- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Alexandria residents Brooke Powers and Hope Demetriou wanted to take the indoors outdoors, a task they accomplished with the installation of a fireplace, fire pit and barbecue on a 1,500-square-foot deck.

“We have a lot of parties in the summer, so we thought it would be a nice way to give it style out there,” says Miss Powers, 22. “I just like the outdoors. It’s open, and it’s a nice place to have your friends over and to have dinners.”

Miss Powers and Miss Demetriou, 32, who co-own a house in Cedar Knolls, hired Cyprus Air in Alexandria to install the outdoor appliances that, with the cost of the deck installation, will add up to about $200,000. The entire project is scheduled for completion next month.

Placing fireplaces and fire pits on decks, patios or another open areas in the back yard is a trend that is catching on, says Peter Demetriou, president of Cyprus Air, which sells, services and installs fireplaces, fire pits and stoves. He is Miss Demetriou’s younger brother.

“People are doing outdoor kitchens, living rooms, everything outdoors,” Mr. Demetriou says, adding that in his sister’s case, “We have a big family, so a lot of people come over.”

Miss Powers and Miss Demetriou’s stone fireplace, which cost $20,000, is a double-sided, see-through unit set directly into the exterior wall of the house to function indoors and outdoors. The fireplace, at the flip of a switch, has water that streams down the stone mantel.

“It makes it comfortable and very inviting,” Miss Powers says.

The fire pit is located in another area of the deck. The circular concrete pot, which also serves as a water fountain, will be covered in stone to match the deck walls.

The back yard can be viewed as a kind of outdoor living room, says Rich Wilson, division manager of Fireside Hearth & Home in Chantilly.

“People are spending more time at home than they used to, and the back yard is an unfinished room, and people are recognizing that,” Mr. Wilson says. “It’s all about lifestyle. You want something that is aesthetically beautiful and functional.”

Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits help provide that lifestyle. They can be used to roast marshmallows and hot dogs, grill food, keep bugs away and provide a limited heat source.

“The best thing about them is, when it’s a cool night and you want to sit around, you can have one of these on and still feel comfortable. You can extend the summer,” says David Sofaly, manager of the Fairfax Barbecues Galore store. “Our customers are realizing they can cook everything outdoors. They’re realizing they can do a lot more,” he says.

The appliances, however, are used mainly in the warmer months, Mr. Demetriou says.

“Nothing really heats the outside,” he says. “People think it’s purely for heat, but really it’s for aesthetics.”

Outdoor fireplaces typically range in price from $1,500 to $5,000 and fire pits from $500 to $1,500, Mr. Wilson says. The price range given by other retailers was as high as $20,000 for a fireplace and from $400 to $10,000 for a fire pit.

“It depends on what people desire and how ornate they want to get,” Mr. Wilson says.

There are a few options for purchasing fireplaces and fire pits.

Outdoor fireplaces can be wood-burning fueled by natural gas or propane. A black metal or stainless-steel fireplace box is an option to hold the logs or heat source. The fireplace can be finished with materials such as brick, stone, stucco or tile. If it is wood-burning, the fireplace will have a chimney.

“Outdoor fireplaces normally are made of stainless steel to prevent them from rusting,” says Bill Diskin, salesman for the Fireplace Shop in Gaithersburg.

Alternatively, fire pits are circular and provide an open fire similar to a campfire. Fire pits can be gas, coal or wood-burning and made of anything from concrete to aluminum to cast iron. Benches or chairs around the fire pit provide seating.

Fire pits are used more for the visual effect than for heat because the heat radiates upward, says Dave Lutwak, store manager of the Rockville location of Offenbacher’s Patio Fireplace & Recreation.

The model of the fireplace or fire pit will determine how much work is needed to start and maintain the fire. Some units can be turned on with the flip of a switch, but wood-burning units require that wood be brought in and ashes hauled away.

“The nice thing with the gas ones is they will light instantly and heat instantly,” Mr. Sofaly says. “It’s a lot easier to have the gas ones, but the natural fire looks better.”

Gas provides a more consistent heat source than does wood, but natural fire is hotter than gas fire, he says.

Chimeneas are another option for setting up an outdoor fire. They are free-standing and have a fluted chimney to handle the smoke.

The chimeneas can burn coal or wood and can be made of materials such as terra cotta or steel, but in a wet climate, terra cotta can trap the moisture and crack, Mr. Diskin says.

“It looks like a light bulb upside down,” he says.

A professional should be hired to install a fireplace or fire pit, which may require that a gas line be added and building codes and homeowner association requirements followed, Mr. Wilson says.

The chimeneas can be self-installed, Mr. Diskin says.

Fireplaces, fire pits and chimeneas should be placed in an open area that is free of power lines, tree branches and overhead structures, Mr. Diskin says.

“If you can see sky above the place where you’re going to put it, that’s a good place,” he says.

If the units are on a wood deck, they should be placed on top of something fireproof, Mr. Sofaly says, adding that the units should be kept away from anything flammable. Spark guards also can be used, he says.

Using something like an outdoor fireplace is prettier than a patio heater, Mr. Lutwak says.

“It’s a great alternative if you’re going for a more visual look,” he says. “It can give a great focal area on the deck, a great communal spot.”

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