Fascination with Fire
By Bill Sendelback
Consumers today are waking up to the fact that sitting around a fire with friends is a most enjoyable pastime. Their interest has made firepits one of the fastest-selling products in quite some time.
But firepits are really nothing new; they’ve been around since the dawn of mankind, or even prior to that.
Today we’ve brought the joy of fire back to our outdoor lives in the form of a rapidly growing selection of stylish firepits, fire tables and fire pots, riding the recent phenomenal growth of Outdoor Rooms.
Not every consumer has the space or the funds for a full-fledged outdoor fireplace. So firepits are increasingly filling the need for a fire feature. What started a few decades ago as round metal “tubs” for burning wood have now evolved into stylish fire features available in almost any size and in a wide variety of materials, finishes and heights. The trend that began with wood at its core has given way almost entirely to propane and natural gas models with a smattering of bio-ethanol models also available.
Industry manufacturer shipment numbers reveal little about sales of firepits since most manufacturers don’t submit their figures. But those that do report show that sales of gas firepits in the U.S. were up more than 14 percent through the third quarter of 2013.
Hearth & Home magazine’s latest Retailer Survey reveals that 82 percent of hearth, patio and barbecue retailers also sell firepits, second only to grills with these retailers. There’s already quite a variety of product from which to choose; more than four dozen manufacturers presently offer firepits.
At one point, firepits were in the domain of hearth products manufacturers; now, more and more patio furniture manufacturers are joining in the frenzy, many offering firepits that match their furniture such as Woodard Furniture’s new Derby Collection of firepits.
“This is a fast-growing category,” says Ross Johnson, vice president of Marketing for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company, “and consumers are just now becoming aware of it. These products offer them the convenience of gas plus easy installation and growing technology improvements such as remotes and even sound systems.”
RH Peterson, better known for its gas logs and Fire Magic gas grills, entered the fire feature market with its July, 2012, purchase of Designs by Garry from Garry Lieser, who now works for Peterson designing new outdoor products. Now named American Fyre Designs, the line has been expanded to include 16 gas fire tables, four dining fire tables, four fire urns and three firepits, all in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and finishes.
“This is a natural extension to our working outdoor kitchen products, and we were very pleased with last year’s sales, our first full year with the line,” says Bob Dischner, vice president of Marketing. “We’ve seen tons of interest in the outdoor fire feature category. This is a growing market for us. It’s complementary to our channels of distribution and what we are doing. It’s a nice fit for us.”
Fire tables are the biggest segment of this category for Peterson, offering UL and CSA tested and listed, round, square and rectangular versions in heights from 15-1/4 in. to 36 in. Fire urns, smaller fire features designed as tabletop decorative items, are next on Peterson’s best-seller list. With most models made of glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC), like the company’s Outdoor Room islands, Peterson’s pricing position is at the upper end with suggested retail prices ranging from $1,410 for a fire urn to $4,400 for a dining fire table.
New for Peterson is its Nest Collection including a fire table and a lantern-type fire urn inspired by the unique architecture of the stadium from the Beijing Olympics, featuring GFRC and stainless-steel elements in a very contemporary design.
“Fire feature products are an extension to the Outdoor Room along with grills and patio furniture,” Dischner explains, “and it’s overwhelmingly the outdoor-oriented retailer that does the best job. Many dealers have space limitations on how these products can be displayed, but this is an item that needs to be displayed. It’s the dealer that takes the time to properly display them, even outside where they can be burned, who gets the best sales results.”
California Outdoor Concepts anticipates doubling its fire table and firepit sales in 2014, says owner Clint Blevins. Also aiming at top-end customers, the company offers 12 models of firepit tables in three sizes, four heights and four colors with suggested retail prices ranging from $249 to $3,199, featuring solid granite or copper tops.
“We thought fireplace shops were the obvious place to sell these products, but we were wrong,” Blevins says. “And it’s not pool and spa dealers either. Hearth dealers that carry patio furniture are the most successful. If you sell just fireplaces, display space and SKU costs are major factors. Bigger patio stores already sell big ticket items including outdoor chairs they can match to the fire feature.”
