TO MANY HOME BUYERS, A FIREPLACE is a wonderful thing. It provides real heat, but, even more important, it generates the kind of warmth people feel in their hearts. So it's no wonder that most new homes built today have at least one fireplace. Unfortunately, code requirements sometimes prohibit builders from installing these babies. But there is a solution: an electric fireplace.

“They've been in the consumer market for about seven years, and in the new-construction market for about three,” says Leo Venturini, general manager for electric products at Mount Pleasant, Iowa–based Heatilator. “Overall, the growth has been about 50 percent to 100 percent during that time.”

Unlike other types of fireplaces, electric units—available from such manufacturers as Heatilator; Ontario, Canada–based Wolf Steel/Napoleon; and Lennox Hearth Products, Orange, Calif.—don't use combustible fuel sources. Instead, they use light to generate a flame image. Thus, they are inherently safer than traditional units and can be installed where the latter can't.

“They are especially valuable in multi-family projects or condos and in places where codes don't allow you to run the vents for gas,” says John Crouch, director of public affairs for the Arlington, Va.–based Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Part of the trend, he says, is for builders to put them in a bedroom or hang them on the wall. “It's not uncommon for builders to use a wood-burning unit as well as an electric unit,” he adds.

Aside from their adaptability, electric units can produce enough heat to warm a normal-sized room, Venturini says. Electric units cost about the same as other types, but because they do not require venting or gas lines, they are cheaper to install.

The relative inexpensiveness of these units—coupled with their design versatility—appeals to builders. “We see this as a significant growth opportunity,” Venturini says. “[Builders] can put [electric] fireplaces where other products can't go.”