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Hearth & Home February 2020

TruFlame 40 see-through fireplace from Empire Comfort Systems.

Fire Outside

By Bill Sendelback

Some may still consider outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and fire tables as niche products, but if so, then it’s a nicely lucrative niche.

The growing trend of Outdoor Rooms as home improvement renovations, and features in new custom homes, is pushing the interest and sales of outdoor fire features, especially fire pits. Grills continue to be the top desire for an outdoor living area, but an outdoor fire feature is a close second, according to manufacturers.

Fire pits and fire tables are sold by 88% of grill retailers, and 85% sell outdoor fireplaces, according to Hearth & Home magazine’s 2018 Buyer’s Guide. A survey in recent years by a large hearth products manufacturer pegged the fire pit market at $60 million. However, a large outdoor furniture manufacturer says it annually sells more than $50 million in the category, both reports show that fire pit sales are a substantial business.

Sales of outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and fire tables (often lumped into fire pit sales) are growing with more and more new shapes, sizes, models, finishes, and price points. Outdoor fireplaces, for instance, are no longer offered in just standard 36-inch models. Today’s outdoor fireplaces are available in sizes as wide as 72 inches at suggested retail prices from $1,500 to $10,000.

Fire pits and fire tables offer an even wider range of shapes, sizes, and finishes, with suggested retail prices from $200 to $6,200. Fire tables, basically a fire pit with features allowing for an eating surface, are available in coffee-table heights of 15 to 18 inches, chat heights of 24 inches, counter heights of 30 to 36 inches, and bar height of 42 inches. Manufacturers today offer consumers a very wide range of fire features to fit every outdoor living space, every budget, and every consumer’s wants and needs.

The market for outdoor fire features will continue to grow, according to Nick Bauer, president of Empire Comfort Systems. “It may not grow at a 50% rate like it did in the past,” he says, “but it will certainly grow. Consumers will always love fire.”

Fire pits are the greater unit volume for Empire Comfort, but the majority of the company’s outdoor fire feature sales dollars are in outdoor fireplaces, a category that showed a double-digit percentage sales increase in 2019 for the company.

Bauer sees a trend toward indoor/outdoor see-through fireplaces that feature fire viewing both inside and outside the home. “These models are relatively expensive, but we’re getting more requests for this unique style.”

Empire Comfort has been spending most of its R&D efforts preparing its outdoor fire features to meet the recently revised ANSI Z21.97 standard for outdoor decorative gas appliances, so the company currently is not introducing any new models.

This revised standard that went into effect Jan. 17, 2020, requires a fixed barrier over glass viewing areas if the temperature of the glass exceeds 172°F, a safety pilot or IPI on models rated at 65,000 Btus or more, and an automatic gas shut-off device if the flames of the model are extinguished during a new simulated rain storm test.

The Plaza from Hearth & Home Technologies' Outdoor Lifestyle Collection.

“Outdoor fireplaces continue to be a strong category for us,” says Monica Turner, director of Growth Enablement for Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT), “and we see much more sales opportunity in these products.” Turner points out that 41% of today’s homeowners are planning upgrades to their outside living areas, according to LightStream, an online lending company and a division of SunTrust Bank. “And 59% of new, single-family homes now include a patio, and this number is rising, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) “2019 Builder Practices Survey.”

Turner, like most manufacturers, expects the sales growth of outdoor fireplaces to continue in 2020. “These products help to bring to the outside the comforts of the home inside,” she said. Turner also sees strong sales growth in linear outdoor fireplaces, even if the homeowner features traditional styling inside the home. “People want a dramatic outdoor space,” she said, “one that is more fun and entertaining, more in fashion with contemporary linear styling.”

But Turner sees a gap between what a homeowner wants and how they can get it. “Consumers don’t know where to turn for Outdoor Room planning and products. This is a real opportunity for specialty hearth dealers to get aggressive about selling outdoor living and outdoor fireplaces.”

HHT’s latest outdoor fireplace is its Courtyard model in the Outdoor Lifestyles Collection, a model made to fit into tight corners to take up less space. The Courtyard is available in 36- and 42-inch sizes. Also new in HHT’s Outdoor Lifestyles Collection is its Plaza outdoor fire pit burner for installation in fire pits and fire tables. A modular two-foot burner, the Plaza burners can be fitted together to make one burner as long as 10 ft.

Suggested retail prices for HHT’s outdoor fireplaces and fire pits range from $1,200 to $8,388.

StarLite vent-free firebox by Innovative Hearth Products.

