As firepits and outdoor fireplaces maintain their popularity, customizations to these outdoor entertaining spaces are where contractors are looking to make their mark.
A decade ago, Rob DelGandio would build half a dozen firepits per year. Now, he builds 15 to 20 per year.
“I would say they’re far more popular now than they were even say 10 years ago,” says DelGandio, owner and vice president of Four Seasons Landscaping, based in Damascus, Maryland.
A custom-built firepit costs $5,000 10 years ago; it costs about $2,500 today, he says. “Now it’s no longer the upper-end class that have access to it.”
Four Seasons Landscaping has been offering firepit and outdoor fireplace installation for close to 15 years.
“Entertaining has moved from indoors to outdoors,” DelGandio says. “And homeowners like to have their neighbors over, they have kids, they like spaces that are suitable for families so there’s things for kids to do and things for adults to do. A firepit is something that’s communal to all of those things.”
Enhance Designscapes, based in Teton Valley, Idaho, and Jackson, Wyoming, has been offering firepit installations since 2010. The company employs six people and has an annual revenue of about $500,000. They typically install two to three outdoor fire features per year. They primarily serve high-end residential clients and offer landscape design-build services.
Dan Sanders, co-owner, has personally been installing this type of hardscaping since 2004. He says the popularity of outdoor fire features is hotter than ever.
“The whole outdoor living space phenomenon’s what it’s all about, and creating nice little destinations around your property is something that’s really appealing to our clients,” he says. “But more specifically, there’s some cool new technologies out there.”
One of those new technologies is a more natural fire ring.
“Traditional firepits that are gas-fired have rings that kind of just put up a uniform fire effect,” Sanders says. “They’ve actually created an infrastructure for gas firepits, or propane or natural gas, where they have little emitters that essentially set up flames a lot more natural as opposed to just coming off of that ring.”
These flames create different elevations, as well as a natural-appearing flicker. For clients who do not have a natural gas connection, Sanders offers a remote setup with a small propane tank.
“You can hide (the tank) somewhere in an enclosure and put it far away, so it kind of lends a little more flexibility,” he says.
DelGandio also installs outdoor lighting alongside firepit and outdoor fireplace installations.
“You’ve got to be a little bit careful about it because you’ve got wiring that runs through a structure that’s going to create a lot of heat, but with fireplaces, we’re definitely putting more lighting into the mantels, into the hearth, the part at the bottom. Illumination is key,” he says.
Sanders says clients are also asking for their firepits to match their homes.
“We’re trying to build these and design them so that they’re congruent with the existing architecture, as far as materials,” Sanders says.
Those small details can also make a fire structure stand out. “We’re doing more intricate inlays now. We’re taking the same structures that we’ve been building for the last 10 or 15 years, and we’re just making them more custom,” DelGandio says.
Custom radius caps around firepits can also offer detail. “It’s two or three large slab pieces that go around the parameter of that cap that allow you to put drinks and stuff on,” he says. “Those types of things that would signify it was different. Same with the fireplaces, inlays in the face and the neck of the fireplace, different types of arches in the opening, all things that make it slightly different than the neighbor.”
The trend toward “green living” is not ending soon, DelGandio says. To capitalize on this trend, he offers natural materials when building firepits.
“We can build anything out of natural stone whereas block and segmental block, those types of materials, we’re very limited as to what we can do,” DelGandio says. “We have way more flexibility to be more custom with stone, and really the cost is not that much greater. It’s maybe 10 percent more, but what you get in the value for that makes it seem worth it.”
Four Seasons Landscaping employs about 25 people and has an annual revenue between $2.5 million and $3 million. The bulk of clients are residential.
Recent installations have featured natural materials such as wood mantels on the outdoor fireplace using material such as Brazilian hardwood instead of a stone slab.
“More people want stuff that’s natural because there’s no production process with it. It’s just the materials pulled out of the earth, and a crew of stone masons can build something if they’ve got the right skill set,” DelGandio says.
Unlike concrete block kits which may limit installers to uniformity, natural stone allows more creativity.
Function for food.
While firepits are often enjoyed for their aesthetic appeal, clients still want to be able to use them like they would a real campfire, Sanders says.
When designing these firepits, he will make sure it’s scaled to size and safe so children can easily place a stick over a flame to roast food. Then, in snowy climates, where firepits are not being used year-round, custom enclosures or caps can be offered as an upsell to also protect the structure during the off-season, he adds.