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Hearth & Home February 2019

Lot 113, Saguaro Forest at Desert Mountain, Scottsdale, Arizona, by Rains Design.
Photo COURTESY: ©2019 rains design.
INCKX Photography Architecture + Interiors.
BUILDER: The Phil Nichols Company. Installing contractor: Wayne Holsapple from Specialty Fireplaces.

Fire Outside

By Bill Sendelback

Fire outside has taken its place as a regular category in the product lineup of most manufacturers.

There’s no question about the increasing popularity of Outdoor Rooms. While grills and outdoor kitchens are a huge part of the outdoor living trend, outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and fire tables are rapidly becoming the focal point and a must-have for homeowners seeking to extend the seasonal use of their outdoor spaces.

Industry sales figures on outdoor fireplaces and fire pits – or any hearth product – are no longer available from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. But a three-year-old study by Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) indicates that fire pit sales topped $60 million. Two years ago, Agio reported that it had sold $50 million in fire pits.

The consensus among manufacturers is that outdoor fireplace sales are growing rapidly, but are nowhere near the volume of fire pit sales. The reasons? Fire pits can fit into even the smallest outdoor space, and while the retail price of outdoor fireplaces can range from $1,500 to $10,000, the retail price of fire pits are from $200 or $300 to $4,000 from specialty hearth dealers, and even less than $100 from mass merchants.

48-inch outdoor linear fireplace from Empire Comfort Systems.

Outdoor fireplaces are selling well for Empire Comfort Systems, according to Nick Bauer, president. “They are still a small part of the market, but we’re seeing steady sales growth,” he says. “For us, this category is not growing at 50% a year as it was in the past, but we’re still seeing double-digit sales growth across our line.”

Empire Comfort has introduced high-end outdoor fireplaces with retail prices ranging from $6,000 to $8,000. “I’m amazed but pleased that we sell at these prices,” says Bauer, “but we also offer $1,500 models for homebuilders.” The company recently added a short line of drop-in fire pit burner systems for on-site fire pit construction. These systems are available in 48- and 60-inch lengths.

Linear styling for outdoor fireplaces is popular for Empire Comfort, as well as “ventless” models allowing flue gases and heat to vent out the front of the fireplace. These models are particularly well suited for installations in covered areas where conventional venting is not possible, says Bauer. Burners in these ventless models are standard vented burners, and log sets need no oxygen depletion systems (ODS) since the installations are outside. Using standard burner systems provides larger flames and more heat than ventless log sets, Bauer adds.

LED lighting also is popular with Empire Comfort’s outdoor fireplaces. “Two-thirds of these sales include LED lighting,” he says.

The Barcelona Lights linear fireplace from Innovative Hearth Products.

Outdoor fireplaces are a “growing and leading” sales category for Innovative Hearth Products (IHP), according to Tom Krebs, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing. “We’re seeing this category move toward higher-end linear models in larger sizes and with more fancy features,” he says. IHP used to offer just a 36-inch model in stainless steel, but now it offers models as large as 72 inches. New from IHP are battery-operated controls for its outdoor fireplaces.

HHT offers outdoor fireplaces and not fire pits, but they are one of HHT’s top sales growth categories, according to Monica Turner, Outdoor Category manager. “We’re seeing strong sales growth, and we expect this category to continue to grow,” she says. HHT also offers wood-burning models, “but sales of (those models) are growing at a slower pace,” adds Turner.

While the majority of HHT’s outdoor fireplace sales are traditionally styled, the company is seeing the greatest sales growth in its linear models. “Many of these models now include multi-colored LED lighting, a feature consumers want,” she says. Another style that is selling well for HHT is its indoor/outdoor model featuring a view of the flames from both indoor and outdoor.

The Lanai from Heat & Glo.

New from HHT is its Courtyard and Lanai models. “What differentiates these models are their realistic flames,” she says. “It’s all about realism,” Turner explains. During summer 2019, new 36- and 43-inch models in the Courtyard series will offer 56 different looks, says Turner, including four firebox refractory options, two log sets, and colored crushed glass. “This will be one fireplace that can provide whatever look the customer wants,” she says.

Strong sellers for Mason-Lite in the outdoor fireplace category are its vent-free outdoor models, says Bill Harris, managing partner. “These linear, vent-free outdoor models are selling like crazy. They are perfect for installations where there is not enough height available for a flue, such as under an overhang or roof.”

Harris points out that, in some locations, local code requires venting if the fireplace is within 10 feet of the house, and vent-free models offer an option. Mason-Lite’s vent-free models use standard vented log sets, allowing greater heat and not requiring an ODS since the installation is outside.

Model MFP39-PD. Masonry 39-inch firebox kit with 2 sq. ft. of masonry chimney and Mason-Lite Running-Bond Firebrick Panels.

Outdoor installations of its fireplaces have grown to 50% of Mason-Lite’s sales. “Sales of outdoor fire features are growing, even in Canada, as customers want to use their Outdoor Rooms year ’round,” he says. Mason-Lite also offers 48-inch-round fire pits and an outside pizza oven.