New from Innovative Hearth Products (IHP) is its Starlite Series of outdoor fireplaces that can be installed as vented or vent-free models. “The oxygen depletion system (ODS) used with vent-free gas appliances does not work well in the open air of a standard outdoor fireplace installation,” according to Michael Lewis, vice president of Marketing. “By supplying the burner and logs as separate items,” he says, “the fireplace can be installed as a vented model, but if the area around the fireplace later is enclosed, it can be made vent-free by swapping burners, and the ODS then will work.”

IHP formerly offered fire pits but found that, for many fire pit installations, it was cheaper and easier for them to be site built.

Outdoor Fire Table from the Barbara Jean Collection by Kingsman.

Kingsman Fireplaces has seen “not quite double-digit growth” in its sales of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, according to Dave Ivey, National Sales manager.

Much of Kingsman’s sales of outdoor fireplaces are to the homebuilder market with its Barbara Jean Collection of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits. The Barbara Jean Collection is named in honor of the late mother of Ed Reyher, Kingsman’s president. With the continuing trend toward linear styling in indoor fireplaces, Ivey sees that trend growing in outdoor models as well. The company offers linear outdoor fireplaces in 36-, 48- and 72-inch sizes in single-sided and see-through models. Kingsman also is adding sizes to its line of fire tables.

Kingsman offers linear gas burners for commercial installations. “We’re seeing a growing market for these outdoor fire features in developments, such as the common areas of condominiums,” said Ivey. The company is developing intermittent pilot ignition (IPI) particularly for commercial installations. This year, Canada will require IPI in gas fireplaces.

LMFP48 fireplace by Mason-Lite.

All of Mason-Lite’s modular masonry fireplaces are tested for both indoor and outdoor use for wood- or gas-burning, but its sales of outdoor products “continue to grow,” says Bill Harris, managing partner. “Grills are the number one product going into outdoor living areas, but outdoor fireplaces are more and more in demand,” he says. Harris says more of Mason-Lite’s vent-free models are being sold.

“These have become a big part of our business because, like indoor vent-free models, they don’t require a chimney.” Harris also reports that Mason-Lite’s outdoor fireplace packages include not only the modular masonry parts for the fireplace, but also the mortar, fire-brick lining, and a 3-ft. masonry chimney if it is a vented model. “This is a turnkey package including everything needed but the facing,” he says. “We’re seeing more interest in these models because they are complete.

“With today’s smaller lot sizes where space is at a premium, we’re seeing more interest in smaller fireplaces. And we’re selling a lot more contemporary models, especially on the West Coast.” Mason-Lite models can be ordered with higher openings to make them more Rumford-styled. “Normally our openings are 30 inches tall, but we’ve sold some with openings as tall as 4 ft.”

Harris admits that Mason-Lite does not sell many fire pits. “We offer them in wood- or gas-burning models, including the burner, but, frankly, a mason can make these types of fire pits a lot cheaper on site.”

Galaxy See Thru fireplace by Napoleon.

Outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and fire tables are “selling well” for Napoleon Fireplaces, says John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales. “We’re doubling down on the outdoor category, stepping up our efforts by increasing our offerings. This Outdoor Room phenomenon started in more moderate climates, but it has moved north to colder climates where homeowners have found they can extend their outdoor living season. Forward thinking homebuilders are offering outdoor fireplaces as an option so that the cost can be included in the home mortgage.”

Another growing market for outdoor fireplaces is in the common areas of multifamily buildings or communities, says Czerwonka. “These builders want to create lifestyle experiences for these tenants by including outdoor living areas. We’re even seeing some urban area multifamily buildings with rooftop outdoor living areas. Even renters want the amenities of a home.” Napoleon sees its growth in outdoor fireplaces in clean-faced, linear-styled models in mid- to high-end price ranges.

New from Napoleon is its Luxuria and Elevation X fireplaces that now can be used outdoors with the company’s outdoor accessory kit. Napoleon offers six dedicated outdoor fireplaces, including single-sided and see-through models, five Luxuria and Elevation X models with the outdoor kit, and 12 models of outdoor fire tables.

Casual Fireside Chat-Height Basso Fire Pit from OW Lee.

Fire pits are a “giant” part of OW Lee’s business, totaling 30% of its sales, says Leisa McCollister, vice president of Marketing. “We now offer 132 fire pit and fire table models with suggested retail prices ranging from $1,300 to $6,200, and our customers still want more options,” she says.

While its fire pit sales were flat in 2019, OW Lee has seen 7% sales growth in recent years, according to McCollister. “Contemporary styling continues to grow in fire pits and fire tables. We’re being asked for longer, narrower, sleeker styles.”

OW Lee features a variety of porcelain tiles and Spanish tiles as options on its fire tables. “Materials on the top and sides are so important,” says McCollister. “With the options we offer, the customer can build his or her own look.”

