Fireplaces have become a must-have feature in more homes today, and not just in the family or living rooms of houses located in cold climates.

Fireplaces have become a must-have feature in more homes today, and not just in the family or living rooms of houses located in cold climates.
Buyers are seeking houses with indoor fireplaces in kitchens, master bedrooms and bathrooms, and outdoor versions constructed on screened porches, terraces and decks near cooking stations and alongside swimming pools. Half of all U.S. households have at least one fireplace or freestanding stove, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. And fireplaces rank among the top three features desired by new homeowners, after porches and upgraded kitchens, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
The fireplace’s increased popularity often has little to do with the structure’s original purpose in this country’s earliest homes. In those, they actually were needed to provide warmth.
Now, with quality HVAC systems more commonplace, they’ve become a decorating focal point, often pushing aside the big-screen TV — or at least sharing top billing. And sometimes those rooms are in warm-weather locations.
They’re for looks and the feelings they generate, such as nostalgia and romance,” says architect Jane Gitlin, author of “Fire Places: A Practical Design Guide to Fireplaces and Stoves Indoors and Out” (The Taunton Press, 2006).
Trisha Gregory, marketing director for fireplace manufacturer Hearth and Home Technologies, says a growing number of homeowners are placing them in spa bathrooms and kitchens.
But choosing what type of fireplace to include has become more challenging because of increased choices — models in sleek materials like black granite; artistic creations without mantels; small “portrait” gas fireplaces; and EPA-certified wood-burning fireplaces with glass doors that can warm a room while not sending all the heat up a chimney.
Besides fireplace manufacturers, other companies have rushed in with smart products. Jarden Home Brands produces “green” firelogs. The newest item from their Pine Mountain brand are clean-burning, all-natural logs made from renewable resources; they create 85-percent less carbon monoxide than traditional firewood, while reducing chimney buildup by 76 percent, according to the company’s Web site.
If a fireplace is a new concept to you, ponder these possibilities before you forge ahead:

Going beyond wood
The first big decision you need to make is whether to select a wood-burning, gas or electric fireplace.
Wood-burning fireplaces require more planning, says Gitlin. “You have to have a supply of logs, a sturdy chimney, be willing to light a fire and keep it going, put it out when done and clean up ashes afterward,” she says. “But they offer great charm and romance. It’s a smell and sight that’s hard to duplicate.”
For those not passionate about stoking a fire, gas is a smart choice, Gitlin says. Many new models eliminate the need for perimeter-wall installation (for ventilation purposes), and they’ve also duplicated the classic wood-burning look better.
Another option is an electric fireplace, which started as a trend in England, migrated to Canada and was then adopted in the U.S.
Pellet stoves, developed after the ’70s energy crisis, use organic waste products, such as sawdust.

Decide on Design
Relate the design to the style and materials in your house, as well as your lifestyle. A sleek, modern gas fireplace or one surrounded with glass mosaic tiles may fit better in a contemporary home, while a Victorian-style fireplace may look more appropriate in a traditional house. Certain materials are more popular in certain areas of the country, says Gina Ott, director of store design for Hearth and Home Technologies. For instance, pre-cast stone, which can be painted, has more appeal in the West, while ledgestone and fieldstone are preferred in the Midwest, she says.

Try Outside
An important trend is the emergence of outdoor fireplaces. Some are built adjacent to interior fireplaces so that the chimney houses both flues. Others are freestanding on terraces or by pools, along with camp-style firepits, pizza ovens and portable fireplaces.
On one screened porch, Gitlin’s architecture firm built a fireplace that’s the outdoor version of a smoking room. Screens rise up and cigars can be enjoyed while viewing a flat-screen TV, she says.

Flickering Prices
Prices vary — often determined by the size of the fireplace, its materials, and its bells and whistles. A fireplace with wood mantel may start at $3,500 and go up to $15,000, if customized; a stone design may start at $8,000 and climb to $20,000, Ott says. A nice, small electric fireplace made of painted fiberboard may cost $300, and a larger solid wood design could run $700.