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Hearth & Home February 2018

Fortress indoor/outdoor fireplace from Hearth & Home Technologies.

Proven Performers

By Bill Sendelback

Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits have been around for about 20 years and selling well; the lifestyle they create appeals to most people.

Consumer demand for Outdoor Rooms continues to grow, so do sales of products that should be of interest to every hearth, patio and barbecue dealer – outdoor fireplaces and fire pits. These are products that many consumers see as the focal point of their outdoor lifestyle.

No industry sales figures exist for those two products, but a two-year-old market study by Hearth & Home Technologies reported that manufacturer sales of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits had each topped $60 million. Today manufacturers say those numbers continue to increase steadily, with some reporting that outdoor fire features are their strongest sales category.

Included in that growth are increased interest from homebuilders in outdoor fireplaces, and growing demand for fire features from the commercial and hospitality markets.

Fire pits, in particular, are displaying the strongest unit sales growth. No longer just a quick arrangement of rocks or bricks to burn wood, fire pits are popular because they are much less expensive than an outdoor fireplace, take up less room, and can fit into smaller outdoor spaces. In addition, they are available in a wide range of sizes, shapes, styles and heights.

Included in the generic “fire” tag are simple, less expensive fire bowls and fire tables meant to team up with outdoor furniture. Fire tables are available in coffee table heights of 15- to 18-in., chat heights of 24-in., counter heights of 36- to 38-in., and bar heights of 42-in. Some manufacturers offer drop-in burner units, allowing consumers and builders to construct their own fire pits.

The Denver Collection by Agio.

Agio, the manufacturer that was first into the market with fire pits some 20 years ago, said its sales of fire pits reached $50 million last year, and that sales growth continues. “The category continues to grow,” says Mike Gaylord, vice president of Sales. “There’s an influx of manufacturers offering fire pits, and that is only going to help the category continue to grow. While retailers may have wavered 10 years ago in carrying fire pits on their floors, that’s no longer the case. The majority of retailers now have some assortment of natural gas- or propane-fueled fire pits in their showroom.”

Gaylord says that spring and fall are by far the most important selling seasons for fire pits, with fall being the larger of the two seasons. “We’ve really expressed to our dealers that they need to plan out their fire pit purchases or re-orders in March and early April to ensure they will have product in the crucial fall buying season,” he says.

According to Gaylord, Agio does a “tremendous” amount of lifestyle research to help develop products that consumers will want. “We will be offering more higher dining options and new sizes in fire tables,” he says. “With this type of lifestyle research, we’re committed to creating new products, whether it’s dining tables, bar-height dining, deep seating or even fire columns and accessories.”

He points out that fire tables are increasing in Btu output. “In some of our fire pits, output has reached 60,000 Btus,” he says

See-through linear outdoor fireplace from Empire Comfort Systems.

Outdoor fireplace sales continue to grow for Empire Comfort Systems, according to Nick Bauer, president. “The consumer demand is there,” he says, “and these products offer a great opportunity for counter-seasonal sales to the traditional hearth products sales season. People are spending more time outdoors and more money on Outdoor Rooms. This is a way for consumers to add more square footage of living space to their home.”

Empire Comfort has offered two sizes and two styles of traditional outdoor gas fireplaces in its Carol Rose Coastal Collection. The company recently added new linear models in 48- and 60-in. widths. All models feature LED lighting with rotating colors.

Using the same stainless-steel gas “engine,” the company also has added new drop-in fire pits, also in 48- and 60-in. sizes, to its Carol Rose Coastal Collection, models that the consumer can finish as desired. These new drop-in fire pit units are offered with or without LED lighting.

“Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits take us back to our caveman days,” adds Bauer. “They offer heat, maybe cooking, and certainly a focal point for any outside area.”

Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) is enjoying “healthy” sales growth in its outdoor fireplaces, says Jeni Forman, senior vice president. “Homeowners are just on the cusp of realizing that their outdoor fire feature options aren’t limited to just fire pits or wood-burning units. There is huge potential with gas fireplaces outdoors, and we’ve designed our product offerings to capture that market.”

