An Introduction to Ignition Systems

Building a fire pit doesn’t have to be a complicated undertaking. With a little planning and preparation, you’re sure to create an awesome outdoor space for you, your friends, and your family.

One of the biggest choices you’ll need to make when designing your fire pit is what kind of ignition system your fire pit will have. Today, we’ll give you some helpful information to make that decision easier for you.

What Are the Different Ignition Types?

Fire pit ignition systems can range from very basic match lit systems to premium electronic ignitions with remote controls and automatic flame sensors. Although there’s some variability, you’ll most often see ignition types divided into one of three categories: match light, spark ignition, or electronic ignition.

While it’s easy to think of these options as a “good, better, best” scenario—particularly when looking at cost—it’s also important to remember no two fire pit builds will be exactly the same. Therefore, many people may actually be happier with a basic match light system than they would be a more complicated electronic ignition system.

What Ignition Type is Best?

The type of ignition you select will likely depend on your application. You’ll also want to keep in mind any local building codes relevant to your project before you begin building. We recommend checking with your local authorities in advance. Here are some of the highlights of the fire pit ignition systems available for your fire pit.

Match Light Ignition Systems

Match light fire pits, also sometimes referred to as “manual” ignition systems, offer a reliable and cost-effective fire pit option for your project. The reason these fire pits are so reliable is the simplicity of their design—these are completely mechanical systems with no moving parts. Turn a key to start the gas, light a flame, and sit back to enjoy your fire—it’s as simple as that.

Non-certified match kits are often high capacity, as well, allowing these units to put off larger and more impressive flame presentations. However, with no flame-sensing feature, the fire pit must not be left unsupervised and these kits may not be considered “up to code” in all areas.

Spark Ignition Systems

Spark ignition systems are very similar to match light systems with one exception—a battery-operated sparker. These fire pits feature ignition systems similar to those found on some barbecue grills.

A spark ignition system offers a “best of both worlds” approach between basic match light ignition kits and more advanced ignition systems. You’ll get the added convenience of assisted ignition while maintaining the reliability of a manual system. However, these spark ignition systems will not last forever, so expect this to be a regular maintenance task every few years.

Flame-Sensing Spark Ignition Systems 

Flame-sensing kits are a special kind of fire pit worth mentioning on their own. While technically still spark ignition systems, these fire pits also feature flame sensors or thermocouples for an added level of safety. These added safety measures automatically stop gas flow in the event flames are extinguished in order to avoid pooling gas. Thanks to this added safety feature, these fire pits are usually UL Listed or CSA Certified, which makes them an option for installations with more restrictive building codes.

These kits typically involve some simple annual maintenance to keep them working smoothly, but the process doesn’t involve extensive time or costs. One more thing to note, however. Due to the type of gas valve these kits use, they are often found only in smaller size units. The flame output will usually be somewhat smaller, too, but still impressive.

Electronic Ignition Systems

Electronic ignition kits are nearly always flame-sensing and safety-certified. The ignition process is automated and they can be controlled with a timer, switch, remote, smartphone app, automation system, etc. Some smaller kits have battery-powered options, but the majority of these systems require electricity at the fire pit.

While some kits use electronic sparkers, many have commercial grade hot-surface igniters which look like a glow plug and provide the most reliability and performance. These igniters light a pilot which, in turn, lights the main burner. Many of these systems even have a re-light feature should the flame go out.

Though there are more moving parts, these systems from premium manufacturers are more reliable than ever and can be seen at hotels and restaurants across the country. Although they may have a higher price tag, these systems offer the highest levels of luxury and convenience available.

What is the Most Cost-Effective Fire Pit Ignition Option?

Match light and spark ignition systems (non-flame-sensing) are the most cost-effective ignition systems available and remain very popular for this reason. However, keep in mind the variables mentioned above when selecting which type of system is best for your project. Flame-sensing and electronic kits are a higher upfront cost, but they may be required for your installation.

Want to Learn More About All Things Fire Pits?

Our product experts can help you with every part of the fire pit buying process. If you’re unsure which products are best for your needs, contact us, and we can assist you further.

We also have a large amount of helpful fire pit content on our blog, so be sure to check out those great articles, as well. Our two-part fire pit buying guide is a great place to start your research.