During the warmer months, is there anything better than enjoying a backyard bonfire? When summer hits, the desire to roast hot dogs and melt chocolate bars between graham crackers reaches new levels. And when temperatures cool in fall, a hardscaped fire pit in your backyard can create a cozy gathering spot that will make your home the talk of the town.
However, if you are considering adding a firepit to your property in Howard County, Maryland, there are a few things you need to know first.
In this article, we cover:
- when you do and do not need a permit to install or use a firepit in Howard County,
- local burning restrictions for bonfires and grills,
- things you’ll want to keep in mind before building a fire pit, and
- how to determine the best location in your yard for your own firelit gathering spot.
Do you need a permit for a firepit in Howard County?
If you’ve been down the home improvement road before, you may know that permits are required for many building projects and landscaping tasks and that fire restrictions can vary by location.
So, will you need a permit for a firepit in Howard County?
The short answer is “no.” As of June 14, 2016, you do not have to apply for a recreational burning permit.
But, hold on a second, hotshot. There’s more. While you don’t need an official fire pit permit, you DO need to read and follow all of the guidelines relating to open fires. If you don’t, you may face several violations and even fines.
What are the open fire guidelines in Howard County?
See the official Howard County fire guidelines >>
What types of open fires are allowed?
Several types of open fires are allowed in Howard County, but with limitations (see below). If you adhere to the regulations, you can use the following:
- Recreational fires (including bonfires)
- Heating fires
- Cooking fires
What kinds of open fires are prohibited?
Howard County residents are not permitted to burn:
- Yard waste
- Building materials
So where do fire pits fit into the equation?
As with so many things, it depends. Usage, size, location, design, combustible material, and weather are just some of the things that affect whether or not a fire pit, bonfire, outdoor fireplace, or other open fire will be allowed on your property.
What about a fire pit used only for cooking?
According to the Howard County Fire Marshall’s Office, non-commercial cooking fires, regulated by the county’s Fire Prevention Code, do not require written permission. These include:
- Outdoor fire pits and fireplaces, barbeque grills, hibachis, gas-fired grills, and similar devices used solely for the purpose of preparing food.
- In-ground firepits used for cooking that are no more than 2 ft. in diameter and 1 ft. deep, and are surrounded by a noncombustible fire ring.
- In-ground, earth-covered fire pits used for roasting food.
However, many people use a fire pit for more than just cooking! And that’s where firepit size comes into play…
What’s the maximum allowed size for a fire pit in Howard County?
The key consideration for burning limitations on fire pits is the diameter of the fire. Generally speaking, firepit or bonfire sizes can be classified into three groups:
- open fires up to 3 feet in diameter
- open fires between 3 and 5 feet in diameter
- open fires greater than 5 feet in diameter
In our county, it’s illegal to have an open fire greater than 5 feet across so we’ll focus on the other two groups only.
For fire pits up to 3 feet in diameter
When considering firepit installation for your home, the following criteria must be met:
- Firepits (or similar devices such as grills, luminaries, and chimineas) cannot be placed:
- Within 15 feet of a building, home, or structure
- On a balcony
- Under a structural overhang
- Firepits, chimineas, luminaries, and similar devices in Howard County must be equipped with spark arrestors, such as a metal, mesh screen, to prevent the ejection of flammable debris.
- The total burn area cannot exceed 3 ft. in diameter and 2 ft. in height.
For fire pits between 3 and 5 feet in diameter
There are quite a few more limitations for larger fire pits, so keep that in mind when you’re planning what size to add to your property. Most people choose to install a smaller firepit because of the restrictions on burning a larger open fire.
These are the rules and restrictions for a firepit that is 3 to 5 feet in diameter, according to the Howard County Fire Department:
- Before lighting the fire, you must call Communications at 410-313-2929 and notify the on-duty supervisor about the fire.
- After burning for no more than 3 hours, the fire must be extinguished and Communications notified that the fire is completed.
- The fire must be a minimum of 50 feet from any structure
- The fire cannot be more than 5 feet by 5 feet in dimension and cannot burn longer than 3 hours
- There must be a “safe area” of at least 10 feet around the fire
- The fire must be approved by the property owner
- You must have a method of extinguishing the fire in close proximity
- Only seasoned, dry firewood may be burned (with a small amount of paper to help light the fire)
- The fire cannot be used for waste disposal purposes
- A competent adult must attend the fire at all times
- No one is allowed to play in the fire
- Under certain circumstances, the fire must be immediately extinguished:
- If severe winds are prevalent (more than 10 mph)
- If there is a ban on open fires due to drought, dry conditions, or general fire safety
Grills (over 3 feet) used exclusively for cooking need only be 15 feet from any structure and may burn for longer than 3 hours. You do not need to notify Communications when a grill is lit or extinguished.
Can Eos Outdoor Services help you choose the right fire pit?
While all of those fire codes can seem confusing, our team is well-versed in the rules and regulations pertaining to outdoor hardscaping in Howard County. We can help you choose the perfect size, design, and location for your fire pit and ensure that it meets the requirements dictated by the county.
Click on the “Pits & Grills” tab on this page to see photos of some of our recent firepit creations!
Can Eos Outdoor Services help with fire pit design?
While the fire pit restrictions in Howard County may seem limiting, you still have plenty of options for your fire pit design! Our design team can help you create the perfect outdoor fire pit or fireplace that is strategically designed and located to enhance your time outdoors.
We can also help with outdoor kitchens, entertainment areas, walkways, patios, mailboxes – and more!
For details, check out the hardscaping services that Eos Outdoor Services offers.
Landscaping is about striking a balance between softscapes – the living, horticultural components of your lawn and garden – and hardscapes, which are those permanent structures (like fire pits and walkways) that lend aesthetic support and direction.
Getting that balance right (as described in this article) makes all the difference between an outdoor fireplace or fire pit that you’ll enjoy gathering around and one that’s seldom used.
Ready to get started on your new fire pit or outdoor fireplace?
Eos Outdoor Services specializes in hardscaped firepits and ornate outdoor fireplaces for your home or estate. Whether you are looking for something basic and functional, or decorative and luxurious, our crews can oblige. Our low-maintenance, cost-effective hardscaping services utilize only the highest-quality, durable, and seasonally adaptable materials and our team adheres to all industry safety standards and building codes.
If you have questions regarding the rules and regulations surrounding a permit for a firepit in Howard County, call the Office of the Fire Marshall at 410-313-6040.
If you want to get started on those S’mores, call the firepit experts at Eos Outdoor Services at 410-648-2820 or send us a message via our contact form. We’d love to help you!