As members of the hearth industry gather in Atlanta for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo, the industry is coming to grips with the cold hard fact that its product shipments have slowed—in some cases, significantly.

Manufacturers, dealers, and installers of fireplaces, grills, and an assortment of outdoor products had seen tremendous growth that correlated with the run-up in the housing market. But as the home industry goes, so go many of the sectors associated with it. As a result, the hearth industry is experiencing its second consecutive year of declining sales.

In 2007, 2.4 million hearth appliances shipped—down 500,000 units from the previous year. Shipments of woodburning fireplaces declined 30 percent; pellet stoves declined 59 percent; gas numbers were off by 12 percent; and electric units had a modest decline of 2 percent.

The barbecue category—which includes consumer purchases as well as outdoor built-in grills associated with outdoor kitchens—continues to thrive, however. According to the industry, barbecue shipments exceeded 17.4 million in 2007—the highest shipment numbers in more than 20 years, says Leslie Wheeler, director of communications for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.

"Outdoor living continues to reign as a major trend for the industry as consumers remodel backyard patios and build outdoor kitchens to make the outdoor experience more enjoyable," the industry said in a statement at the show. The group adds that outdoor kitchens are becoming a regular amenity for builders to provide in new homes.

Manufacturers at the show are hoping the remodeling and renovation market and high-end architect-driven work will help buoy sales as the new-home market recovers, but most agree that a full recovery is months away.

The Expo continues through March 1.