Monday, November 26, 2007

Are outdoor fireplaces legal in New York City?

I never thought this was a quandary I'd have to face, but I really want to know if outdoor fire places are legal in New York City. It all started the weekend before Thanksgiving. I was in New Jersey visiting some friends who had just bought a new house. They grilled in their lovely backyard, which had a nice deck, glorious landscape...and an outdoor fireplace.

I was instantly in love. Of course, the one they have is huge and would never fit in my backyard. But thanks to my love of HGTV and all things home improvement I know that there are smaller outdoor fire bowls for sale at places like Target. (My favorite part of the reviews for the bowl at Target are the ones about using it indoors. You must be kidding, right? What part of outdoor fire bowl do you not get??!)

My backyard has a perfect round concrete area that would easily fit the bowl, plus four benches around it to sit on. I can already see cozying up with friends and a hot guy around the fire during the winter, making smores in the grand forest that is my backyard.

My side of the backyard last summer,
before the overgrowth got really bad.

Actually, I didn't even know I had the round patio until I did some fall yardwork. I know, fall yardwork in New York City -- it's been a grand source of amusement for my friends. But as I was starting to feel better I looked out back and saw leaves everywhere, and the neat fern beds in the photo above were overgrown.

So I went out back and cleaned my side of the yard. I swept the leaves into a pile, and cut back the trees and shrubs on the right and the left sides. There's also a tree that's dying back there. Several branches had dropped. With no woodchipper around, I had to place them in the fountain bed the old tenant had left behind. That was a bit of a bummer.

After transferring most of my piles into a big trash bag, I discovered was a nice, round sitting area about 12 feet in diameter. Flash forward to me in Jersey, and I mentally put two and two together. I asked my friends how I could find out about having an outdoor fireplace in the city. The consensus? This sounds like a job for 311!

Back in the city, I called 311. I listened in bemusement as a recorded message said, "please, if this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911." Soon after I was connected with an operator, a woman.
Me - "Hi. Do you know if it is legal to have an outdoor fireplace in New York City?"
Woman - "You mean like a grill?"
Me - "No, like an outdoor fire bowl. I live on the Upper East Side and I have a backyard. I'd like to purchase an outdoor fire bowl to use in it."
Woman - "Ma'am, it is illegal to have camp fires in Manhattan."
Me - "No, no, not a camp fire. It's iron bowl that you can build small fires in. Kind of like a grill I guess, but open...."
Woman (confused) - "I'm not sure what you're asking. Yes, it is legal to have a grill in Manhattan. But you cannot have brush fires."
Me - "Well, it's not a brush fire --"
Woman - "Maybe you should go the FDNY website and check there. They break down many of the city's regulations. I'm sorry I can't be of more assistance."

I applaud the operator's patience, as I wasn't able to articulate what an outdoor fire bowl is. I browsed around the FDNY site a bit but wasn't able to find what I was looking for. I'm not even sure where to look next, but I must know if I can put the bowl on my holiday list or not, and soon.


stealthnyc said...

Did you ever find out what the answer to this was? Thanks.

Roxy said...

Yes. They are legal in the city, but you are required to have at least 25 feet of clearance to the nearest building and no trees within a reasonable distance. The fires cannot be open fires; they have to be in a protected area. I hope this helps.

Monique said...

Who did you contact to find the information on the firepit regulations?
I would like to purchase a small outdoor fireplace, and would like to clarify the rules with an official before doing so.

Roxy said...

I went to the fire department nearest to my apartment. My comment above is what I was told, and also that outdoor fire bowls under a certain size are covered under the BBQ rule, which is online here. Just as a note, I have not actually tried using a fire bowl yet but my neighbor has one. I asked and he said he has not had any complaints in 2 years of using it. Your experience may vary though.

Monique said...

thank you so much for the information. Do you happen to know what sizes/dimensions are covered under the BBQ rule?
Thanks again for all your help

Roxy said...

I don't know. The rule doesn't specify so it could be discretionary...your nearest fire department would know for sure.

Anonymous said...

man, don't use one of these things. my neighbors do in their backyard in brooklyn and it stinks up every building adjoining their backyard. dicks.

Anonymous said...

Using an "outdoor firepit" in NYC is Illegal. even the use of a fireplace custom or prefab is illegal outdoors. This is due to the NYFD not the DOB. it became official about 2 years ago. I have a home in Staten Island with a HUGE backyard and have an outdoor fireplace which i had to remove. after going to court against the city it was stated that any open flame used outdoors in NYC is ILLEGAL even in a fireplace with a screen on it. Sorry for the bad news but its mostly because people in NYC complain about the smell of wood.

Richard In Brooklyn said...

I think I found the real answer and no one is going to like it, least of all me!

Go to...

Download the PDF for Summer Fire Safty. This is what the PDF reads.


I guess I won't be getting one for Father's Day after all:(

Anonymous said...

I use one in queens every couple of weeks. Never had a problem with the authorities.

moc said...

The last post is NOT VERIFIED. Where in PDF does it say that? links just to general code.

Anonymous said...

it's incredible that so many NIMBY assholes populate this city and get a rock hard on just stopping people from doing things.

Anonymous said...


I was researching, because my idiot neighbor uses one of these in Brooklyn with trees very close to it. The smoke fills up the apartment with noxious fumes. Please don't use these in NYC.