New from OW Lee is a new version of its bowl-shaped Basso model fire pit, a taller model that allows an LP bottle to be hidden inside the fire pit. In its all-metal Forma line, the company has added a new 25 x 75-inch size.

Brooklyn Fireplace with French Barrel Oak Mantel from RH Peterson.

RH Peterson (RHP) is seeing “steady” sales growth in its American Fyre Designs outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and fire tables, says Bob Dischner, senior vice president of Marketing. “There is a lot of interest in this category. About 80% of what we sell in this brand is fire pits and fire tables. This is our fastest growing segment because there are more possible applications, or uses, for fire pits and fire tables and the prices are lower.”

Dischner confirms that contemporary is the most popular styling in outdoor fire features. As part of that trend, RHP now features its new “industrial” look with a more natural, concrete finish. “Our reclaimed wood look remains popular,” he says.

RHP’s American Fyre Designs brand has offered many models with classical, traditional styling, but now is moving more toward contemporary styling with a simpler, more industrial look that Dischner describes as “shabby chic.” Popular in RHP’s fire pit lineup are its simple, urn-shaped, bowl-shaped, and linear models. “Coffee table-height fire tables are 15 to 16 inches high, and that’s not high enough to hide an LP tank, so we are looking at smaller LP tanks that can be installed sidewise to fit.”

Also new from RHP is its Brooklyn model fire table, styled in RHP’s contemporary, industrial look in a low table for use with these smaller LP bottles. RHP’s new Calais model is another low profile fire table in an oval shape. Suggested retail prices for RHP’s outdoor fireplaces range from $5,000 to $10,000, and fire table prices range from $2,000 to $3,000.

Black Cove 30-inch Gas Fire Pit Bowl from The Outdoor GreatRoom Company.

While also offering outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, fire tables have become the best-selling category for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company (OGR), according to Joey Shimek, vice president of Business Development and Marketing. “We’re adding more models and we continue to diversify our lineup as we forecast more solid sales growth in 2020 for our outdoor fire categories.”

Shimek sees a trend toward bigger and longer outdoor linear fireplace models for commercial and hospitality installations. But for residential installations, he sees a trend toward smaller sizes. “With the smaller sizes of many of today’s residential lots, smaller fireplaces, or even fire tables or fire pits, fit better into these smaller spaces.”

New from OGR includes a line of ready-to-finish outdoor fireplaces in single-sided, see-through, and corner linear models in lengths to 10 ft. OGR’s new Havenwood Collection of fire tables features the company’s new Everblend modified concrete top material that is half the weight of regular concrete. Available in a 44 x 30-inch rectangular size in “chat” heights from 18 to 23 inches, the suggested list price is $1,799.

Also new are models in OGR’s Supercast Series of bowl-styled fire pits made of a new material similar to glass-fiber reinforced concrete but lighter weight. These new models will be available in new colors including black and white. And OGR’s Crystal Fire gas burners now are available as Crystal Fire Plus models offering more Btus, brighter, taller, and more natural flames in round, rectangular, and square shapes and linear sizes to 120 inches plus custom sizes.

Rectangular Matrix fire table from Tropitone.

Tropitone Furniture had a “really strong” sales year for its lines of outdoor fire pits. “This is a fast-growing category, and we continue to heavily invest in it,” says Frank Verna, senior vice president of Consumer Sales. “We see this category continuing to trend up.”

Verna, too, sees the category of fire pits and fire tables trending toward cleaner and less ornate styling. He also sees a trend toward lower coffee table heights, 15 to 18 inches, and narrower and longer shapes.

New from Tropitone is its Matrix fire tables featuring tops of a faux concrete made of glass-fiber reinforced polymer to emulate stone. “Previously we offered only metal tops,” Verna adds. Available in 10 colors with two styles of tops, the Matrix includes an integrated glass wind guard and is available in 42 inches round and 55 x 50-inch rectangular sizes.

H5 Series; Pebble Beach Driftwood, with a Plain Black liner from Valor Fireplaces.

Valor Fireplaces offers outdoor kits to make its indoor gas fireplaces ready for outdoor installations in protected and covered outdoor areas, says Paul Miles, president and director of Sales and Marketing. “This is not a big category for us,” he says, “but it’s growing. We’re finding success where customers in cooler climates want the heat of our radiant fireplaces rather than just the aesthetics of a flame.” In this type of outdoor installation, fireplaces are vented up through the roof covering or out the back of the covered area.

One of the great facts of the Outdoor Room is that it is no longer a fad; a fad can go away. No, the Outdoor Room is now a way of life, and thanks to the hard work and imagination of many manufacturers in the hearth, barbecue, patio furnishings, and spa industries, it will be around indefinitely, and Fire Outside will remain the focal point of that lifestyle.

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