Most homebuyers have an outdoor fire feature on their wish list, whether it’s a simple pit to gather around on chilly nights or a decorative linear flame running along a pool edge. A recent American Society of Landscape Architects survey underscores their popularity. In 2014, more than 95 percent of residential landscape architects rated alfresco fire pits and fireplaces as in-demand.
Blue Heron, a Las Vegas design/build company specializing in vacation homes and second or third move-up buyers, views fire as an important element of the homes’ outdoor ambience, along with entertainment systems, misters, and radiant heaters. “It gets cold here,” says sales counselor John Tuvell. “Our homes start in the $600,000 range, and fire features are expected at that price range.” The company has placed outdoor fire features at entryways, in living and dining areas, and on roof decks. “We’ve also incorporated them with the pool so that you have fire and water,” Tuvell says. “The play of water, wind, and fire in harmony is very Asian and feng shui. In a current model we have a fire pit in the sunken outdoor living area between the reflecting pool and main pool.”
To fuel their fire features, many designers are turning to propane or natural gas, which are cleaner than wood and eliminate the annoyance of drifting smoke and odor lingering on clothes. They also offer the benefits of easy start, controllability, and complete shutoff. Propane allows pros to include fire features on homes without access to natural gas. Many homeowners choose propane, too, because it is less expensive than installing a natural gas line, and it gives them the option of moving the fire pit.
Electronics play a larger role in homes these days, and the newest propane fire features are no exception. Many models have ignition systems that can be turned on and off with a wall switch, smartphone, or tablet. “That’s the trend people are going to,” says Garry Lieser, vice president of new products for American Fyre Designs, City of Industry, California. “It’s expensive to do that, but it’s something they seem to want to pay for.”
Two of the company’s newest offerings are fire bowls with water spilling over the edge and pedestals that hold a fire bowl while hiding the propane tank inside. “We also have fire urns that you can set around your pool or at the entry of your house when you have a party,” Lieser says. “They’re versatile and movable, and there’s no hard plumbing.” The end tables in the company’s furniture line also hide a five-gallon propane tank. “Most of our fire features are masonry or steel-framed and covered with contemporary porcelain tile or traditional limestone or marble tile,” Lieser says.
In lieu of logs, some designers choose materials and shapes that harmonize with the style of the house, from igneous rock and beach pebbles to cracked glass beads and shaved glass. Rasmussen Iron Works produces cast stones that absorb and radiate heat, as well as fire balls, cones, pyramids, and cubes. “We make them out of the same fireproof material we make our gas logs out of,” says president Rett Rasmussen. “It just looks so out of place to have a very modern décor and then put rustic logs into the fire pit.”
“Home and hearth are at the center of all we know and love,” Tuvell says. And builders have never had more options for drawing buyers to the flame.