Farm supply stores such as Rural King

In addition to being able to shop at these stores physically, they also have online options.

Some online retailers that sell lava rock include:

What Are Alternatives to Using Lava Rocks?

Though lava rock is definitely one of the better choices for use in a fire pit, you can use different types of glasses as an alternative.

You can use lava rock or fire glass in your fire pit. Lava rock is a compressed material made by volcanic environments where Fire glass is man-made. Glass creates a beautiful and shiny backdrop with the fire flames.

You can also add a layer of this glass onto the top of lava rocks.

Note: Whatever you use in your fire pit, be sure it is approved for use in fire pits/fireplaces first. You cannot use just any kind of rock or gravel because of the potential to explode with heat/fire.

How to Choose the Perfect Fire Pit for You

You should be aware of some necessary information when choosing (or building) a firepit and the proper placement of it.

  • How do you find the perfect spot for your fire pit?
  • Do you want an in-ground or above ground fire pit?

How Do You Find the Perfect Spot for Your Fire Pit?

The most important thing to remember when deciding where to place your fire pit is ensuring it will be in a good, well-ventilated area. If you want to place a fire pit on your deck, please be careful.

There are mixed recommendations on whether or not fire pits should be placed indoors or on covered patios due to the potential hazard of not having enough ventilation.

Hazard Warning: A fire pit that is not well-ventilated will develop a buildup of toxic smoke and harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide!

You also need to learn of your local regulations regarding the set up of your fire pit. Some of these regulations include:

  • Fires should be a minimum of 25 feet away from buildings and combustible structures or materials, like decks or trees. Sometimes there is an exception for approved portable outdoor fire pits
  • There may be a minimum clearance above the fire of 21 feet for overhead branches.
  • Typically, a fire pit cannot be placed within 10 feet of property lines.

In addition to the area you are placing your fire pit in, you will need to keep in mind what you are placing your fire pit on. Do not place your fire pit directly onto a wooden surface.

Do You Want an In-Ground or Above Ground Fire Pit?

The difference between in-ground and above ground fire pits is the location of the fire: whether the fire is in-ground or above ground. Deciding which one you want really boils down to personal preference.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of in-ground versus above is there is less risk of an out-of-control fire since a sunken fire is less likely to spread.

How to Build Your Own Fire pit

When building your own fire pit keep in mind the maximum interior fire pit dimensions is 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high. If you build one any bigger, the fire pit will no longer be considered recreational.

You can build your own simple, yet beautiful, fire pit within 1 day. In order to build it, you will need the following items:

  • Fire-resistant stones and adhesive
  • Lava rocks
  • Shovel
  • Tape measure
  • Level/tools to level the ground
  • Tamp

When you have all your materials ready, measure, and mark the spots where you will put your fire pit and your seating area. Then you will want to dig up and level the dirt in this area. 

Once it is all level, you can start laying down your stones, using adhesive to make them bond together creating a more stable layout.

Safety Precautions for Fire Pits

There are some safety precautions to keep in mind when setting up your fire pit. Remember to have a responsible adult attend to the fire at all times.

Fire Safety

When using a fire pit, you have to take proper safety precautions to preventing an out of control fire. These precautions include:

  • Do not place your fire pit under any power lines or over underground utilities.
  • Place portable fire pits on level and stable ground.
  • Combustible materials must be removed within 15-25 feet, depending on local code, of the fire pit.
  • You should keep something, such as sand or fire extinguisher, nearby to extinguish the fire should it start to get out-of-control. 
  • You must always use an approved mesh screen to control embers.
  • Do not use liquid accelerants.
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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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