Two summers ago, our small backyard went through a large overhaul, one of which was the addition of an outdoor fireplace! Originally, our mid-century was wood burning, but we converted it to propane using this fire pit kit plus a few random parts necessary for our install. While the propane setup usually worked fine, we found many of the connections to be finicky and more temperature sensitive than we’d like. A few cool-weather outdoor hangs with friends were cut short when the propane valves frosted over or our propane tank expired unexpectedly. On top of that, the cheapest propane exchange we’ve found in our area costs $16 and one tank on full blast would usually only last 4 hours or so. Bummer.
Converting the fireplace to its third incarnation by way of natural gas seemed like the perfect solution to our dilemma, so when we had the basement walls open while remodeling the garden apartment’s kitchen last summer, we had our trusted contractor run a natural gas line out to the backyard. We used fortunate timing and open interior walls to our advantage when having this line installed, although many homes with crawlspaces or unfinished basements could very easily have a line run to the outside. If your kitchen is backyard-adjacent, the job might be less costly than anticipated. A local HVAC contractor experienced in natural gas installations should be able to point you in the right direction.
Note: This post is for reference only, and the following is a documentation of what worked for us. Local codes vary, and every setup and connection will be different. Please consult a licensed contractor before tackling work like this if you’re unsure how to safely handle it yourself. We’re literally playing with fire here, folks!
Our newish (and slightly rusty, hang tight) gas line exits the foundation just below the deck and behind our AC units (which, by the way, we finally crossed off of our list!):
The former propane connection ended just to the left of the planter box you see above, which kept things as visually unobtrusive as possible. This still provided access to the shut-off valve, which remains in place.
A quick phone call to the manufacturer of our fire pit kit, Spotix,(where a real, live person answered the phone!) confirmed that the only change necessary to move from propane operation to natural gas operation is to remove the air mixer; that’s the piece seen below. As the name suggests, this little guy introduces air into a propane-fueled system for cleaner flames, but it’s not necessary in a natural gas setup. So long!
Since our gas line was plumbed almost a year ago, I used a wire wheel on my drill to knock down the thin layer of surface rust, then hit it with a few coats of white primer for a cleaner look. (Please excuse the peeling foundation paint – it’s on our to-do list. Promise!)
Our retrofit required an added length of custom cut and threaded 1/2″ pipe as well as a couple of bushings to complete the connection, but as mentioned earlier, all setups will be different. Below is the final junction at the house, all set up to accept the new flexible stainless gas line:
At the junction just past the AC units, a similar connection was created to allow for the attachment of the flexible 60″ stainless steel line. The flexible line eliminates complicated bends around the AC connections and can be removed easily if necessary.
The overhead shot illustrates how it all fits together. The 60″ line is a little longer than I would have liked but the next size down would have been cutting the distance way too close for comfort:
Between the white post and the AC units below, you can juuust see the line exiting the foundation. From there, the flex line flows to the right, where it meets the hard pipe along the fence. The hard pipe then connects to another flexible stainless line, which enters the bottom fo the fire bowl through a 1″ opening.
Operation could not be more simple. We simply turn on the flow of gas by moving the yellow handle vertically in-line with the pipe, and we ease the shutoff valve to the on position. I tend to turn the gas to about 25% and use a safety lighter or wooden match for ignition at the fire ring. The shutoff valve allows for easy flame control and ensures the perfect amount of warmth and ambiance.
The flame height we were able to achieve (and the resulting heat!) on our test run was simply staggering. Per the norm, CC hopped right up into her favorite chair to bask in the warmth.
It’s been hot and humid here in Chicago for the last few days, but our initial test of the modified setup has proven promising! Large, consistent, flames seem to put out more heat than the propane tank ever could. We’ve also eliminated the need to store and exchange propane tanks while moving to a more cost-effective fuel source. All in all, this seems like a huge win and should help to extend patio season much further into fall – which, in Chicago, is a huge perk! We take patio season very, very seriously.
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PS: This is how our raised garden beds survive the harsh Chicago winters!