If you need an attention-getter in the
backyard, you can’t do any better than a feature boasting
fire and water.
With these elements, you can think big or small. If the family
would like something intimate, a cozy fire and water bowl next to
the spa will be a perfect fit. For those with a grander vision, you
can create a miniature volcano with flames billowing at the top and
water spilling down the sides, or a long fire trough in front of a
sleek water wall.
Whichever direction you and your client choose to go, you need
to set up the system correctly. Consider the following construction
- Separate the fire and water
Some designers and homeowners want to emulate resort-type features
that shoot fire directly out of the water. This is done by bubbling
gas up through the water, and introducing a spark of some sort to
its surface. Installations of this type may be fine when designed
for a resort by a specialty fire consultant. But experts caution
against trying to do this in a backyard — particularly when
working with remote-controlled systems.
“It goes against code, typically, with the electrical and
the water,” says Kevin Doud, CEO of manufacturer Grand Effects in Irvine,
Calif. “And we feel it’s very prone to maintenance
issues, with having the electronics in the water.”
Some have tried using manually lit systems to create the effect.
However, it becomes challenging to find submersible fire rings, and
you have to consider how to manage the combustion byproducts and
unburned gas residue that get trapped in the water. “We try
to steer [designers] toward having the burner dry. In addition, we
encourage housing all the electronics in a container to keep them
dry, and hiding the mechanisms so it looks like you’re having
fire come out of the water,” Doud says.
Most fire and water designs follow a relatively simple template.
“[Many people] want an outer decorative bowl, which is filled
with water and then overflows,” Doud says. “Then they
want fire to be in the middle of the water.”
Some companies offer pre-manufactured fire bowls and custom-made
fire troughs that do exactly that. In some cases, the water
doesn’t even well up in the bowl, but is fed directly via
pipe to a sheet fall manifold that spills out of the bowl.
When builder Joe Vassallo developed his trademarked WetFlame
fire bowl, his first concern was separating the two elements,
especially since his containers well up with water before spilling
over. The president of Las Vegas-based Paragon Pools
creates a spout in the rim of the container which allows the water
to pour out long before it reaches the top. Then he places the fire
ring at the rim, so it sits above the water exiting at the
For larger features, the same principle of separation applies.
For instance, if you want to install a fire trough in front of a
water wall, you should create different receptacles for the fire
bars and the spillover from the wall, says Bob Roman, president of
Design, a Henderson, Nev.-based manufacturer of fire and water
It’s also a good idea to drill drainage holes in the
container that holds the fire hardware. This way, rainwater
won’t submerge the remote modules or pilots inside. Roman
recommends that troughs be built above deck level — as part
of a raised bond beam for example. Building these containers
on-ground doesn’t provide a place for proper drainage.
When working outdoors, always use stainless steel fire rings and
bars. Black steel will rust fairly quickly, causing the outlet
holes to clog. Roman estimates that, if you choose the
less-expensive black steel, you’ll need to replace it every
year or two.
Install the ring or bar with the small holes pointed downward.
These openings release gas to create the flame, and if water gets
into them, it will impede the ring’s ability to light.
Placing it upside down helps keep the area dry.
Choose a container that can withstand heat. Vassallo works
mostly with concrete bowls, although he’s also had them
custom-made using stainless steel with a copper coating. To keep
the container relatively cool during use, Roman recommends leaving
6 inches between the fire ring or bar and the edge of the pot or
Also keep in mind that the red and yellow flames that are common
in backyard applications tend to leave soot behind, which can stain
other materials. For this reason, consider darker colors and
surfaces around the fire that will be easier to clean.
You’ll need a filler of some type to help conceal the fire
ring and other hardware that you place in the container. This way,
the installation looks great both day and night. The ideal material
is something large enough to leave voids for air to get through.
Leave the material clear of the pilot, Doud says. Roman advises
against using sand in remote-controlled systems because it will
smother the flame sensor.
The only type of rock known to be completely safe is lava. Other
kinds of stone can explode or pop out of the receptacle when it
gets hot. Crushed glass can be effective, as long as it’s
tempered. To keep it away from the pilot, Doud suggests placing
stainless steel mesh over the burner assembly before laying down
the glass. The openings should measure about 1/4 inch to prevent
the glass from falling through. Be warned that if used in a fire
pot, smaller pieces of glass can spill over the spout into the pool
water, Vassallo says.
- Run the lines for efficiency
When it comes to running the gas lines, think like a plumber.
Minimize the run lengths and number of elbows as much as possible,
Doud says. Avoid flex gas lines.
You may also need to use manifolds. If you’re creating an
especially long trough of fire, you may need to have two bars laid
end to end. “The challenge with burner bars over 8 feet long
is maintaining a constant flame height from one end to the
other,” Roman says. When his clients need their flame to be
longer than that, he advises that they use two fire bars of equal
length, and connect them with a manifold. Like a plumbing manifold,
this will ensure equal flow to each bar.
The low-voltage electric lines on remote-controlled systems
deserve the same kind of attention when you repeat the fire
throughout the yard. If, for instance, you have two or more fire
bowls in a line — say, along the top of a wall —
you’ll probably want to operate them all at the same
You can hook them up to the same control button. Run the
low-voltage line from one bowl to the other and connect them to the
same control, Roman says. If, on the other hand, you have a few
fire and water features scattered throughout the yard, the
homeowner will probably want to light them at different times. In
that case, hook each unit up to its own button on the control
- Follow the rules for remote-controlled
Check local electrical codes to see if low-voltage power can be
installed adjacent to the pool. Some municipalities won’t
permit it within 10 feet.
Be sure to allow enough space in the container for the fire
unit, Roman says. For instance, if you’re placing
remote-controlled fire among artificial rocks, you will need a
space measuring at least 10 inches in diameter and 10 inches deep
for the fire and remote module.
Even though it will be powered by the push of a button, many codes
require that you install a manual shutoff valve if the remote uses
electronic ignition. Electronic controlled gas valves can stick
open, while the manual shutoff provides a backup. Additionally,
this allows the homeowner to adjust the flame to the desired size.