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Beware of Exploding
(A side note: I’m a big believer that side yards are too-often ignored. In this case, the dining room had a large pair of French doors that looked out over this area, where we also installed an arbor that tied into the fire-and-water feature. Truly beautiful both outside and from inside the house.)
Long story short, as we were working, I read an article that warned against using river rock with fire: It tends to be nonporous, so heat builds up inside, sometimes to explosive levels. The recommendation was to use lava rock instead, which neatly confirmed the decision we’d already made to fill our fire trough with lava rock.
In this case, however, we didn’t consider the fact that small amounts of water would be splashing onto the lava rock from the adjacent waterfall. As a result, the extremely porous lava rock immediately absorbed the water, which almost instantly turned into steam and created pressure that built up inside the rock.
Much to everyone’s chagrin, after we initiated the feature and went on our way, it wasn’t long before small bits of heated lava rock (pea-sized and smaller) began popping off and flying in all directions at considerable velocity. Before anyone noticed what was happening, however, the homeowners had developed so much affection for the feature that they’d gotten into the habit of leaving the doors open so they could hear as well as see the water.
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Scott Cohen is president and supervising designer of The Green Scene, an outdoor design and construction firm based in Northridge, CA. He provides consultation for clients nationwide and gives seminars on designing landscapes, swimming pools and outdoor kitchens.