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 facts that its product shipments have slowed-in some cases, significantly.

The industry-which includes 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 goes many of the sectors associated with it. As a result, the hearth industry is experiencing its second consecutive year of declining sales.

For the year ending 2007, 2.4 million hearth appliances were shipped, a number that is off by 500,000 compared to 2006. Shipments of wood-burning 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-remained the one bright spot. According to the industry, barbecue shipments exceeded 17.4 million in 2007. This was the highest shipment numbers in more than 20 years, says Leslie Wheel, 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 also adds that outdoor kitchens are becoming a traditional feature for builders to include in new homes.

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

The Expo show continues through March 1.