Fireplaces have traditionally been one of the top amenities sought by homebuyers. But now sophisticated buyers -- and smart homebuilders -- are taking it one step further with upgraded, additional and outdoor fireplaces.
A survey last year by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association revealed homebuyers include a fireplace among features they most want in their home. They also consider a fireplace a design feature that improves the home's value.
Nearly 60 percent of all homes built today include at least one fireplace, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. And 71 percent of fireplace installations are made by the builder.
The HPBA urges builders to look beyond the traditional fireplace in the expected family and living rooms and set themselves apart from their competitors -- and meet the demands of today's homebuyers -- by upgrading the fireplace. There are many ways to do this. For example, the association suggests:
- A new super-size fireplace -- up to 50 inches wide and 55 inches high -- for the great room. Direct-vent fireplaces can sport reflection-free glass, so you'll see only the flame and not the glass.
- Adding a mantel or cabinet, perhaps with gas controls incorporated into either.
- Fireplaces that allow the homeowner to control the heat output without changing the height or quality of the flame. Some will even pull air from the room, transforming it into warm air and radiant heat.
- Electric fireplaces, which are more advanced than ever. Technology makes them more beautiful than ever, and many can be operated by remote control. Users can turn on flame and heat, or just one. Another benefit is that they can be operated year-round in any climate and are easy to clean and maintain. And you can use real-looking artificial looks to complete the look.
- New fireplace designs for smaller rooms, bedrooms and, yes, bathrooms. Imagine a see-through gas fireplace that can be built into an indoor/outdoor wall, allowing you to enjoy it from inside or outside.
- Something different. For those modern types, portrait-style fireplaces can be built into the wall, resembling framed artwork. Corner models offer flames coming from a bowl, freestanding fireplaces are an option, as are more sleek, stylish designs.
- Indulging. Think about a fireplace above the bathtub or in the kitchen, where the fireplace can warm the room while heating an oven.
A new spin on fireplaces is also seen among homebuilders and design professionals.
"Fireplaces will be put in at eye level in the adjoining family room, so the cook can enjoy it, too," Joan McCloskey, Better Homes and Gardens editor, said at the International Builders Show.
The NAHB says more than 25 percent of owners have a fireplace or freestanding stove in areas of the house other than the family or living room. Most often they're in the master bedroom, many are wall-mounted.
Hearth products are also hot outdoors these days, too. In fact, the HPBA earlier this year said outdoor hearth products sold in record numbers for the second consecutive year. Portable heaters, chimineas and outdoor fireplaces -- many weatherproof -- are key elements in today's outdoor room, which usually also includes a barbecue grill, dining area, lighting, and patio umbrella.
The HPBA says Americans are in a "hiving" and "connecting" phase, meaning people want to spend more time with family and friends in their own homes.
Another factor that's driving these overall fireplace trends is demographics. The percentage of home-buying couples with children has dropped significantly over the past 20 years, says National Association of Homebuilders economist Gopal Ahluwalia. That means empty nesters want different amenities.
"What homebuyers really want is something totally different from everybody else," McCloskey said.