New Modern and Linear Fireplace Options

Homeowners continue to consider fireplaces as a primary point of interest for their homes, but many are opting for modern designs rather than traditional hearths.

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Modern and linear designs are heating up the fireplace market, along with a new installation requirement builders need to know about.

Announced last year, and put into effect in January 2015, ANSI and its Canadian counterpart now require vented gas fireplaces to include a safety barrier screen as standard equipment. According to representatives in the hearth industry and at the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the change is designed to prevent direct contact with the fireplaces’ glass fronts, which can reach upward of 500 F—even approaching 1,000 F in some cases.

The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) was a key player in getting the new regulation in place. “While gas fireplaces, stoves and inserts are a great asset to any home, the glass can become very hot during operation and stay hot long afterwards, creating a potential burn hazard,” says Jack Goldman, HPBA president and CEO.

CPSC, consumer product safety commission, fireplace screen, fireplace barrier screen, gas fireplace glass barrier screen

Beyond the manufacturers’ requirements, a letter from Napoleon Fireplaces to its customers notes that the same regulation requires that installing dealers no longer can install gas fireplaces without factory-approved safety barriers. “This means that when the installer leaves the installation, it is their responsibility to ensure the safety barrier is installed to the manufacturer’s instructions and local codes,” the letter says.

Love for Linear, Modern

ANSI-compliant fireplace units began to ship at the end of 2014, though HBPA and several manufacturers expect a mix of older and newer models to be on the shelves as retailers move old inventory out. Among the newer models coming to market are several styles capitalizing on the trend toward linear, modern fireplace designs.

“From our perspective, modern fireplaces are less of a trend and more of a fixture in the gas hearth category—they’re here to stay,” says Becky Scribner, brand director for Lake-ville, Minn.–based Heat & Glo. “With that in mind, we’re focused on continuing to satisfy growing consumer demand by developing new modern products that pair quality with realistic, streamlined designs.”

Fireplace Xtrordinair, based in Mukilteo, Wash., has introduced a range of new linear designs that underscore the barrier screen regulation. The firm says its barrier screens are designed to be low-visibility so the screen doesn’t detract from the fireplaces’ aesthetics.

“Several new trends are emerging this season that are really changing the way people are thinking about fireplaces,” says Stephen Schroeter, senior vice president at Ontario-based Napoleon Products. “The younger generation of fireplace buyers want a quick-lighting fireplace that’s easier to maintain.” For that reason, “gas fireplaces will continue to rise in popularity, and we’ll continue to see the trend of sleek and modern fireplaces. Look for clean, linear lines with less metal and more glass,” he adds.

Home-Buyer Demand

While they’ve come down a bit from their peak popularity in the ’70s and ’80s, fireplaces are still a desirable home feature for many buyers. And for those who are interested, they’re likely willing to pay a premium: A recent study by the National Association of Realtors found that 40% of home buyers would be willing to pay extra for a home with a fireplace.

In NAHB’s “What Home Buyers Really Want” report—a survey of national consumer sentiment—49% of respondents ranked gas fireplaces as essential or desirable as a decorative feature, up from 44% in 2004. That’s on par with what builders are delivering: according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49% of new homes built in 2012 included at least one fireplace.

The demand for gas fireplaces (47%) is also now slightly outpacing that for traditional wood-burning options. This is especially true in the move-up buyer segment; 55% of home buyers who have owned two or more homes expressed a desire for a gas fireplace, while only 34% expressed that sentiment for a wood-burning option.

One caveat? They have to look good. Respondents in NAHB’s survey ranked appearance as the top trait they focus on for a fireplace—even more so than quality, one of only two home components for which this was the case. This is an important point as builders select gas fireplace options, particularly with the new safety screen requirements that could affect the fixture’s appearance.