Homeowners view their outdoor spaces as extensions of their home and their decorating style, according to Forman. “They are carrying the same aesthetic throughout their indoor and outdoor spaces,” she says, “and they consider a fireplace a focal point of their outdoor space in the same way that a fireplace serves as a focal point inside their home. So we’re seeing the same trends in outdoor fireplaces that we see for indoor models – more emphasis on clean, modern, linear options.”

HHT offers an extensive and full range of outdoor fireplaces including two new indoor and outdoor, see-through gas fireplaces. The Mezzanine model offers linear styling, and the Fortress offers traditional aesthetics. Also new is the Palazzo, a linear gas model with the industry’s first power screen that moves up and down at the touch of a button. The Palazzo also features marine-grade, stainless-steel construction and a crushed glass fire bed that can be illuminated even when the fireplace is turned off.

72-in. Barcelona Lights with Diamond Crystal large crushed glass media from Innovative Hearth Products.

Innovative Hearth Products (IHP) recently expanded its already extensive line of wood-burning, gas, and vent-free gas outdoor fireplaces. “We offer higher-end models, and we’re seeing more and more homebuilders offering these step-up outdoor fireplaces as a way to differentiate themselves from their competition,” says Glenn Thomson, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing, “and we’re seeing a growing number of hearth product dealers selling outdoor fireplaces, particularly those already selling patio and outdoor products.”

Although IHP is seeing strong sales of larger, 60-in. and 72-in. linear models, Thomson sees a trend toward small, linear models for today’s lot-line houses where the outdoor area is smaller. “Even these models tend to be highly featured, not stripped down, models,” says Thomson.

New from IHP is its Barcelona Lights model, offered in 36-, 48-, 58- and 72-in.widths featuring LED lighting. These models can be installed as either a single-sided or see-through model, as the dealer wishes.

While most outdoor fireplaces are factory-built, many in stainless steel, Mason-Lite Fireplaces is one manufacturer offering prefab modular masonry models, assembled on site, fired with wood or gas. “Two years ago 35% of our fireplaces were used as outdoor models,” according to Bill Harris, managing partner. “Last year it was 40%, and this year it was 50%. This is a growing category, and our dealers now have more consumers requesting outdoor fireplaces.”

Harris sees a definite trend toward gas models because of its convenience, and the demand for larger models is growing. “Our 44-in. size was always our ‘go to’ size,” he says, “but now we’re seeing more demand for 49- and 60-in. models. More and more homebuilders are offering outdoor fireplaces, most as upgrades, not as standard. An outdoor fireplace can amount to a $5,000 to $8,000 extra.”

A growing category for Mason-Lite is vent-free gas models because they require no venting. “The trend started in California where most new homes are on small lots,” Harris explains. “Outdoor models placed within 10 feet of a house require its venting to terminate higher than the roof line, so vent-free models are popular in those situations.”

While not a big part of Mason-Lite’s business, the company does offer 48-in. diameter fire pits in both finished and unfinished versions.

Galaxy outdoor fireplace by Napoleon Products.

Outdoor fireplaces is a “fast growing” product category, up 20% this year for Napoleon Fireplaces, according to John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales.“As the outdoor living trend continues to grow, decorators, architects and homebuilders are finding outdoor fireplaces have a symbiotic relationship with indoor fireplaces, and with similar trends. Hearth dealers are embracing this category.”

Czerwonka sees a trend toward cleaner, linear styling, so Napoleon is updating its outdoor models for more modern looks with a variety of ember-bed media, but the company still offers traditional models in its stainless-steel, gas-only line. Louvered fronts are gone, and doors are optional. “Most consumers want clean-faced styling without doors,” adds Czerwonka.

