By Bill Sendelback
Sales of outdoor fireplaces are growing right along with the phenomenon of Outdoor Rooms. Even today’s custom homebuilders are recognizing the trend, and offering these fire features as an option now that consumers have shown an interest. Opportunities in the hospitality sector, such as restaurant and hotel patios, are increasing for hearth product dealers who recognize the potential.
Industry unit sales figures indicate that built-in gas outdoor fireplaces grew 40 percent in 2014, while sales of wood-burning models fell 18 percent. Through the third quarter of 2015, gas units continued strong sales growth, up another 25 percent, while wood-burners continued their slide. Even Canada, with its colder winters and shorter summers, was up 13 percent in 2014 in gas outdoor fireplace sales, and up another 32 percent through the third quarter of 2015.
An independent market survey of outdoor living by Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) confirmed the growth of outdoor fireplaces.
“We see the entire outdoor living category topping $7 billion dollars and growing at four to six percent annually,” says Bob Ballard, HHT’s senior vice president of Marketing. “Outdoor fireplaces appear to be growing about 15 percent a year with an estimated 30,000 sold last year, totaling $60 million in sales. With such strong growth, they are following the sales growth of indoor fireplaces; outdoor areas are becoming an extension of indoor spaces.
“Consumers want to invest in a fire feature as the focal point of their outdoor living. We all have this primal attraction to fire where we can gather, turn off our electronic gizmos and reconnect with others.” Ballard sees linear models growing, and gas units continuing to gain market share over wood-burning models.
|Palazzo linear from Heat & Glo.|
New from HHT in its Heat & Glo line is its Palazzo linear, gas, 48-in., outdoor fireplace. The Palazzo, designed specifically for outdoor use, is constructed of marine grade stainless steel and uses all outdoor-rated components. Available as single-sided or see-through versions, it includes a remote-controlled powered screen to prevent debris from getting into the firebox and can disappear into the wall when not needed.
“The outdoor fireplace category has really been growing for the last five years and, selling only gas models, we’re experiencing 30 to 40 percent annual sales growth,” says Nick Bauer, president of Empire Comfort Systems. “And there is still room to grow with this explosion in the popularity of outdoor kitchens. We’re seeing a lot of interest from homebuilders.”
Bauer believes that all the whistles and bells being added to most outdoor fireplaces are confusing to consumers. “So we use the KISS method, keeping everything as simple as possible. But we want our products to last, so we use grill control systems in all our outdoor fireplaces since these systems are designed to be used outside.”
Empire Comfort has added a 60-in. version to its Carol Rose series, a line to honor a 56-year employee. Also available in a 48-in. size, these linear models come in single-sided and see-through versions with colored LED lighting.
|Carol Rose Coastal collection 48-in. linear from Empire Comfort Systems.|
“Our outdoor products are seeing double-digit sales growth, particularly in the U.S.,” says John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales for Napoleon Fireplaces. “Consumers are willing to spend more, and homebuilders recognize that, making outdoor fireplaces a successful option. This is an increasingly big category, but not all dealers have caught on to the opportunities in outdoor products.”
Although Czerwonka claims traditional styling will “always be number one” in outdoor fireplaces, he says the linear, cleaner look is gaining strength with larger models becoming more important. “The see-through option is increasingly popular,” he says, “and indoor/outdoor versions, where one side is inside and the other side is outside, are catching on.” For 2016, Napoleon is focusing on updating and improving its very complete line of all gas outdoor models.
“Consumers continue to discover outdoor living, and that will only increase,” according to Ross Johnson, vice president of Marketing for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company. “They may not want an indoor fireplace, but more want one outdoors. However, retailers need to look beyond just the consumer and embrace commercial and hospitality sales opportunities with outdoor fireplaces.”
While linear styling is becoming more popular, Johnson says there are an increasing number of new looks in outdoor fireplaces, including retro designs. The Outdoor GreatRoom Company is even moving toward “fire art” by incorporating its “Wave” burner into its single-sided and see-through models. The “Wave” burner weaves three stainless-steel tube burners to create a wave effect that can produce as much as 100,000 Btus. “This new look has been very well received,” says Johnson.
R H Peterson Co. continues to sell more traditionally styled outdoor fireplaces than contemporary models in its American Fyre Designs line. “But we are adding more linear and contemporary models,” says Bob Dischner, senior vice president of Marketing. “Our new Manhattan model is more modern, and we’re seeing more interest in it. We’re also seeing more special orders. The business has been pretty steady.” Peterson’s models range in suggested retail price from $5,000 to $10,000 with larger models becoming more popular.
|Manhattan outdoor gas fireplace from American Fyre Designs.|
Innovative Hearth Products’ line of gas and wood outdoor fireplaces are selling “quite well,” says Glenn Thomson, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing. “It’s a vibrant, up and coming category,” he says. “We’re noticing more interest from hearth dealers but also from hardscape (brick and stone) dealers.”
Outdoor fireplaces are becoming bigger, more elaborate and more unique, according to Thomson. “We’ve been selling more linear contemporary models for the last year or so. And a lot of our dealers are discovering a strong market for outdoor fireplaces on patios of restaurants and hotels.”
Sales of outdoor fireplaces have been particularly strong for manufacturers of modular, prefab masonry fireplaces such as Masonry Fireplace Industries with its Mason-Lite line.
“For us, this category has been growing 50 percent a year,” says Bill Harris, managing partner. “It has really grown since 2008, and outdoor is now 50 percent of our business.” All Mason-Lite models are wood-burning units, but many customers are adding gas logs which Harris also sells.
“Our 42-in. model is our most popular, but customers want bigger sizes, now up to 50 in., and linear styling is growing.” Homebuilders are installing more outdoor fireplaces or offering them as options, says Harris. “Lennar, for example, is putting in 36-in. models as an option.”
New from Mason-Lite is an EPA-certified indoor and outdoor model; the company is testing all of its models to be EPA-certified.
Electric fireplaces are not yet popular for outdoor use. However, Amantii has introduced its Fire & Ice Panoramic Series of models designed for both indoor and outdoor use. These models are available in 40-in. to 88-in. models in depths of six-in. and 12-in. Dimplex North America dropped all of its outdoor electric products in 2013.
|Panorama from Amantii.|
Approvals and Legislative Actions
The New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) does not apply to wood-burning outdoor fireplaces or fire pits, but the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has included all gas-fired hearth appliances, including outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, in its Proposed Determination of Hearth Products as Covered Consumer Products. Originally thought to take effect in mid-2015, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association has been fighting this DOE action.
Some fireplace manufacturers have tested and listed indoor fireplaces for outdoor use. The safety standards used are the CSA Requirement 4.96 U.S. for Outdoor Gas Fireplaces, UL 2312 Standard for Power Outlets and ANSI Z21.88 Gas Fireplace Heaters. This listing requires that an indoor factory-built fireplace be installed in an outdoor area protected from direct water impingement.
In addition to maintaining listed mantel and combustibles clearances, a rain protection overhang factor of 0.5 (i.e., 0.5 feet of overhang for every 1.0 foot of roofline elevation above the hearth) shall be constructed to the front and to each side of the installed appliance. In addition, all wiring connections to power shall be in accordance with outdoor requirements NECA BFPA 70.