Make Your Living Spaces Glow with Modern Fireplaces

Today's propane fireplaces are energy-efficient and better for the environment, and they're also available in dazzling contemporary looks.

The last thing the latest propane-fueled fireplaces need is logs, simulated or otherwise.

Instead, the flames in these modern gas fireplaces dance around shiny, colored glass, synthetic river rocks, or ceramic balls.

Those flames lick higher in shallow, horizontal fireboxes equipped with long, continuous burners that allow for a smoother mix of gas and air, producing a more natural-looking flame.

"The consumer is looking for a more contemporary look," says Dana Moroz, manager of customer service for Napoleon Products, "something other than the traditional log fire."

That's not to say tradition doesn't still reign in fireplace sales. But about 20 percent of the market share has given over to what manufacturers are calling "modern" or "contemporary" fireplaces sans log sets, estimates Todd Weir, product manager for Hearth and Home Technologies, the maker of Heat & Glo and Heatilator fireplaces.

 
Heat & Glo's contemporary Red 40 fireplace can be accented with different media such as onyx or white pebbles, or cobalt blue, scarlet, or emerald glass.

The move to modern means you can offer more choices to your customers, whether they have a taste for tradition or a craving for the contemporary.

Consider the four trends and regulatory changes below as you help your customer decide which fireplace to buy — or whether to invest in one at all. And to start planning your next project, check out our online product directory, where you can browse fireplaces from a variety of manufacturers, sort models by efficiency level, and find related training and resources.

1. Homeowners are forgoing mantels and installing contemporary fireplaces higher on their walls. Some are opting for plain-faced, metal-free glass doors and ultra-long linear fire boxes — 40 to 60 inches wide or more and just 14 to 20 inches tall. Others are experimenting with fire boxes in geometric or round shapes. Don Kaufman, a product manager for Lennox, says fireplace manufacturers have responded to consumer demand, noting that 14 manufacturers now produce linear fireplaces in addition to their traditional units.

2. Extra-wide fire boxes and the log-free aesthetic don't require burners with individual ports. Because the flame doesn't need to mimic a burning log, a burner such as the one used in Lennox's new Infini-Flame technology can be a long, single, continuous block that produces a single, continuous flame. The result: a hotter, taller, smoother flame with minimal turbulence — both for propane and natural gas fireplace models. The update solves a previous problem with propane flames, which in some units burn smaller and more orange than gas-fueled flames. "We've never seen anything this good on propane, where it looks so close to natural gas," Kaufman says.

3. High-efficiency fireplaces are in demand. While sales of decorative units and heater-rated models are about equal, homeowners who use fireplaces for supplemental heat want energy-efficient units, says Weir, who notes, "People are aware of the cost of running a fireplace." Plus, Weir adds, some utility companies are offering hefty rebates to consumers who shut down their old wood-burning fireplaces and switch to higher-efficiency propane or natural gas models.

Choosing a propane fireplace is a smart decision for customers concerned with sustainability. Propane fireplaces heat a room more evenly and efficiently than a wood-burning fireplace. Most models qualify for green building programs, are virtually maintenance-free, don't produce ash or soot, and don't require electricity. And today's propane direct-vent fireplaces are up to 90 percent efficient, while traditional wood-burning systems are only about 15 percent efficient.

4. The popularity of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits continues to grow as demand for outdoor kitchens strengthens. "The perfect marriage is an outdoor room and a heat source," such as a propane fireplace, Moroz says. Jeb Breithaupt, a Shreveport, La., remodeler, agrees. He thinks Southern homeowners are more likely to "burn" glass outdoors and logs indoors, where traditional decor prevails. "People are OK with just seeing fire," Breithaupt notes, no matter what the medium. "The two issues are separate: First, how contemporary do you want the overall fireplace and mantel to look? And second, how do you want the fire to look?"

Fireplaces are a key application in the Propane Energy Pod, a model for new construction that treats a home's five key areas of energy use — space heating, water heating, cooking, fireplaces, and clothes drying — as parts of a whole-home energy package. Builders who use propane to fuel fireplaces as well as each of the other four Pod appliances can maximize a home's comfort, performance, and efficiency.

Propane also makes a smart choice for fueling a number of in-demand outdoor amenities, such as fire pits and patio heaters. The Propane Training Academy offers the following courses on how to create an outdoor living space that improves a home's overall comfort level and resale value:

Expanding Outdoor Living: Using Propane for Efficient and Sustainable Outdoor Living (available in print-ready PDF)

Innovations with Propane Gas for Outdoor Residential Use (available in on-demand webinar)


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