Fireplaces becoming more common throughout the house

Whether it’s creating a focal point, adding a bit of warmth to a chilly corner or serving as a place to hang those holiday stockings, a fireplace is an amenity that homeowners often want in more than one room. What started as the feature of a formal living room is frequently considered standard equipment in family rooms and keeping rooms, generally a gathering place that is near the kitchen. And it’s been popping up in other areas of the home as well.

“A fireplace is a nice added value to a home,” said Jennifer Crosby of the Crosby Design Group, a 14-year-old full service design firm in Midtown that works with various local builders, including the Providence Group. “We’ve seen them in the keeping room adjacent to the kitchen and the formal great rooms, of course. People also put them in master bedroom sitting areas, finished basements and on the covered or screen porch. We’ve even had some dual fireplaces in the master bath that go through to the bedroom. That’s a very sexy look.”

But there’s much more to fireplaces today than simply deciding where they should go. Once the choice has been made to add the option, either as part of a new home under construction or added on as part of a remodel, there’s still a good bit to consider. Size is the initial factor, and one that plays the biggest role in cost. The larger the width, height and depth of the opening, the more expensive the fireplace.

The next significant factor to consider is the type of fireplace. Wood-burning and gas logs are the two most common options, with gas being the more popular with homeowners.

“It’s really an ongoing discussion,” said Crosby. “Most people agree that there’s no a replacement for a beautiful log fire, but in the market, gas dominates.”

But there are now other options for fireplaces that go beyond gas or wood. At some of the Providence Group’s communities in the Southeast, buyers will find a new smoke-free ethanol fireplace that can be added to any room.

“Sometimes in a townhouse, having an ethanol fire is the only option, since there’s no place to put a chimney,” said Crosby. “Ethanol gives buyers an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

The ethanol fireplace has a refillable canister that feeds the flame. While no heat is produced, the fire does create ambiance. And since it doesn’t require a chimney, the firebox can be mounted just about anywhere.

“We’ve hung them on the wall like a piece of art or a flat-screen TV,” said Crosby. “It’s almost like a shadowbox, with a very contemporary style. If a buyer wants that, we can easily prep for it in the building stage.”

Michael Morris, the design center manager for Monte Hewett Homes, said the company is about to start offering different fireplace options, including propane-fired.

“A typical firebox is a 48-inch square, but we’ll soon have some that will be vertical,” said Morris. “We also have propane fireplaces that are popular in townhouses as alternatives to traditional fireplaces. Some of them are very linear - 5-feet long by 2-feet high. They work particularly well in some of our townhouses that are on the contemporary side.”

Buyers who opt for a traditional fireplace also have their pick of various finishes, including which materials will surround the firebox and what sort of mantel will top it off.

“We get very used to seeing the same thing, especially on outdoor fireplaces where the look stays very traditional with stacked granite or a lot of Tennessee field stone,” said Morris. “We have some of that on the interior, too, but we’ve also been branching out. There are other options, such as poured concrete hearths, for example. We’re also using smaller, mosaic tiles that create a very classic look, especially when they’re installed in a herringbone pattern or used with a different colored grout.”

Travertine tiles, granite and marble surrounds are also popular options. They’re often topped off with wood mantels that are sleeker and less ornate, said Crosby.

“We’re getting away from fluted columns and seeing more of the straight lines of the Craftsman style,” she said. “That’s part of a bigger trend: Everything ornate is giving way to a simple, elegant style.”

Angi Sago, design director of Traton Homes, says many buyers are passing up mantels completely.

“Believe it or not, they want just tile or stone on the wall around the fireplace, maybe even up to the ceiling, but it’s very flat,” she said. “It shows off the decorative tiles or the very thick stones. Part of their thinking is that they’re going to put a flat-screen [TV] over the fireplace, so without a mantel, there’s no specific height where you have to put it.”

While it’s an easier proposition to designate fireplaces in specific rooms during the building process, it’s not unheard of to add a fireplace to an existing home. Walter Lewis, president of Neighbors Home Remodeling in Roswell, says there are options, but not as many.

“It’s not a lot different when you’re doing an addition,” he said. “We’ve had projects where we were building a brand new wall and framed it for a fireplace. On another, there already was a fireplace on a back wall where we adding an addition, and we were able to take the back off the existing one and made it a see-through. That part’s not complicated.”

What is complicated is finding enough exterior wall space to build a chimney to whisk the exhaust up and out.

“Then if you get into doing a masonry or brick chimney, that’s a lot of work,” said Lewis. “When that’s an issue, there are usually ways to add a gas fireplace and vent it outside, like a [clothes] dryer. The biggest concern is usually setting up the gas line, but that’s a fairly easy way to get a fireplace in.”

Homeowners can expect to spend about $3,000 for an average-sized gas fireplace with logs. Depending on the type of surround and mantel, the price could easily go higher.

“Most people just go with a manufactured metal box that keeps the cost down,” said Lewis. “I’ve done them as gas or wood-burning with gas starters. I’d say that most people prefer a real fire, but then they weigh the other problems: having to bring in wood from outside, having to clean out the ashes. That can create a lot more work than a gas fireplace. But even so, there are some people - myself included - who love that real, natural fire.”