Outdoor Living: Heat Without Fire

Outdoor living spaces get more use over a longer season with the right infrared heating source.

authors Patrick O'Toole | December 2, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many impacts on the choices that homeowners are making when it comes to where to spend their home improvement dollars. Among those impacts, remodelers around the country are reporting a huge increase in leads for outdoor living projects.

Keith Liston, owner of St. Charles, Missouri-based Liston Design Build, says the last seven months have seen a huge spike in outdoor living project work in his service area west of St. Louis. “I would say year-over-year, outdoor structures or outdoor living projects were maybe 10 percent of what we did. Today, the percentage of leads for additions and outdoor projects are probably 60 percent of what we are seeing.”

Liston’s story is being repeated in all parts of the country and in all climates. By forcing people to travel less and stay at home more, there is presently a very intense desire to improve outdoor spaces and to improve those resort-like spaces, so they are comfortable places to sit and congregate for longer parts of the year. This is particularly true as the weather turns colder.

“People are at home and wanting to expand their living spaces to the outside” notes Dolores Davis, president and owner of CG&S Design-Build in Austin, Texas. “People want to be able to live outdoors comfortably. And so that in itself lends to an increased scope.”

Over the years, QR Outdoors has covered all aspects of fire elements—from wood-burning fireplaces and fire pits to propane- and natural-gas-fueled linear and more decorative fire elements. Indeed, fire is frequently the focal point of many outdoor living projects. They provide both light and heat.

But as temperatures take a turn lower, a single source of heat from fire is not enough to keep people warm enough to continue spending time in those beautiful spaces November through February, says Craig Durosko, founder and chairman of Sun Design in Burke, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.

“People have always added ceiling fans to cool the air to get that windchill and to make that space a little bit nicer on a hot evening,” Durosko explains. “And I think people are coming around to these new infrared heater technologies. They might be seeing the technology when they are eating outdoors at a restaurant even into the later fall, on cooler evenings. So, I think the infrared technology now is where it’s really being adapted on the residential side too.”

Specifying and Planning for Infrared Heaters

Infrared heaters come in many shapes and styles. You will often see them installed in the ceilings above covered, but outdoor, seating areas. Or you may see them mounted to walls and directed to adjacent seating areas. Remodelers who have utilized these heaters report that they can achieve a dramatic effect on the comfort level of occupants.

This beautiful screened porch and fireplace combination, built by Liston Design Build in St. Louis, is an ideal location for infrared heaters.

“These heaters really extend the season—later in the fall and earlier in the spring—and even here (Washington, D.C.) in the wintertime, we have a lot of mild days,” Durosko says. “One of the benefits of infrared heaters is you are more directional with the heat. And unlike space heaters where breezes quickly disperse the heat, people feel the warmth more continuously. As you’re sitting there, it’s warming the table. It’s warming the chair you’re seated in. So there are some unique capabilities with the infrared technology.”

In St. Louis, which has a similar climate to Washington, D.C.—hot summers and shorter winters—Keith Liston says he employs the use of a combination of removable screens and windows on the periphery of outdoor spaces to allow homeowners to make adjustments to the air flow within an outdoor space. The product he uses is Eze Breeze. This allows the customer to establish a wind break that becomes a better environment for adding infrared heat.

“We have three projects—two underway—where both want to utilize the infrared heaters,” Liston explains. “And we’ve started using a vinyl window—the window itself is vinyl that really helps extend the season, particularly if you put a little heating feature out in the covered porch, and you can enclose that with a windbreak. This allows our clients to use that space for a longer period of time.”

When it comes to specifying infrared technology, there are many manufacturers out there. A quick search on Amazon will help a remodeler sort through the free-standing, space-heater models and quickly find brands whose products require professional installation. Infratech is a brand mentioned by all three of the remodelers we interviewed for this article. Whether it is that brand or others—such as UFO, Caloray, Dr. Infrared, Patioboss or Hiland—the products are typically linear. At least one is spherical for more generalized heat.

The linear models come in various lengths, and some of them even have decorative covers to help them be less visually obtrusive. In a covered space with open walls, there might be three linear heaters places directly above or behind various seating areas. If the seating area is an arrangement of three long couches in a U-shape pattern, the arrangement of heat sources above will replicate that pattern.

For this project in Sterling, Virginia, Sun Design added a screened porch with two infrared ceiling heaters above the main seating area, which is alongside a fireplace. Clients can now use the space year-round.

Sun Design’s Durosko notes his company approaches these heat-source questions just as they would the lighting design and the audio-video design of a space. Each system, complete with all of their device locations and wiring, are mapped out in advance. Sometimes budget constraints force cutbacks in the number of devices, but the plan is still in place to the extent that Sun Design really encourages its clients to move forward with the pre-wiring even if the devices are not ready.

“Designing and installing infrared heaters is fairly easy once you understand their particular need for power,” Durosko explains. “We recommend to pre-wire for these and to have the power run there, even if you don’t install them right away. If you can get the wiring and circuitry right, the heaters can be added later. It’s a little hard retrofit just because you would have to take apart ceilings to get the wiring out there.”

Fire and Heat Together

Infrared and other ancillary heating systems for outdoor spaces are typically installed in addition to a fire pit, fireplace or other fire element. Fire elements are now and will likely remain the main source of heat, décor and focus for many outdoor living projects.

Extending the season to allow for comfort outside when the temperature takes a dip is an important design consideration for any outdoor living project these days, particularly now when travel and large indoor gatherings are not possible.

“A well-designed outdoor living space really allows people to spend more time outside comfortably for a long period of time,” CG&S Design-Build’s Davis explains. “It’s delightful; people hang out and eat, have great conversations, eat good food, drink wine. It is really delightful. That’s the goal. So, a really good design solution, one that is really effective, we see it as a great way to invest in a client’s money.” QR

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