Home Touch: Fiery features are all about cool
Today's gas fireplaces are hot with cool designs. Flames that leap from realistic-looking logs, tranquil stones or ceramic glass can warm up any home design.
Last year, nearly 800,000 gas fireplace units were shipped from manufacturers to retailers in the United States and Canada, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA), based in Arlington, Virginia.
"The gas fireplace has evolved beyond the traditional hearth in the family room," says John Crouch, HPBA spokesman. "You can have the convenience of an instant fire in the fireplace by using a simple remote."
Extinguish any notion that a gas-burning fireplace's options are limited to dismally fake logs placed into an existing masonry firebox. With flames that rival a wood-burning fire, today's contemporary and sleekly designed gas-burning fireplaces can be built directly into a wall.
To achieve the look of cool combustion, many homeowners are turning to a zero-clearance fireplace made of metal with a masonry lining. This fireplace is a self-contained unit that gives homeowners a viable option to add a gas-burning fireplace to their house without a conventional hearth, chimney and flue.
"Many homeowners have zero-clearance model fireplaces installed at eye level in the wall for a modern minimalistic look," Crouch says, "Technology is such that direct-vent fireplaces can actually be part of a wall, acting as a transition from indoors to outdoors, or from one room to another."
Gas direct-vent fireplaces eliminate the need for a chimney and flue and are vented through a horizontal pipe that exits through an outside wall. On front-sealed glass models, all of the air needed for combustion comes from outside the home.
If you find yourself getting fired up for the colder weather, Crouch says today's gas-burning fireplaces can heat up a new or existing home. "A fire in the fireplace just naturally becomes the focal point of a room," he says. "Some gas-burning fireplace units aren't just decorative, they can act as zone heaters."
A sealed-combustion gas-burning fireplace doesn't draw air from a home, and some models can output the heat they generate back into the house. "Not only do you have the beauty of a fire," Crouch says, "but these gas fireplaces have remotes equipped with a timer and thermostat."
Before becoming consumed with an inferno of ideas for fireplace features, Crouch says it's best to involve a professional installer certified by the National Fireplace Institute (NFICertified.org). "You want to consult a local professional to ensure the fireplace feature you want will work in the space," he says. "A certified fireplace professional will make sure it is installed according to the manufacturer's specifications, because you are still dealing with gas and fire."
With enough planning, a fireplace can be located nearly anywhere inside or outside the home. A bedroom's design can be metaphorically set ablaze with a see-through fireplace feature with flames that dance on colored crystals or glass. A see-through fireplace can be floor- or wall-mounted, to serve as a home's hot spot.
Outdoor fire features are a quickly growing segment of fireplace installations, according to Crouch. "Having a fireplace outside is just a natural way to create a warm space for gathering or entertaining," he says. "A fireplace doesn't have to throw heat to be inviting and is always welcoming, no matter the time of year."
Today's gas-burning fireplaces are made to look beautiful with or without the flames dancing, whether they're turned on or off. A dramatic log set arranged in a vertical bonfire fashion serves as a transition to outdoors when placed into a large see-through fireplace wall unit. Nonconventional media used in fireplaces can also have a tranquil effect. Flames emerging from fire-safe rocks or colored crystals/glass -- and not logs -- emulate an Eastern influence.
Still considered the heart of the home, the kitchen can house a hearth when a traditional fireplace can be reimagined into a "fire place." Emulating a kitchen island, a contemporary hearth can be horizontally set onto the floor, which becomes a cool place for families to chill out with flames dancing in a sealed combustion chamber set beneath a countertop.
No matter where a fireplace is located, expect it to bring an elemental experience to your home. "I think being drawn to a fire is in a human's DNA," Crouch says. "Even though the technology and style of fireplaces is changing, a person's reaction to gathering around a fire is still a visceral part of the human experience."