DIY or Professional Fireworks?
Sometimes it's better to call in the professionals. This article explains the differences between consumer and professional fireworks.
What are consumer (DIY) and professional fireworks?
For the purposes of this article I must first define what I mean by consumer fireworks, doing it yourself (DIY) and professional fireworks.
Consumer fireworks are what the general public would buy to let off themselves, whether that’s in their back garden or at a public display they are organising such as a village bonfire night event. Hence I have used the term DIY in this case, as these are fireworks being let off by the people who bought them.
Professional fireworks on the other hand refers to a complete display service that a member of the public would purchase whereby a display team would provide, set up, fire and then clear up the fireworks afterwards. The customer in this case would not physically buy, store or let off the fireworks, as this is done for them.
There are other important differences between consumer and professional fireworks:
- Bought by the customer who stores and fires them.
- Category F2 fireworks (typically 8m-15m safety distance) and Category F3 (25m).
- Prices for individual fireworks from a few pounds upwards.
- Available from specialist firework retailers all year or seasonal sellers such as supermarkets from mid-October to early November.
- It’s fully legal in the UK to buy and let off consumer fireworks all year round*.
- Customer is responsible for letting them off.
- Customer is also responsible for organising insurance in the case of public events, training, clear up and so on. (Note that insurance and training are not required for private displays in the back garden).
- Customer doesn’t have to buy and store physical fireworks.
- The display team designs the show, supplies and sets up the fireworks, fires the display and then clears up.
- Prices usually from £500 upwards – £800 to £1000 is the usual starting point.
- Fireworks used include professional Category F4 fireworks (which can be significantly bigger than F2/F3).
- Full public liability insurance included (typically £5m to £10m).
- A site survey is usually required beforehand.
- Specialist services available such as for rooftops, stadiums and stage pyrotechnics.
* You can legally buy and let off fireworks at any time of the year. You must however not let them off after 11pm (extended times apply for some dates, see the Firework Laws and Regulations section for more info). Professional displays need to abide by the 11pm curfew also.
When to call in the professionals
Whilst the vast majority of firework displays in the UK are back garden displays using consumer gear, there are occasions when I would recommend considering using a professional service. These include:
If you would like to have fireworks at your wedding you should first speak to the wedding venue to see if fireworks are allowed. Nearly all of those who do will stipulate that only a professional team would be allowed, mostly because of insurance and liability reasons. Even if you have a venue that’s more relaxed (or having the event on private land) consider whether you actually want to be bothered with setting up and firing a display given everything else going on.
Larger public events
If your event involves the public then insurance is critical, as is training. There comes a point once you add up the cost of the fireworks, training and insurance where employing the professionals is more viable. Not only will the event be fully insured, but you will also benefit from bigger Category F4 fireworks (such as aerial shells) and specialist pyrotechnics such as displays to music.
One caveat is that the availability of display teams on or around November 5th can be more limited which drives the cost up significantly. Still, if you’re using (or thinking of using) consumer fireworks for a big event and your costs are above £1000 or so then I would suggest considering a professional display.
Anything commercial or corporate
Unless you have good reason to buy consumer fireworks yourself and let them off, for anything commercial, corporate or for local councils and authorities (such as Christmas lights switch-ons) then you should be employing a professional team who will be fully insured, trained and experts in the type of event you are staging. You also won’t need to worry about storing the pyro!
Difficult venues or locations
This could include rooftops, barges, areas with limited fallout space and so on.
Where the professionals cannot help
There are some cases where you might want to use a professional team but they won’t be able to help. These include:
Most back gardens
The Category F4 fireworks used by professionals are of course significantly more powerful than consumer fireworks but this power also brings with it an increased minimum safety distance. Even smaller aerial shells need 50m+ which rules out most back gardens.
Professional shows start from around £500 though that price would most likely only apply to a small-scale show fired very locally to the display company. In actual fact a more realistic starting price these days is pushing up to around £1000. Whilst this sounds a lot, bear in mind that costs absorbed in this include not just the pyro, but wages for two or more firers, van hire or fuel, insurance, show design and site survey to name just a few. So it is simply unrealistic to expect a professional team to be able to fire a show for a few hundred quid.
It is not uncommon for a consumer to want to buy fireworks themselves and then find a professional to let them off for them, in their garden for example, as a service. Unfortunately, whilst this sounds a good idea on paper, no such service exists in the UK. This is because a professional is only fully covered for liability if firing their own fireworks and few professionals would be willing to let off third party fireworks in such circumstances.
So the choices are only: Buy consumer fireworks and let them off yourself. Or, employ a professional team and buy a complete show and service.
Bigger displays using consumer fireworks
Although I would encourage those of you putting on bigger displays, with bigger budgets or involving the public to consider using a professional service, I should stress that you don’t have to, if you are willing to get stuck in and understand the time and costs involved.
Many of my Forum members are involved in some quite big events for their schools, Scouts and villages. They buy and store the fireworks themselves and enjoy firing them. It’s perfectly legal and perfectly possible with sufficient planning. Some groups even prefer the sense of community a DIY display provides even when their budget could easily stretch to a professional show.
For bigger DIY displays like this you need to consider various extra things including planning the display, safe storage, risk assessments, insurance and training your firers.
Next steps and further info
If you’re buying and letting off consumer fireworks then the rest of this large site will advise you on just about every aspect of this. If you haven’t already seen it, my Beginners Start Here! page is a good place to start for a structured walk-through of all my guides or browse the menu at the top of the page.
If you’re wanting to employ a professional team, then pop over to the Buying Wedding & Professional Displays page for advice on sourcing your fireworks and some links to guides showing what happens behind the scenes at these organised displays.
Finally, I say it a lot here but if you have any questions at all then please feel free to join my friendly online Fireworks Forum. We welcome beginners and no question is too silly.