HPC/Hearth Products Controls has sold repair parts for gas hearth products for 38 years. “About 12 years ago we started dabbling in fire rings and similar stuff,” says owner Greg Steck. “Thank God we did. It just took off from there.”
Today, HPC sells mostly firepit inserts for site-built firepits, and now offers more than 200 CSA tested and listed models with sales growing 15 to 20 percent each year. One of its finished products, the Evolution 360 fire and water feature, earned two Vesta Awards at the 2013 HPBA show. Steck says their next generation of fire features will be fire on water, where the fire will burn on the surface of the water in the bowl.
Also new for HPC will be its Sport Pit Series, a line of smaller gas firepits for camping and tailgating with an option of being vinyl wrapped to match RVs or team colors. HPC’s current products list from $400 to $2,000.
The company offers models from 50,000 Btus to custom commercial models with “considerably more Btus.” For those larger Btu models, HPC offers an ultraviolet sensor, a camera that “sees the heat or UV signature” from as far away as 20 feet and shuts the unit off if the flame goes out. Seldom used by HPC, this technology is for the company’s growing commercial market such as casinos, resorts and other very large installations.
Most of what HPC sells is its smaller and middle-size units, but linear models are growing in popularity, an observation echoed by most manufacturers.
Most of HPC’s sales are through hearth dealers. While landscapers are a big market, Steck sees pool and spa dealers as a “really growing market. It’s really quite easy for these guys to tie in a firepit to a $150,000 pool.”
New from The Outdoor GreatRoom Company will be a gas-burning, L-shaped corner model called The Pointe. The company is also having success with its glass guards that surround the fire to protect the flame from wind.
“It also protects little fingers from the fire and creates a flame reflection for added ambiance,” according to Ross Johnson, who says half of the company’s firepits include glass guards. The company’s patented Intrigue is a small, gas fire urn made to mount into the umbrella hole of most patio tables. Suggested retail prices for The Outdoor GreatRoom’s UL-listed fire features range from less than $500 to just under $4,000.
While gas dominates the firepit scene, not every manufacturer has abandoned wood-burning models. Jatex International is a 20-year-old, very upscale home furnishings importer, offering carpets, furniture, lighting and other home furnishings handcrafted in Turkey – including a line of wood-burning fire-pits. “I don’t want to jeopardize quality and take away that craftsmanship by going to China or India to mass produce it,” says Erkut “Eric” Aribus, president. “When people come to us, they know it’s not going to be cheap, but it’s going to be different and unique.”
Jatex offers handcrafted, round, copper firepits in sizes from 24 to 54 in. and 16 in. deep for safety. Suggested retail prices range from $1,000 to about $4,000. New from Jatex is its Copper Stone Collection, more contemporary-styled, oval firepits.
While all of Aribus’ models are designed for wood-burning, more and more of them are being converted in the field to gas-burning. “But we certainly recommend that this be done by a professional,” warns Aribus.
Most gas outdoor fire features are tested and listed to ANSI Z21.97 or CSA 2.41 for Outdoor Decorative Gas Appliances. There is no testing standard specifically for wood-burning firepits, according to Bob Zimmerman, managing engineer for Underwriters Laboratories, the closest standard being UL 127 for Outdoor Solid Fuel Appliances.
“These listings are extremely important to our industry from a safety standpoint,” says HPC’s Greg Steck. “When you see the UL or CSA mark, it really stands out, and it diffuses a lot of consumer concerns and questions.”
The illuma Bio-ethanol Indoor/Outdoor Tabletop Fireplace burns renewable, liquid bio-ethanol for an unvented, smoke-free outdoor or indoor fire. The burner system uses a no-pour, no-spill illuma-fuel canister. The fuel canister can be safely removed and replaced while the fire is burning. The 22-in. fireplace includes an electronic igniter, a low fuel indicator and a knob to adjust the flame or extinguish the fire. From Duraflame; visit www.duraflame.com.
The Warmth of a Fireplace – In a Firepit
The GAD1430SP Endless Summer firepit offers the warmth and ambiance of a fireplace for the patio, deck or backyard. Featuring a slate tile hearth, the firepit is complete with a decorative weather-resistant base and removable wicker panels that cleverly conceal a propane tank and control panel. Complete with a 40,000 Btu stainless-steel burner, the firepit also includes bronze fireglass to beautifully accent the flames. From Blue Rhino; visit www.bluerhino.com.
