Real Estate: Too tight to travel? Bring the warmth to your backyard

08/30/2011 5:46 AM |

JESSICA DiNAPOLI PHOTO | Victoria Nook and Jessica DiBiasi of North Fork energy showing off a propane patio heater.

Summer is almost over, but increasingly popular fire pits and patio heaters can help home and business owners entertain and cook outdoors through the fall.

Both types of outdoor heating have surged in popularity the past few years, local masons and heating professionals say. They extend the summer season well into September, October and even November, and can turn run-of-the-mill backyards into “staycation” paradises.

“It becomes a novelty, a focal point” said Jessica DiBiasi, the manager of North Fork Energy on Main Road in Cutchogue. Party-throwers often center an event or get-together around a pit, which can double as a grill, and offer guests s’mores, hot dogs or burgers, she said.

Stand-up propane and natural gas patio heaters are a slightly less-expensive option for extending the outdoor party season, Ms. DiBiasi said. Most throw off heat across a 5- to 10-foot radius.

The freestanding propane heaters run for between three and four hours on an approximately $40 to $45 tank, Ms. DiBiasi said.

That cost can add up over time, making the units more of a “situational” accessory for parties and gatherings, she said.

Stand-up patio heaters start at $450 at North Fork Energy and go up to $750.

The natural gas patio heaters North Fork Energy sells can only be installed at homes that have a natural gas connection, said saleswoman Victoria Nook.

Built-in fire pits offer the ambience patio heaters can lack. They can be installed on a patio, deck or backyard, said Chris Mohr, of Chris Mohr Lawncare and Landscaping in Cutchogue. The wood-burning pits Mr. Mohr installs usually have a diameter of 3 to 5 feet and sit about 16 inches above the ground. They start at around $1,200. Mr. Mohr said it takes about two days to build a pit.
Mr. Mohr builds many of his wood-burning fire pits from a kit. He encases the interior of the pit in fire brick and embellishes the exterior to the homeowner’s tastes, with bluestone or decorative brick.

Kit pits can be disassembled and resold, a valuable option for some homeowners, he said.

“The kits are precut, you can unstack them and take them down,” he said.

Mr. Mohr also builds virtually indestructible custom pits that can feature options including cinderblock, veneer, and Pennsylvania wallstone, with a cap of bluestone shreds.

North Fork Energy sells wood-burning pits, but also has natural gas and propane options, which create a similar effect and festive focal point without the grudge work of building a fire, Ms. DiBiasi said.

The pits and heaters have been selling big since the economy took a nosedive, with sales split down the middle between businesses and homeowners, Ms. Nook said.

“People are putting money into their backyard, and it increases property value,” she said.

Even though patio heaters are freestanding, homeowners can offer to leave it with the house when they sell as an added option, Ms. DiBiasi said.

Mr. Mohr has also seen his built-in fire pits increase in popularity over the past year or so.

At the same time, sales tapered off a bit this summer, he said, because although many people aren’t spending money to travel, the expense of a pit is still too great in the current economy.

“I did two in the spring, and I did another one a week ago,” Mr. Mohr said. “I have an estimate out for one in the fall.”

Penny-pinchers looking for another way to stay warm outdoors in cold weather can look into freestanding fire pits and certain chimeneas, for sale at big box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target, and in local nurseries including VerDerBer’s Landscape Nursery & Garden Center in Aquebogue and Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport.

Danielle Raby of Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport has seen the freestanding fire pit eclipse the chimenea in terms of popularity. Unlike a fire pit, most chimeneas have one opening in the bulbous body where the fire is burned, and a long, skinny smoke vent like a chimney.

Noreen Ficuciello of VerDerBers’s warned against expecting a long lifespan out of a ceramic chimenea. DiBiasi said they crack and rot due to the drastic change in temperatures in the North East.

Ms. Ficuciello hopes to bring in quality chimeneas to meet the ever-growing demand for outdoor heating options after a trade show next month.

She only has a few fire pits left at the nursery after a busy summer.

“We had a cast aluminum chimenea, but the company went out of business with the recession, and we haven’t found anyone with reasonable pricing on them,” she said.