Home Hot Spot

For lots of people, home is where the hearth is—where the family gathers in front of the fireplace getting warm and cozy. The fireplace takes center stage, and may sometimes adjoin the kitchen. According to Stephen Melman, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Home Builders, the hearth, in earlier times, was a necessary and functional part of the home kitchen, used for both cooking and heating the home. "Today’s hearth room still brings people together," says Melman, "Families congregate in areas of a home where there’s warmth and comfort. With a fire going, that is often the hearth room."

Integral Feature

The NAHB researchers have found that even today, half of all experts state that an indoor fireplace in a central location is an integral feature to incorporate into the design of a new home. Melman explains that the "Home of the Future" study suggests that formal living and dining rooms have become passé and many prospective home owners opt instead for one large space—a hearth room.

No matter whether you're in the midst of renovating your home or thinking about building a new home with the hearth room as its centerpiece, you'll find it's easier today than ever to put in a new fireplace. According to Diedra Darsa, the new prefabricated fireplaces don't need a stone foundation. Darsa is the spokeswomen for the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association located in Arlington, Va. Today's fireplace is self-contained so that a homeowner's gas fireplace can be vented through an outside wall. "The fire in a hearth room can either be wood-burning or gas, with a simple or elaborate surround," says Darsa.

Available Options

Before you go shopping for your fireplace, consider the style of your home and its dimensions. The available options include:

*The wood-burning fireplace with an open hearth. Burning logs gives a cozy atmosphere to the room, but most of the heat is lost through the chimney flue.

*It's easy and inexpensive to install a gas line so as to change over a wood burning fireplace to one that burns gas logs. Again, if this is an open hearth, you get atmosphere, not an efficient heating system.

No Chimney

*The direct-vent gas fireplace does away with the need for the chimney and its flue since it is vented through pipes set into an outside wall.

*Inserts are available that can be set into existing stone fireplaces so that the heat can radiate throughout the room.