When looking into buying a fire pit it’s not uncommon for buyers to take a minute to think about where they’re going to use it and if it’s legal, safe or even smart to do so.
Can I use a fire pit on grass, or a wood deck, under a tree, or under a pergola, etc.?
These are the common sense questions people ask when narrowing down their fire pit choices.
Another one I’ve seen quite a bit lately is “can you have a balcony fire pit?”
This isn’t surprising considering how many people live in apartment buildings or condos and the growth in popularity of fire pits in recent years.
With this growth though, bad things are going to happen. Naturally, state and local governments, homeowners associations, property management companies, and others step in (rightfully so) to tighten and enforce rules and regulations to keep people from getting hurt and to protect property.
Let’s find out if you can, in fact, use a fire pit on a balcony and if it’s the right thing to do for you considering your situation.
Yes, a fire pit can be used safely and legally on a balcony. However, it is advised that prior to setting up a fire pit on a balcony, state and local laws, homeowner’s association covenants, rental agreements/apartment building rules, etc. are consulted and adhered to. Doing so will keep you in compliance and mitigate the risk of potential fines, expensive property damage, or worse. Further, when shopping for a fire pit your options may be limited by certain structural restrictions specific to your residence such as balcony floor space and the amount of overhead clearance.
Making sure you do your homework ahead of time prior to buying a fire pit and thinking about where it’s going to go will save you a lot of time, frustration and money potentially.
Navigating state and local law, and residential covenants and rules now rather than later will save you that trouble.
Running Afoul of the Law, the HOA, or Apartment/Condo Management
When buying any fire pit for any situation I always recommend you check your state and local laws governing use in your area.
This goes the same for the rules your HOA or property management company enforces for residents of your community, whichever applies to your living situation.
If your local laws and/or HOA/Property Management covenants and regulations are vague or difficult to understand, contact your local fire department or HOA/property management personnel for clarification.
If something bad happens (injuries, property damage, etc.), you most likely won’t be off the hook legally or financially for not understanding the rules.
Consult with a local attorney as well as your homeowner’s association or property management regarding potential liabilities if you have concerns.
Also, numerous organizations are lobbying to restrict fire pit use on balconies and that effort may be impacting your ability to use a fire pit in this manner.
For example, the Community Association Underwriters of America (CAU) recommends that HOA committees prohibit fire pits of any kind on balconies.
If you fall under a HOA, your community may be taking their advice so make sure you check with them before moving forward.
Local Fire Pit Laws and Balcony Fire Pits
During my research for this post, I found that many municipalities (at least in the U.S.) are taking their cue from the International Fire Code, or IFC, when it comes to an open-flame (i.e. fire pits, chimineas, bbq grills, etc.) on residential balconies. Per the IFC site, “the IFC is in use or adopted in 42 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
What’s the International Fire Code (IFC)? The IFC is a “comprehensive fire code [that] establishes minimum regulations for fire prevention and fire protection systems using prescriptive and performance-related provisions. It is founded on broad-based principles that make possible the use of new materials and new system designs.” – International Code Council
Long story short, the code is a set of basic guidelines that can have an impact on your ability to use a balcony fire pit in your locality if local fire regulations and policies in your area are guided by the IFC.
Keep in mind that local law, HOA and/or building management rules specific to your situation will be the final word.
The basics from the IFC regarding fire pits on balconies:
No using fire pits, grills, open flames, etc. on balconies within 10 feet of a combustible structure, unless:
- the balcony is attached to a one (single-family home) or two-family dwelling (like a duplex). Any dwelling larger than two-family, like an apartment building or condo, may be a no-go.
- the balcony is equipped with an automatic sprinkler system
These rules reduce the risk to a smaller number of people in smaller structures and ensure that if a fire did start due to fire pit use that it could be contained quickly to minimize damage and slow its spread. Pretty reasonable in my opinion.
Bottom line: You may be able to use a fire pit at your residence if your balcony is equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, regardless of the size of the dwelling.
No LP-gas containers that exceed 1 lb. gas capacity within 10 foot of a combustible structure, unless:
- the balcony is attached to a one (single-family home) or two-family dwelling (duplex, very small apartment building/condo); like the entry above, it may not be permitted in buildings larger than two-family.
