Is the indoor fireplace flaming out and the outdoor fireplace flaring up?

A LawnStarter review of U.S. Census Bureau data shows the percentage of new single-family homes built without indoor fireplaces sits at its highest level since at least 1973. In 2018, according to the Census Bureau, the share of newly built homes that lacked indoor fireplaces stood at 56 percent — matching the percentage recorded 45 years earlier.

Emily McGee, a spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, says the Census Bureau data has been discussed internally at the trade group. But, she adds, “We don’t have any data right now to explain why the trend is the way it is, and we prefer not to speculate until we know more.”

On the other hand, outdoor fireplaces appear to be catching fire.

Surveys Say Outdoor Fireplaces Spark Interest

2018 survey done by the American Society of Landscape Architects found outdoor fireplaces and firepits were the most popular outdoor design element cited by landscape architects, followed closely by lighting.

Additionally, in a 2018 survey commissioned by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), outdoor fireplaces sparked the interest of 45 percent of U.S. new-home buyers. That’s up from 42 percent in 2015 and 37 percent in 2012, but down from 59 percent in 2007 (the first year of the U.S. mortgage crisis).

One in 5 buyers surveyed by NAHB indicated a willingness to purchase a home with fewer amenities, such as no fireplace or no garage. The number of buyers who favor gas fireplaces, meanwhile, is on the rise. The share of surveyed buyers who said a gas fireplace was “essential” or “desirable” rose from 44 percent in 2003 to 55 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, the appeal of wood-burning fireplaces among buyers dropped slightly during the same period, from 52 percent to 48 percent.

“What’s driving the share of new homes without fireplaces is not that people don’t want the fireplaces, it’s just that they can’t afford everything with the way costs are going up, and that would be one of the things that sometimes gets crowded out,” says Paul Emrath, NAHB’s vice president for survey and housing policy research.

On top of that, leaving indoor fireplaces out of floor plans gives buyers the flexibility to add features like bookcases and floating shelves, according to NewHomeSource.com. Additionally, some eco-conscious buyers aren’t fond of traditional wood-burning fireplaces. Propane and natural gas are gaining favor as fuel types as outdoor wood fades.

Desire for Warm Entertainment Zone Moves Outside

So, what’s fueling the popularity of outdoor fireplaces?

The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association says outdoor fireplaces “create a warm focal point” for outdoor entertaining. In 2018, the association reported that 1 in every 10 consumers planned to add fireplaces and outdoor heating to their outdoor kitchens.

What might have been a stainless steel BBQ grill and a wood fire in a pit a generation ago has gone upscale.

“Inside or out, fireplaces create a natural area for gathering with friends and family. Incorporated as part of your outdoor entertaining zone, patio or outdoor room, your family and guests can enjoy the flames of a wood or gas outdoor fireplace all year round,” according to the association.

Many Hearth-y Choices for Outdoor Fireplaces

Plus, fireplaces in outdoor spaces add an architectural feature in an array of finishes, fuel types, styles and materials (granite, tile and stone, for instance), the association says.

Chiminea
An outdoor fireplace need not be expensive — a simple chiminea can do the trick. Credit: Jeff Evans, CC 2.0.

It can be a fire pit table, a freestanding gas fire pit or fire bowl lined with lava rock, a liquid propane outdoor gas fireplace made of natural stone or a simple chiminea. All add a focal point to the outdoor living area. They are also an affordable way to add ambiance: Many are simple enough to be a DIY project.

Like a moth drawn to a flame, Americans are gravitating toward outdoor fireplaces as part of an effort to establish relaxing outdoor living space, according to Housetrends.com.

“People are working harder and longer days, as well as being so engaged with their kids’ sports and other activities,” Mark Mazzurco, president of H&M Landscaping in Cleveland told Housetrends.com. “With their time no longer a commodity, it is easier to walk into their backyard and spend time together, rather than having to schedule a weekend off to go enjoy it at a resort.”

Another benefit: Donald Miller, showroom manager of Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in San Diego told the Orange County Register in Southern California that a homeowner can “easily design around” outdoor fireplaces and fire pits.

Patios Becoming Our Primary Kitchens, Dining Rooms

Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are components of one of the key trends identified at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo in March 2019. That trend: Patios serving as the new primary kitchens and dining rooms.

“Manufacturers continue to present innovative, tech-enhanced outdoor kitchen islands built around premium barbecues — as well as hearth-centered tables, outdoor built-in audio/TV systems, and other accents that meet consumers’ desires for a full outdoor living experience in their backyard,” the hearth association says.

In 2017, the association said fans of both outdoor and indoor fireplaces had latched onto linear fireplaces, characterized by “their sleek, sophisticated, modern design.” As wide as 12 feet, gas-fueled models of these fireplaces feature heat-tolerant glass; electrical-powered versions come with realistic multicolored flames.

“Once upon a time, the living room fireplace was the favored gathering spot for family and guests, and roasting marshmallows over a campground fire was simply part of the annual family vacation. Modern outdoor living combines these two traditions into one with outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, making great focal points and gathering spots,” according to United Brick and Fireplace, a retailer in Madison, Wisc.

Main photo credit: Randolph Croft, CC 2.0

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