A Fiery Way to Increase Profitability

Outdoor living features provide abundant opportunities to set your projects apart from the competition.

An important trend is emerging in custom fire features for aquatic and landscape projects: "Everybody wants them," pool builder Barry Justus says.

Justus, president of Poolscape in Toronto, has built his business around high-end, custom backyard projects. Many of his award-winning designs include custom fire features.

"Homeowners like the 'wow' effect," he explains. In fact, fire features are popular enough that Justus often must focus the customer on using the right feature in the right place. "We have people who want to put fire features everywhere," he says, "and sometimes less is more." Even just one or two well-placed fire features, such as a propane fireplace, linear fire feature, or tiki torch, can impress a client, he says.

Custom fire features, such as this installation by Barry Justus, can add value and the "wow" factor to backyard projects.

Justus fuels his fire features with propane in about 60 percent of his projects, generally in instances when natural gas is unavailable. "It's safe, it works well, and it burns well," he says.

Justus's backyard living success highlights the opportunity for builders, remodelers, and architects to expand their business opportunities and please their clients with full-featured outdoor living areas. Some of the most in-demand outdoor luxury amenities run at their best when fueled by propane:

  • Outdoor kitchens. You can increase a home's marketable footprint by installing a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen, including a propane grill and propane cooktop. Propane grills are also 105 times more environmentally friendly than charcoal grills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Pools and spas. A pool and spa is often the heart of the outdoor living space, and your customers will likely want to keep swimming for as much of the year as possible. Propane pool and spa heaters bring water to the desired temperature more quickly and efficiently than electricity, while reducing a home's overall carbon footprint.
  • Patio heating. Outdoor living areas are even more valuable when they can be open during the "shoulder months" of fall and winter. You can extend your customer's patio season with a propane heater or a cozy outdoor fireplace. Propane space heaters can be freestanding or wall-mounted, can include thermostats and blowers, and typically work even in an electrical outage. They also produce fewer greenhouse gases than space heaters using fuel oil.

While disposable one-pound propane cylinders may be the logical choice for small outdoor applications, full-featured outdoor rooms are best served by a permanently installed above-ground or underground propane storage tank. A 500-gallon tank will take care of the needs of an average-size, four-bedroom home, while a 1,000-gallon tank will handle large homes with such luxury items as heated pools and hot tubs.

Justus will present a session on custom fire features geared toward residential builders and landscape designers at the 2012 International Pool/Spa/Patio Expo, to be held Nov. 6 to 8 in New Orleans. The expo is an opportunity for building professionals to learn more about how propane-fueled amenities such as pool heaters, torches, and fire features can add value to your next project.

If you can't make it to New Orleans, the Propane Training Academy offers several training courses designed to improve your knowledge on outdoor living features:

Innovations with Propane Gas for Outdoor Residential Use, available as an on-demand webinar, discusses the versatility of this energy source in residential outdoor applications. You'll find that environmentally safe propane works in almost every outdoor application to create one-of-a-kind spaces for your customers.

Comfortable and fully functional outdoor living areas today can include an array of kitchen appliances, pools and spas, sophisticated lighting, radiant heat, and more. Expanding Outdoor Living: Using Propane for Efficient and Sustainable Outdoor Living, available as a printable PDF, describes ways you can use propane to create outdoor living areas that are both beautiful and fuel-efficient.

This video provides an overview of the design and installation considerations for outdoor propane applications in a residential setting, including best practices for water and space heating, fuel plumbing, and tank placement, as well as safety considerations for outdoor cooktops and fire features.

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