To meet a 1 lb. gas capacity requirement a 1 lb. propane bottle is your best bet., It’s basically the same kind you would use to fuel a portable camping stove.
A 1 lb. propane bottle may seem small for gas fire pit use, but you can get anywhere from 1.5 to around 2.5 hours of burn time per tank, depending on the size of the gas fire pit and how high or low you set the flame. Fill a couple of these bottles up and you’ve got plenty of fuel for longer fire pit sessions.
If you are required to go this route, you’ll need a 1lb. propane bottle adapter to connect your 1 lb. propane bottle to your gas fire pit’s propane regulator hose (see an image of 1lb/propane bottle and adapter below).
Pro Tip: If you are interested in filling these 1 lb. propane bottles up yourself, you can do so using a standard 20 lb. propane tank, the same one you typically see used with barbecue grills in the U.S. To do this yourself you will need a propane tank refill adapter (see image below) to move the gas from the 20 lb. tank to the 1 lb. tank. If you choose not to fill them yourself, your local propane refill provider should be able to do it for you. Call ahead to make sure they are able to fill 1 lb. propane bottles.
1 lb. propane bottles and both adapters mentioned (1 lb. propane bottle adapter and the propane tank refill adapter) are all very inexpensive and easy to find at your local Lowe’s or Home Depot or online on with Amazon, REI, and others.
Bottom line: I kinda got away from the main gist of this section but I wanted to show that it was relatively easy to comply with the 1 lb. propane requirement if you want to use a gas fire pit on your balcony but have to comply with this constraint, i.e. no propane tanks greater than 1 lb. in capacity within 10 feet of a combustible structure.
If your balcony is made from wood you may be out of luck. If it’s made from concrete you should be fine. Check with local authorities and HOA/building management to be sure.
Other Common Laws, Rules, Regulations That May Impact Balcony Fire Pit Use
When looking into using a fire pit on a balcony (or any other place on your property for that matter) in your area, understand there may be rules that shut down any kind of fire pit use or imposes restrictions based on certain local conditions (burn bans due to drought, the presence of susceptible older buildings built prior to modern fire laws, etc.).
Restrictions often include:
- bans on any flame-producing device on a balcony
- bans on fire pit use of any kind
- bans on open burning (burning of wood), but will allow gas fire pits under certain conditions
Some municipalities ban fire pit use on balconies altogether. Much like the outright ban mentioned before, concerns and restrictions are often related to at-risk structures and other specific local conditions.
Municipalities with many very old buildings will flat out ban fire pit use of any kind to enhance safety and preserve these buildings which are more susceptible to destruction from fire than modern buildings built to recent fire code.
Other municipalities, mostly rural ones, will ban outdoor open flames of any kind to reduce the risk of starting wildfires during dry conditions.
Often gas fire pits are exempted from this restriction as they don’t typically throw off sparks or embers that could ignite a fire outside of the fire pit. Authorization to use them is often on a case-by-case basis.
Bottom Line: Just remember to again check with local authorities and HOA/property management for accurate, up-to-date guidance. Each municipality will have a variety of locally-specific reasons for doing what they do regarding fire pits, especially fire pits on balconies. Keep yourself out of trouble by being informed.
What Kind of Fire Pit Should I Use On a Balcony?
When choosing a safe balcony size fire pit, or a mini balcony fire pit if you are space restricted, the propane option is always going to be the safest and cleanest.
In fact, you may find using a wood-burning fire pit on a balcony in your area is not an option either legally or because they’re prohibited by your HOA, property management, etc.
I’m personally a fan of wood-burning fire pits almost every time but not in this situation. Even if permitted, I wouldn’t consider them for balcony use, especially in an apartment or condo, due to concerns with the smoke annoying other residents, potential damage and/or discoloration to the balcony’s overhead cover and floor surface, and space concerns.
Regarding the space issue, from my experience you typically have to sit further back from a wood-burning fire pit due to the more intense heat they generate – this leaves less room for everything else.
