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When shopping for fire features, first decide what you want — easy flame or heat? Wood-burning pits put out more warmth.
For wood-burning pits, “you’ve got to get one large enough to actually build a fire,” Spillman said. “You absolutely have to have a cover or spark screen and a poker to move wood around. Look for proper ventilation — holes to allow the fire to burn. A good pit is not just a chunk of metal. And you want a sturdy stand — it is fire. You don’t want it crashing down.”
Propane-burning fire pits and tables have less fuss, but produce less heat.
“Most customers ask: Do you feel the heat?” Massie said of the gas models. “Yes, but it’s not like a heater. You’re really getting it for the ambience. Most of the heat is going straight up.”
In these gas-powered fires, the flames burn through “logs” (much like a gas fireplace), lava rock or glass.
“The glass is really beautiful,” Glassman said. “The fake logs used to be the only option, but now you can get fire glass in all different colors. It really gets the drama going on. It takes the flames to a whole another realm.”
Fire features raged through the last International Builders Show in Las Vegas.
“At the show home, there were outdoor fire pits, fireplaces, fire pots,” said Leslie Wheeler of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. “There was something at the front door, the balcony off the master bedroom, by the pool. For our manufacturers, it’s probably the fastest-growing category.”
Like barbecue grills, fire features start simple; a portable metal fire pot — something to carry to the beach or use at a tailgate party — starts at under $50.
“There’s something for every pocketbook,” Wheeler said. “For under $100 or $200, you can get wood-burning fire pits that you can pick up and move anywhere. Or you can have a fire pit in a coffee table or barbecue island, or create something built-in with natural gas.”
Fire and water
Glassman sees interest in fire as a natural complement to water.
“It’s the whole idea of natural elements and materials — water, fire, earth,” he said. “People want a combination of fire and water.”
For one home, Glassman & Associates recently completed a “fire fountain.” Accented by sculpture, a center fire bowl is surrounded by cascading water. The effect: instant drama.
As part of this same fiery trend, outdoor fireplaces also are growing rapidly in popularity. People have outdoor kitchens; now, they want outdoor living rooms.
Fire pits aren’t for everyone, Glassman noted. A fireplace with a screen for protection might be a better option.
“If you have little kids, stay away from fire pits,” Glassman said. “They have a tendency to put their hands in it. A fireplace is safer.”