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How backyard fire pits and BBQs impact your home insurance

Find out what you need to know about starting a fire on your property and why you need a comprehensive home insurance policy to ensure you're protected.

For many Canadians, there’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal over an open flame. 

Whether you’re at home or the cottage, BBQ meals and backyard campfires are two summertime activities people look forward to throughout the long, cold, Canadian winter. 

However, there is a lot to consider and plan for before you enjoy that flame-grilled steak dinner – and potentially implications for your home insurance.

Can I have a fire pit in my backyard in Ontario?

While the construction of a backyard fire pit is perfectly legal, it’s important to understand the laws that are specific to your location before starting your backyard fire. 

The Ontario government clearly states that “you don’t need a permit to burn piled wood, brush, leaves or wood by-products as long as you follow these rules”: 

  • The fire must be started no sooner than two hours before sunset and it must be put out no later than two hours after sunrise.
  • No more than one pile can be burned at a time.
  • The pile must be under two metres around and under two metres high.
  • The fire must be more than two meters away from any flammable materials like fuel or wood.
  • Have water or a fire extinguisher nearby to put the fire out immediately if needed.
  • Have a responsible person tend to the fire until it is completely extinguished. 

However, while these activities may be permitted by the Ontario government, each municipality has its own specific rules around open-air burning, and these are the laws that must be followed.

Are backyard fire pits legal where I live?

Unfortunately, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

In most areas, daytime burning is prohibited, meaning you’ll likely have to wait to light your campfire until after 4 p.m. 

Many areas prohibit backyard campfires, but do allow fires under a certain size that are being used for cooking, so make sure you have a grill and some hot dogs handy and turn that campfire into a meal. 

The rules around fire pits also differ depending on the area where you live. 

For example, open-air burning is prohibited in the City of Toronto, meaning that fire pits, sky lanterns, and chiminea are illegal to use within the city limits – even if such items are sold at stores within the city. 

In Vancouver, wood-burning appliances including fire pits and chimineas are also prohibited on any private or public property. 

In Halifax, the laws surrounding backyard fire pits are largely dependent on the time of year and wildfire risk. It is important to check the current rules before lighting up that backyard fire pit. 

Do I need to cover my fire pit?

While the rules differ depending on location and time of year, it’s always a good idea to keep your fire pit covered when it’s not being used. 

Not only can covering your fire pit help extend the life of the structure in general, but keeping it covered also reduces the risk of injury as it makes it impossible for a person to walk or fall into a fire pit that still has live coals from the night before.

Covering your fire pit also protects it from rain and snow, keeping things dry and making it easier to get the next fire started.

How can having a fire pit affect my home insurance?

Anytime you allow or participate in an activity that increases the likelihood of someone getting injured or property being damaged, you become a greater risk to your insurance provider. 

Also read: How home insurance works in Canada

Since insurance premiums are calculated based on the level of risk you pose to the insurance company, it seems obvious that having outdoor fires on your property will increase the cost of your home insurance policy. 

However, backyard fire pits are more complicated than other high-risk backyard activities like swimming pools and trampolines, because the legalities around backyard fire pits are not often clear. 

If you decide to put in a backyard fire pit, there are two main things you need to do in order to protect yourself and your property:

  1. Let your insurance provider know right away. If you do not disclose the backyard fire pit and damage occurs to a person or property, your insurance provider may deny coverage.

  2. Make sure your fire is legal. If you cause damage while engaged in an illegal activity, your insurance provider will not cover the costs. Similar to how motor vehicle insurance will not cover damages caused by an impaired driver, home insurance will not cover damages caused by a person operating an illegal backyard fire pit. The bottom line here is, make sure you’ve looked into the rules and regulations in your areas before striking that match. 

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Can having a BBQ impact my home insurance?

BBQs are a common appliance in backyards and balconies across North America, and for the most part, they do not cause an issue with home insurance. 

Since BBQs are fairly safe, most types of home insurance policies will cover damages to your deck or yard if a grill fire or accident were to occur.

However, just like fire pit accidents, your insurance policy will not cover you if you’re not following the rules.

Some condominium boards and apartment communities do not allow propane tanks or hibachis, so be sure you’re adhering to the stated regulations before the grilling begins. Not adhering to the rules could impact any potential condo or tenant insurance claims, if a BBQ related incident were to occur.

It’s also important to remember that insurance rates often increase once a claim is made, and BBQ accidents can occur. The easiest way to prevent BBQ-related accidents is to ensure your BBQ is clean, well-maintained, and permitted in your specific location.

The bottom line

Backyard fire pits and BBQs are one of the top things many look forward to all year. In order to minimize the chance of an accident or injury, and ensure your home insurance policy covers you for any unexpected events, be certain you are abiding by the rules where you live and that your equipment is never left unattended while in use and is kept in good working condition. 

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