Home & Garden

Fire pits give families a new way to relax and socially distance outdoors

Rachel and Jeff Manthey with their recently completed fire pit in the backyard of their home in North Liberty, Iowa, Mon
Rachel and Jeff Manthey with their recently completed fire pit in the backyard of their home in North Liberty, Iowa, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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When Jeff and Rachel Manthey built their North Liberty home 15 years ago, they knew they would put a fire pit in their vast backyard “someday.” At the time, though, they had a 2-year-old and were planning on expanding their family.

When their kids — now 17 and 12 — got a little older, they bought a fire ring to place in the yard, just to see how much they’d really use it.

“We always knew we wanted to do something back there, maybe put in a berm,” said Rachel Manthey. “Then when COVID hit, we knew we’d be spending a lot of time at home for the next year, maybe two years, so we really started thinking about it again.”

Her husband agreed.

“If any time was right to do it, that time is now,” he said.

They’re not alone.

Fire pits and other outdoor living features have grown in popularity this year, said Alex Schmidt, design and projects manager at Forever Green Landscaping & Garden Center in North Liberty.

“People are starting to live in their yards more,” Schmidt said. “A lot of my clients have done a lot of remodeling to their homes and created spaces inside, then they want to move to the outdoors — outdoor grilling stations, pergolas. It’s a little like what the high-definition TV is to the inside (of your home). People sit around it and gather and tell stories, have a drink or grill.”

He said the variety of fire pit products and setups are vast.

Some people want a simple in-ground wood-burning fire pit, while others may want a gas-burning unit, or something even more elaborate. One recent Forever Green project involved a patio that hangs off a hillside with a full fireplace and a bench wall built into it.

Schmidt said he’s also seen an increase in the demand for outdoor kitchens that include a built-in grill island, refrigerator, sink and prep area.

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“People went from the front porch era to spending time on their decks out back,” Schmidt said. “Now, they’re wanting to go farther away from the house, but still be home.”

With a pandemic keeping families at home more than usual, the number of those wanting to improve their outdoor living spaces is growing, he said.

“The moment that we went into lockdown in March and April, everyone sat in their homes and looked out at their yards,” he said. “They were deciding, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be going anywhere for a while, so let’s do something with the yard.’”

The Mantheys already had a space in their yard in mind — Rachel’s mother had given them two blue spruce trees as a housewarming gift, and the area around the now-grown trees was a perfect gathering spot.

“We told Alex we wanted some kind of patio with a berm, and he came back to us with some drawings,” Rachel Manthey said.

The end result: a 200-square-foot circular brick patio with a Rosetta stone wood-burning fire pit in the center. The patio is edged with landscaping that includes the blue spruces and a few boulders.

“It’s really what we were looking for, the right size,” Jeff Manthey said. “We’ll enjoy it even if there’s not a fire going — it’s just a really nice place to hang out.”

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