“Today’s homebuyers are highly interested in an Outdoor Room space,” according to John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales for Napoleon Fireplaces, “and there is now a trend for the second fireplace in a new home to be outside rather than inside.”

Czerwonka points to Napoleon’s Hot Spots Research Study, an extensive, professional study of consumer preferences contracted by Napoleon in 2015. “Many consumers are looking for outdoor fireplaces, flame tables, and outdoor heaters to extend the use of their Outdoor Room space.”

Galaxy 48-inch from Napoleon.

Outdoor fireplace trends, according to Czerwonka, include larger models with cleaner, more modern faces and a selection of burner ember media. Napoleon will be showing at the HPBA show more updated fireplaces with these features, plus the company will introduce a new fire table.

Fire pits and fire tables are a “giant” portion of OW Lee’s business, says Leisa McCollister, vice president of Marketing. “Fire pits are our number-one selling category, representing 30% of our sales for the last few years,” she says.

“Customers are asking for cleaner, more modern, simple styling. While we offer fire tables in all heights, chat height (24 inches) has always been our top selling size, coffee height (12 to 18 inches) and counter height (36 to 38 inches) sales are growing. Traditional styling is becoming less and less of a factor,” she says.

Gray has become a popular color for OW Lee, and the company is selling more black finished models, according to McCollister. “We’re now offering fire table tops in wood looks, tiles, and a cement look.”

Basso from OW Lee.

A few years ago OW Lee began offering collections with fire tables matching its outdoor furniture. “But the consumer did not care about a match, so we have dropped the matching collection idea,”she says.

New from OW Lee is its Basso fire pit, a 36-inch round, bowl-shaped model resembling spun metal. Also available is a matching side table to hide an LP tank. OW Lee’s new Forma fire pit is a sleek, clean, all metal model available in 35 inches square and 25 x 45-inch rectangular sizes.

The Outdoor GreatRoom Company offers just one outdoor fireplace, but more than 50 fire pits and fire tables. “We’re focused on fire pits, and this is a category that is growing quite a bit,” says Rene Schmitz, vice president of Business Development and Marketing. “Fire pits are more inviting because more people can sit around them.”

The Outdoor GreatRoom now offers models in chat height, dining height (28 inches) and pub or bar height (42 inches). “The chat height is most liked by consumers,” says Schmitz. The company sees increasing sales strength in linear fire tables, but Schmitz says round shapes and smaller sizes are also coming back in popularity. “Many of today’s homes on smaller lots just don’t have the backyard footprint to allow larger models,” according to Schmitz.

New looks from The Outdoor GreatRoom Company include metal finishes, shiplap, Douglas fir, and concrete-like tops. All of the company’s models include matching covers that hide the fire area when the fire is out, and to make the unit a full table.

Price points are going up, Schmitz says. “We offer models retailing from $759 to $3,999, but models retailing from $1,500 to $2,000 are our best sellers. Consumers want design and quality, a product that will last for quite a while.” The company will be introducing new, lower profile linear models in a new round-shaped collection.

WS54 See Thru Indoor/Outdoor fireplace from Town & Country.

Outdoor fireplaces are not a “huge category” for Pacific Energy Fireplace Products, but the company includes high-end models in its Town & Country line, says Cory Iversen, Sales manager. Sales of these units are growing, and the company plans to spend more effort on expanding the category. Pacific Energy now offers five Town & Country outdoor models in stainless steel, including a widescreen 54 and a widescreen indoor/outdoor model. All are sealed, direct-vent models, making them more wind-proof, says Iversen. These models include 24-volt ignition.

Iversen is seeing a lot more high-end and semi-custom outdoor fireplace models being used in commercial applications such as restaurants.

RH Peterson sees “continued, steady sales growth opportunities” for outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and fire tables, according to Bob Dischner, senior vice president of Marketing. “We’re expanding our line with a new bright White Aspen finish for our fire tables and fire bowls/urns, plus several new tipi-styled log sets.”

Coffee table height (12 to 18 inches) is Peterson’s most popular height for fire tables, but Dischner points out that height is not high enough to hide a standard LP bottle. “So most run natural gas to them or LP from a remote site, or use a smaller LP tank.”

American Fyre Designs by RH Peterson includes a collection of Firefalls that feature dancing flames against a cascading water backdrop highlighted with colorful LED lights.

While traditional styling still is very popular in outdoor fireplaces, Dischner sees fire pits moving toward contemporary, modern, “more sparse” styling using crushed glass or stones as an ember bed. Peterson sees growth in contractor models of outdoor fireplaces where the contractor can field-clad the fireplace in stucco or whatever finish the customer wants. Most of Peterson’s outdoor fireplaces can be converted to vent-free operation when, for instance, the fireplace is installed under a covering. “We use standard, radiant log sets in vent-free applications, allowing more heat to be thrown out of the front,” Dischner explains.

New from Peterson is its LED lighting on five fire tables. Peterson is also introducing a new “Firefall” product, combining fire with water running down the back wall, and LED lighting with rotating colors operated by a remote control. Peterson’s new Milan fireplace is a linear, see-through model.

Sedona Fire Pit from Hearth Products Controls.

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