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Now that the winter that would never leave is finally in the record books, homeowners in all climates are making a mad rush for the great outdoors. After a long and arduous winter season hibernating under blankets and burning through DVR inventories, folks are staying outside all day, and even much of the night.

When the stars come out, people are lingering outdoors to enjoy their heated pools, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and more items fueled by propane.

According to a 2013 survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the most popular outdoor amenities are fire pits or fireplaces, with a 97 percent rating. Grills come in at a close second at 96.3 percent. Topping the list of most popular recreation amenities are pools, hot tubs, and other water features, many of which are heated with propane.

Staying put and upgrading

The roiling housing market has played an important role in the booming popularity of outdoor living features. Due to the peaks and valleys of the last few years, more and more homeowners are choosing to stay in their current homes rather than move. But that doesn’t mean they’re sitting idle — they’re remodeling their homes inside and out. For active empty-nesters, these remodels often include upgrades to most of their home’s outdoor areas. Because it can fuel amenities ranging from luxury gas grills to season-extending outdoor heating and hearths, propane is playing a large role in transforming these spaces.

Custom flame features fueled by propane can create a striking aesthetic.

Landscape architect Ted Cleary, ASLA, principal of Studio Cleary Landscape Architecture in Charlotte, N.C., says that inspiration from the Internet and the popularity of HGTV shows have helped the growth of outdoor propane features.

Manufacturers also are filling the niche with expanded product offerings suitable for the outdoors, Cleary says, many of which run on low-emission propane. “For homeowners that have a keen interest in being as green as possible, propane comes out considerably cleaner in terms of greenhouse emissions.” Propane hearths and fire pits, for instance, carry a much lighter environmental footprint than traditional wood fireplaces, producing far less particulate emissions and carbon monoxide.

Four seasons of fun

There’s long been a romantic notion of curling up by the warmth of a crackling fireplace on a frosty winter’s night, but why not bring the fantasy outdoors? Outdoor fireplaces that run on propane have fewer carbon emissions than traditional fireplaces (no stoking needed). They’re a lot safer as well, since there’s no danger of a hot cinder popping out and causing mayhem. Clients get romance and beauty without the extra work or danger.

Modern torches aren’t just rickety bamboo stalks with a makeshift oil-burning lamp wedged in the top. Now homeowners don’t have to settle for Gilligan’s Island ambience, because propane-fueled torches have become pieces of art unto themselves. Whether it’s the traditional Tiki style — many of which are remotely controlled – or a fancier version set among a water feature or encased in glass and stainless steel, a tropical island getaway is right outside the back door.

Other propane-fueled options that fit in at any outdoor party are items to keep the partiers warm when the temperatures are cool and something to keep the pests away when things heat up. According to Cleary, many of his clients have also been requesting propane heaters — the kind normally reserved for upscale restaurants — as well as propane mosquito killers, which “operate quietly and cleanly by converting the gas into carbon dioxide and moisture.”

“Propane hearths and fire pits carry a much lighter environmental footprint than traditional wood fireplaces, producing far less particulate emissions and carbon monoxide.”

A pool-based party doesn’t have to occur just from June to August; a propane-warmed swimming pool will keep the fun going all year long. If it’s an impromptu pool party, propane heaters can get a pool’s water to a comfortable temperature in a shorter time than solar-powered heaters. “With a swimming pool or spa we try to help the homeowner carefully weigh the options to most efficiently heat it,” Cleary says. “Propane may be the most cost-efficient option.”

Fire pits are one category where the possibilities are seemingly endless. It’s all up to the tastes, needs, desires, and whims of the homeowner. Traditional propane-fueled pits resemble campfires of yore. But if an added dash of pizazz is wanted, these pits can be in the center of a marble-topped table with flames peeking out of fire-retardant marbles, stones, or even artificial logs that resemble firewood. To really take it to the next level, some customers are clamoring for custom flame features that combine both fire and water for striking scenes of blended elements that will definitely get their neighbors talking.

And if the neighbors are talking, referrals and leads will blaze a path to a skilled remodeler or landscape architect’s door.

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Mark Newman