DIY or Professional Fireworks?

You have a choice of either doing a fireworks display yourself, or getting a professional team in to fire it for you. This article looks at the big differences between these two options.


Doing it yourself

Fireworks are available to the UK public all year round, although outside of Guy Fawkes and New Year’s Eve you will need to find a specialist all year retailer. The fireworks you can buy as a member of the public are often referred to as consumer fireworks or retail fireworks.

Contrary to popular belief and erroneous reports in the press, it is fully legal to buy and let fireworks off any time of the year providing you’ve finished firing them by 11pm. You can either walk into a fireworks shop and buy over the counter, or purchase them over the internet and have them delivered by retailers who offer a mail order service.

Fireworks Shop

A fireworks shop open to the public (photo courtesy Firework Emporium)

Consumer fireworks can cost as little as a few pounds for an individual item or up to £100+ for a bigger barrage. They can be purchased by anyone over 18 and do not need a licence to own or use.

Many retailers will put together suggested display packs or deals and these are commonly referred to as DIY packs or DIY displays.

 

Professional fireworks

With a professional service you employ a display team to provide and fire your display. You won’t have any involvement in setting up or firing the fireworks yourself.

The process starts with a site survey to ensure the area and venue is appropriate. On the day, a crew will set up the fireworks and these will be fired at the agreed time. Most professional fireworks teams will also tidy up afterwards.

Bonafide professional display teams are fully insured and trained. The displays will normally include bigger fireworks known as professional fireworks which as a member of the public you cannot buy for your home displays. These bigger items are known as Category 4 fireworks in the trade (consumer fireworks being Category 3) and often wrongly termed “industrial” fireworks by the press.

Because of overheads such as insurance and crew costs, most professional services start at £500 or so, with £1000 being a more common starting price these days.

 

Which should you choose?

If have less than £500 or so to spend then regardless of the type of display you want, budget dictates you will need to use consumer fireworks and do the display yourself.

For back garden and other home or informal displays, you would also normally go for consumer fireworks. This is not just down to the smaller budget – most back gardens would be unsuitable for bigger, professional fireworks. Of course if you do happen to have a few acres of land and the budget for it there is no reason why you cannot call in a professional team.

For bigger displays especially public ones, a professional display should be considered. This is particularly the case with budgets of £1000+. Not only will you get a display which includes bigger and better fireworks, but the display will be fully insured.

Professional Fireworks Display Company

A professional team setting up and the end result (Shockwave Pyrotechnics)

It is perfectly acceptable to fire a big public display yourself using consumer fireworks, one advantage being you can create a much longer display for your budget, albeit with smaller fireworks. Whereas £1000 would buy you a professional display typically lasting between 5 minutes (for an intense display) up to say 10 minutes (for a more thinned out display), the same budget could easily stretch to 30 minutes plus with consumer fireworks. Do bear in mind though that most spectators start to lose interest after 5-10 minutes!

The main problems with big displays using consumer fireworks relate to firing. You will need a team of people experienced with letting fireworks off and spend some time planning it. Insurance for events involving the public is critical and can add considerably to the cost. In these cases a professional display is often the best solution.

For displays at a third party location such as a hotel, club or similar, it is important to speak to the venue owner first. Their own insurance policy might prohibit the use of fireworks by anyone other than a professional (and insured) team. It is becoming quite rare these days to find a hotel or pub which is happy for customers to let off their own fireworks.

For weddings the advice would have to be a professional display every time. You really have so much to worry about on the day so it’s best to leave it to the experts. You will also be guaranteed a big and high impact display which consumer fireworks cannot match. In any case, few wedding venues allow fireworks unless they are done professionally.

Summary of consumer fireworks:

  • Suitable for any budget from a few pounds upwards
  • Great for back garden displays and family parties
  • Can be bought and let off any time of year
  • Suitable for bigger displays with sufficient planning and care
  • You will need to sort out your own insurance for public events

Summary of professional fireworks:

  • Typically suited to budgets of at least £500-£1000 and upwards
  • Particularly good for public events, corporate displays and weddings
  • Bigger and better effects than consumer fireworks
  • Excellent for difficult venues such as rooftops, stadiums or boats
  • Bonafide display teams will be fully insured, typically from between £1million to £10million of public liability
  • No involvement or work required other than to provide a suitable venue, choose a show, pay for it, and watch!

 

“Can I buy fireworks and then hire someone to let them off?”

This is quite a common question asked by the public when shopping at firework retailers. The intention here is to obtain fireworks on a lower budget than the £500-£1000 needed for a full professional show, but still have someone else fire them.

Unfortunately, this type of service does not exist in the UK. A professional firer would still need to have insurance and do risk assessments before firing your own fireworks and by the time you have factored these in, the costs have risen to professional display level anyway. Besides, most professionals would be unwilling to fire your choice of fireworks for reasons of risk and liability.

 

Further information

If you are working through the beginner’s “Start here!” guide you can return to it here. Or, pick a new help topic from the menus at the top of the page.

When you are ready to buy fireworks, whether it is consumer fireworks or a professional display, have a look at UKFR’s Buying Fireworks guide for advice and the Buy Fireworks page for a listing of fireworks suppliers. Always give these companies priority with your fireworks cash (find out why).

You can see behind the scenes at many professional displays in the UKFR Feature Archive if you wanted to see what a professional show entails.

If you want to ask for help or have any other questions, try the UKFR Fireworks Forum. Beginners are warmly welcomed and the firework community here is standing by to help you.

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Established in 1999, UKFR remains independent from the fireworks trade and does not sell fireworks.