The Outdoor Room trend
According to the 2015 Residential Landscape Architecture Design Trends survey, fire pits and outdoor fireplaces were considered ‘popular Outdoor Room elements’ by 78% of landscape architects surveyed.
The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, who have been tracking the outdoor room trend for over a decade, and trademarked The Outdoor Room in 2002, list the following components as ‘mainstays’ of an outdoor room:
• An appliance to cook;
• A dining table and chairs to sit and eat;
• A hearth product (aka fireplace or fire pit) to extend the season.
The National Hardware Show’s 2015 Garden Trends Report cites consumer interest in ‘gardentainment’ products, which include fire pits, water features, outdoor artwork, and comfy furnishings for their backyards.
In other words, if you are designing an outdoor room, an outdoor fireplace is one of many amenities with which you will need to become familiar.
Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Features
As with interior hearth products, there are several reasons that someone might add one to their outdoor room:
• As a heat source
• As an ambient feature
• As a focal point
Heat may be obtained from a fire pit, a fireplace, or a patio heater. While patio heaters offer convenience, and may run on propane or electricity, they offer little ambiance and are definitely not going to be the focal point of any space. Fire pits are a definite gathering point in many backyards, and may run on wood, propane or natural gas. Which you choose will depend on access to fuel, cost, and local by-laws. Local by-laws may prohibit open fires or the burning of wood, for instance. With natural gas, you will need to run a gas line to the pit, something that may be prohibitive if you aren’t planning a major overhaul of your backyard.
Outdoor fireplaces have traditionally been built around wood or natural gas as their fuel source, with the same limitations listed previously for fire pits. While providing lovely ambiance and a focal point, both fire pits and fireplaces that burn gas or wood have limitations in terms of the controllability of the heat output. If they are burning, they are hot, whether you need the heat or not. Imagine sitting outside on a summer night, and turning on the fire for ambiance, but being so hot that you have to move away from it.
Electric Outdoor Fireplaces
That’s where electric fireplaces come in. Until recently, these really weren’t an option for outdoor use. However, as they have gained acceptance for indoor use (electric is the fastest growing fireplace category in North America), manufacturers are taking note and broadening their product lines. For the same reasons that home owners are turning to electric fireplaces indoors, they will embrace them for outdoor use, as well.
• They may be operated with or without heat – you can enjoy the flames year-round, with exactly the right amount of heat for the weather.
• They are easy to install – you need a regular 120 volt outlet on a dedicated line. No vent, no chimney, no gas line.
• They are safe – the glass will never get hot enough to burn wayward hands. Because there is no combustion, there is no risk of carbon monoxide and no impact on air quality.
• They come in design-friendly styles and sizes – they are readily available in a broad range of sizes, without custom-ordering. They also offer in-demand media choices, like logs and crystals, as well as colourful light effects in the ember beds.
• They are affordable – they cost a fraction of a gas or wood-burning fireplace to purchase and install. They operate with LED lights, which use less than a penny per hour of electricity to run the entire fireplace without heat, and less than 20 cents per hour to run the heater on full.
Bottom Line: If you’re planning an outdoor room, don’t forget the fire feature!