When choosing a propane fire pit for a balcony, especially if space is at a minimum, I like a table-type propane fire pit, where the fuel source (the propane tank or bottle) is stored inside the fire pit’s base, out of the way.
There are many very nice propane fire pits available on the market that are designed with the tank on the outside with a regulator hose leading to the fire pit. I don’t like the trip risk of having a hose anywhere in the vicinity of my fire pit so I typically rule them out. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be tripping over anything while I’m on a balcony and especially when there is a hot fire pit in the middle.
Another nice feature of many table-type propane fire pits is that they can double as a functional table on your balcony when not being used to warm the space. If you don’t have a lot of balcony space, fitting a table, chairs, a fire pit, and anything else could be a challenge.
Table propane fire pits typically have a cover of sorts that snaps into place when the fire pit is not in use. Once that cover is in place you can then have a fairly decent-sized table for other purposes.
Make sure to measure your balcony floor space and keep that number in mind when shopping for your fire pit and furniture.
Be sure to consider the size of your fire pit, the distance between the fire pit and planned seating, space behind the seating for moving around the balcony, and space for other items you plan to keep on your balcony (plants, a deck box, etc.).
If your fire pit is too large you are going to run out of space quickly and not have that pleasant functional space you were hoping for.
Specific Balcony Fire Pit Recommendations
There are a number of solid budget and “not-so-budget” options on the market that meet the specs I mentioned above. You can use them as a guidepost for according to your own budget and space restrictions (see accompanying image below).
- Smaller Balcony Budget Option: Tacklife Propane Fire Pit Table (28”)
- Smaller Balcony Non-Budget Option: Outland Living Series 410 (36”)
- Larger Balcony Budget Option: U-MAX Propane Fire Pit Table (44”)
- Large Balcony Non-Budget Option: Outland Living Series 401 (44”)
All are well-built and well-regarded, are propane-fueled with internal tank storage, and ironically the budget options are the only ones that come with a burner pan cover included to make a complete table.
The burner pan covers for the two non-budget options can be purchased separately as part of an accessory kit which includes the burner pan cover, a wind guard and a fire pit cover. Kind of annoying but there it is.
Note: All of my balcony fire pit recommendations are designed for use with a 20 lb propane tank. If you are under the constraints of the 1 lb. propane bottle safety limit discussed earlier, you will need the 1lb. propane bottle adapter mentioned to make them work together.
Specific details for each recommendation can be found on Amazon.
Conclusion: Fire Pits on Balconies
Yes, you can use a fire pit on a balcony and it will most likely be one that is propane-fueled and well suited to the amount of balcony space you have leftover after everything is considered.
I know I’ve harped on it incessantly throughout the article but the path you ultimately take will be guided by state and local law and HOA/property management regulations. Understand the laws/rules and get clarity if they seem ambiguous or poorly written.
For more on safe fire pit use check out my article Backyard Fire Pit Safety 101.
Take care, thanks for reading, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.
All the best and good luck!
What about using a tabletop fire bowl on a balcony? Not all tabletop fire bowls are created equal. Most of the ones you will find on the market are gel-fueled and purely for looks, not warmth.
However, if you are severely space-constrained on your balcony and want the ambiance of a fire pit and warmth on a smaller scare, a propane-fueled tabletop fire bowl is most likely the best option.
These types of fire bowls work with patio tables that have the hole in the center for an umbrella. Instead of inserting the umbrella, the fire bowl sits atop the hole and is fueled through a regulator hose by a propane tank underneath the table.
Fire Topper makes one of the few propane tabletop fire bowls that I’ve found. Another option, though not a bowl per se, is the Bond portable tabletop steel fire bowl. The Bond model is more of a rectangle design that is well suited to a table in the same shape. Both are fueled through a hole in the center of the table.
What is the ideal overhead clearance for a propane fire pit? When placing a propane fire pit in an area with overhead cover (like a balcony) you will want to allow for clearance of between 6 to 7 ft. above the fire pit burner pan to adequately minimize the risk of fire or heat damage.
For more on picking the right spot for your fire pit check out my article Fire Pit Placement: Picking the Right Spot for Your Fire Pit.