Round or Square Fire
Firepit offerings have been expanded to include both round and square bases for a variety of home styles and outdoor settings. The tops come in over 20 different styles and 30 unique finishes. Counter height firepits, bar and dining heights, and new tops in larger sizes are also featured. From Woodard; visit www.woodard-furniture.com.
Lasting Fire Pit
The Montego Fire Pit Table is beautiful and durable. It has clean and simple lines, putting the focus on the striking crystal fire. The black tempered glass top comes with a cover for the burner when not in use to make a beautiful glass-top table. The Montego comes in black wicker or balsam brown wicker. From Outdoor GreatRoom Company; visit www.outdoorrooms.com.
Handmade and Unique
Jatex firepits are handmade one piece at a time from solid copper and iron materials. Designed for wood-burning, the firepits also can be converted to gas. The copper construction allows for even heat transmission, and warms nicely in 40 to 50 degree weather. Designed with oversize, deep construction, the firepits can safely accommodate large logs. From Jatex International; visit www.jatexinternational.com.
Durable and Attractive
The Cooke Fire Pit Table is 84 in. by 60 in. by 17 in. and features a powder-coated, 304 stainless-steel base. The firepit also offers an attractive golden oak granite top, a double wall star fire glass windscreen and full electronic ignition. From David Cooke Industries; visit www.cookefurniture.com.
Cor-Ten Steel, also known as weathering steel, is a maintenance-free steel alloy. The durable Cor-ten Steel Tank Fire Pit comes in four configurations: wood-burning, wood-burning with a gas kit (natural gas or propane), glass media configuration with natural gas, or a glass media configuration with propane. From bentintoshape; visit www.bentintoshape.net.
Aircraft Grade Aluminum
The Aero firepit is constructed of aircraft-grade plate aluminum for strength and durability. The hearth top is composed of four panels, one of which is removable to allow access for a full size propane tank. The fire pit has a modern, industrial design. From OW Lee; visit www.owlee.com.
The one-piece, cast Octagon firepit is handmade and comes in a variety of sizes and colors. It is equipped for natural or propane applications and features alternating smooth and chiseled stone textures wrapped around a large circular burner. Homeowners can choose from an assortment of colored fire glass media, fire rock or traditional gas wood stack. The stainless-steel burner has a simple match-lit operation or upgradeable electronic ignition system. From Distinctive Mantel Designs; visit www.distinctivemanteldesigns.com.
Design Meets Function
The LoFerno Fire Pit blends a unique design with solid functionality. The fire tower design provides warmth from the same amount of wood, while offering a striking visual display of dancing flames through the decorative openings. The fire tower section sits freely in the fire bowl and holds wood upright to keep the critical mass of the fire above the rim of the bowl for full warmth. From LoFerno Company; visit www.lohaus.com.
Nesting Fire Pit
The Nest Fire Pit has a stainless-steel design and is made for modern outdoor environments. Crafted from durable, lightweight glass fiber reinforced concrete, the fire pit bolts together for easy installation and comes in a choice of eight colors and a heavy-texture or sand finish. The fire table flame is adjustable for comfort. From RH Peterson Company; visit www.rhpeterson.com.
Backyard Fire Entertainment
Outdoor firepits brighten and warm a variety of spaces with 20 gauge galvanized steel stud framing that is corrosion and rust resistant. True Hardie Backer siding resists mold, mildew and is non-combustible. From Outdoor Entertainment Designs; visit www.outdoorentdesignsinc.com.
The Valero fire table is designed for customization; homeowners can choose solid color or contrasting side panels, two table-top colors, stainless or black fire bowls and multiple fire mediums. Other features of the fire table are welded aluminum frame, cast finials and a match-throw fire bowl. From Homecrest Outdoor Living; visit www.homecrest.com.
The Moonlight Outdoor Fire Pit features a durable stained-glass top for a warm, inviting look. A swirl of rich colors on the tabletop brings light, warmth and ambiance to any outdoor setting. From Agio; visit www.agio-usa.com.