Fire pits and fire tables are selling “great” and have become one of the top sales categories for OW Lee, according to Leisa McCollister, Marketing manager. “This is such an important category because everyone wants one,” she says. “While fire tables are often sold with patio furniture, fire pits in 18- and 24-in. heights are better sellers,” she says. Round shapes are “always the most popular,” while rectangular shapes sell better for dining- height fire tables.

“We’re seeing demand for remote controlled LED lighting with as many as 1,600 colored lighting options and even light shows,” she says. “Today’s fire pits do more, even including water features and cooking elements. People now are willing to spend money on what is cool.”

Marina fire table by OW Lee.

New from OW Lee are its Marina fire tables featuring a porcelain top that replicates a distressed wood look. With a rounded rectangular shape (a boat shape), the Marina is available in 36-by-58-in. and 44-by-84-in. rectangles, and 54- and 60-in. square shapes. “Consumers are looking for more modern shapes,” McCollister adds.

RH Peterson Co. (RHP) is seeing its American Fyre Design products have their strongest sales growth since the line was purchased in 2012, says Bob Dischner, senior vice president of Marketing. “We offer only higher-end products, but this range of outdoor fireplaces, fire tables, fire pits and fire bowls are good categories with good sales growth for us this year.”

Fire tables are showing the best sales growth for RHP, with the strongest sellers in the lower heights. “The more modern, contemporary-styled models are selling best,” according to Dischner. Fire bowls are more of a decorative accent, he adds. RHP is coming out with a variety of contemporary shapes in its fire bowls, plus side tables designed to hide LP tanks.

“If you have a 24-in. height fire feature, you can hide an LP tank inside. But if the height is 15 in., you can’t hide the tank, so you can use a side table ‘tank hider,’ or run a fuel hose from wherever you have the tank, or use a natural gas outlet,” Dischner explains.

“Reclaimed Wood” collection Contempo Rectangular Fire Table by RH Peterson Co.

New from RHP is its reclaimed wood looks in its fire tables, including Silver Pine and French Barrel Oak finishes designed to complement today’s outdoor furniture. These new models feature log piles to provide a campfire look, and an all-weather electronic system.

Outdoor fire features seem always to have been shunned by many hearth products dealers. But this growing category offers dealers new, counter-seasonal sales opportunities, and new markets. Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are certainly worth a look.

Indoor/Outdoor Models Gain Popularity

Most outdoor fireplaces are the familiar stand-alone fireplaces either factory-built, prefab modular masonry, or site-built masonry. But many fireplace manufacturers are now offering an increasingly popular new version, indoor/outdoor fireplaces. Basically, these are indoor gas fireplaces mounted inside on an outside wall with a ceramic glass panel as the fireplace back wall. That allows the inside fire to be viewed from outside on the patio.

“They have become popular, and we’re testing more and more of them for more fireplace manufacturers,” says Bob Zimmerman, lead engineer for Underwriters Laboratories. “Most are direct-vent, but some are vent-free.”

Considered an indoor residential gas fireplace, these models are tested to the Z21-88 and Z21-50 standards for indoor gas fireplaces. They also are tested to the Z21-91 standard for outdoor gas fireplaces, which includes rain and wind tests, and impact water spray wipe test of the outdoor glass. Currently glass-front barriers are not required on the outside glass.

Ortal’s Indoor-Outdoor fireplace.

While more fireplace manufacturers are offering this type of fireplace, Ortal USA offers 15 models as indoor/outdoor fireplaces, and its Tunnel series recently added the indoor/outdoor feature.

“Sales of this segment are doing really well,” according to Spencer Lowe, general manager. “It gives homeowners two fireplaces for the price of one. And this idea has seen quite a bit of interest from the higher-end builder segment.”

Ortal uses double-pane glass on both the inside and outside fronts, with blower-forced air between the panes to provide cool glass without requiring a screen barrier. The outside front includes ceramic glass adjacent to the fire, and standard window glass as the outside pane. The blower-forced air between the outside panes also acts to defrost the outside window, keeping that glass cleaner.

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