Backyard Fires

I recently inspected a home in an urban area, and the client asked me if he would be able to burn a fire in the backyard. This question is well beyond the scope of a home inspection, but I figured I’d take a moment to answer the question in this article since many people who live in an urban area may also wonder if burning a fire is permissible.

Of course, burning fires in rural areas (the “country”) is commonplace and no one questions if it’s allowed. When you live within city limits, though, things are a little less obvious.

You may be surprised to learn that in many jurisdictions you are permitted to burn fires, but there are generally certain requirements in place to ensure safety and harmony with your neighbors. Typically, fires within city limits must be contained. In a nutshell, this means that the typical dug pit surrounded by pavers or blocks is not sufficient. Instead, a screen is often required to prevent embers from escaping the contained area of the fire. Likewise, the fire should usually be at least 15 feet from the house, outbuildings, tree limbs, and other flammable items to prevent an accidental fire hazard. In most areas, you are required to have a way of putting the fire out readily available while the fire is burning (water, fire extinguisher, sand, etc.), and the fire cannot be left unattended. Along those lines, evening or nighttime fires must be put out before the homeowner goes to bed.

In some cases, owners of city homes simply do not have sufficient yard space to meet minimum clearance requirements for open fires and, unfortunately, just can’t legally burn them. If you do have enough yard space you may be in luck, depending on your local requirements and your adherence to them.

All of that being said, there is still one factor that can deter your ability to burn a fire if you don’t live in the county… neighbors. Even if you have a properly contained fire that is constantly attended, far enough from flammable exterior materials, and have a means of putting out the fire readily available, you may still be asked to not burn a fire if it bothers your neighbors. Unlike rural homes that are typically spaced far apart, urban homes are usually very close to each other. Smoke can easily be a nuisance to some nearby neighbors – especially if inhaling or smelling smoke causes them to be irritated in some way or to have an adverse reaction.

Don’t assume that if you live in an urban area you are completely forbidden from burning a fire in your own yard. But before you do, be sure to consult your local authorities to find out what rules exist for doing so, and be sure to follow those rules carefully. It may also be a good idea to discuss your plans with your neighbors beforehand so they know your intentions and you know their feelings before you embark on a desire that may quickly be “extinguished.”

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Author: hillinspections

I am a Certified Master Inspector (CMI) and the owner and operator of Hill Property Inspections LLC, the top-rated inspection company in the greater Johnstown, PA area, based out of western Pennsylvania. I specialize in property inspections and environmental testing services and have a passion for helping my own clients and other families in learning to properly maintain their homes. I’m also the owner of Hill Pest Control, LLC and a pest management professional committed to helping our clients rid their homes and businesses of unwanted pests. I am an Army veteran, former State Farm Insurance Agent, and real estate investor with experience in all facets of real estate construction, transaction and insurance. I am also the founder and President of the Southwestern PA Chapter of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and an affiliate member of the Cambria-Somerset Association of Realtors (CSAR).

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