By Nigel F. Maynard. The warmth and coziness fireplaces create make them a popular amenity among home buyers. In fact, fireplaces are so popular that according to figures from the Arlington, Va.-based Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), 60 percent of all new homes built in 2000 had at least one.
Wood-burning fireplaces used to be the preferred product among Americans, but Jim Hussong, vice president of Kozy Heat in Lakefield, Minn., says sales of these units have gone down over the last 10 years because of the increasing popularity of gas units. "Wood-burning units account for about 25 percent of our business," Hussong says.
Burn baby burn
Despite their decline, however, wood-burning fireplaces still make up a significant portion of the market--accounting for almost 40 percent of the units manufacturers ship to distributors and builders--mainly because some homeowners still prefer a real fire, and because a wood-burning unit is more affordable and simpler to install. Moreover, manufacturers continue to jazz up their offerings with new styles, configurations, and bigger sizes to suit most tastes.
Mt. Pleasant, Iowa-based Heatilator, has introduced what the company calls the largest wood-burning unit in the industry. The unit has an opening that measures 50 inches wide by 33 inches tall, and its colored refractory lining makes the product look like real brick. Lennox Hearth Products in Orange, Calif., offers the new Magna-Fire see-through, wood-burning unit that it says has one of the largest unobstructed glass views offered in a see-through fireplace. This unit also has a brick patterned refractory interior and a clean-face design that provide the ever-important masonry look.
And keeping with the size-is-everything theme, Santa Ana, Calif.-based Fireplace Manufacturers Inc. has a new Georgian model with an opening measuring 50 inches and a textured refractory brick liner. "The authentic look of a masonry unit is definitely a big trend," Darin Klein, senior marketing manager, says. "People are also looking for bigger openings."
Up in smoke
A large wood-burning fireplace will surely add value to a home. But if it is not installed correctly or in the most optimum location, the unit could potentially add more pain and less pleasure for homeowners. That's why the industry has published new installation guidelines, which will help builders install them in the most appropriate location in the house.
At the moment, most builders put the fireplace on an outside wall. However, "the outside wall is not the best place to install a fireplace," says HPBA's director of public affairs John Crouch. "Historically, if you look at structures, chimneys used to be in the middle of the house. As time went on, fireplaces became more of a decorative element and moved to the outside wall."
And Bob Dischner, product marketing manager for fireplaces at Lennox, adds that the average new home is much more energy efficient today than it was 20 years ago, so the fireplace is part of a much tighter envelope. "Depending on where the fireplace is installed, smoke can back draft into the house," Dischner says, "so the guidelines are good at indicating where the fireplace should be located." Putting the fireplace in the most efficient location will also help prevent such problems as poor draft and odors.
And just where is the most efficient place for the fireplace? HPBA's guide, Best Practices for Woodburning Fireplace Installation, says putting the fireplace inside the wall envelope yields the best operating results. The guide also offers other details and instructions on other installation practices that will help builders install better fireplaces and avoid callbacks down the road. In addition to calling for fireplaces inside the building envelope, it advises builders to penetrate the house at or near its highest point, avoid large uncompensated exhausts, avoid short chimney systems, use straight chimneys, and provide glass doors on the units. Says Crouch, the most common problems are expensive to correct after installation is complete, so builders need to plan carefully.
The guide is a valid and helpful tool, says Klein, but its real-world application may not be as widespread. "It would be good if people follow it, but it may not be realistic in some real-world situations." In a perfect world, he says, builders would locate the fireplace on the inside wall, but sometimes either because of the design of the house or because of a tight budget, it may not be possible to do so. For more information on the guide, call HPBA at 703-522-0086, or visit www.hpba.org.
Photo: Courtesy Fireplace Manufacturers Inc.
Georgian brown: The Georgian model fireplace has a large opening measuring 50 inches and a textured refractory brick liner. Because it has a full brick-to-brick opening and a clean face, it offers the appearance of a traditional masonry unit, the maker says. Available with a 30-inch-high opening, it has full insulation, 12-inch venting, and the brick lining can have a stacked or herringbone pattern. Fireplace Manufacturers Inc. 866-328-4537. www.fmifireplaces.com.
Photo: Courtesy Martin Fireplaces
Classical creation: In an effort to target new-home construction, the manufacturer has introduced the Classic Series wood-burning fireplace line. The unit has a standard hearth depth of 20 1/4 inches, an interior brick pattern with detailed mortar joints, and a radiant design that allows tile, marble, or slate to be installed up to the firebox. It uses 8-inch-diameter chimney components that allow builders to upgrade their wood-burning fireplace systems at a competitive price, the manufacturer says. Optional brass, black, or stainless steel finished, glass doors are available. Martin Fireplaces. 256-767-0330. www.martinfireplaces.com.
Photo: Courtesy Heatilator
Smoke and mirrors: The I100 has a 50-inch-wide by 33-inch-tall opening, with a clean-faced design and refractory lining color and patterns that give the firebox a masonry look. Available with a choice of traditional brick or herringbone pattern, it has vintage iron and glass doors or traditional glass doors. In addition, a mission-style red oak surround is available. Heatilator. 800-843-2848. www.fireplaces.com.
Photo: Courtesy Heat-N-Glo
Hearth to hearth: The Royal Hearth wood-burning fireplace features a large 56-inch, clean-faced opening that allows brick, tile, stone, and other materials to be brought right up to the opening, giving it the appearance of a masonry unit at a lower price. It has a fully insulated firebox that keeps the warm air in and the cold air out and a refractory lining that helps with heat efficiency. Heat-N-Glo. 952-985-6000. www.heatnglo.com.
Photo: Courtesy Lennox Hearth Products
Colonial times: The Colonial wood-burning fireplace has a high-opening style that is combined with interior brick inlay modeled on traditional custom masonry designs. The unit has a 36-inch opening, a 2-foot chamber depth, and a full-sized hearth. The hidden screen pockets enable surrounding material to be brought up flush to the opening. Lennox Hearth Products. 714-921-6100. www.lennoxhearthproducts.com.