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Anna G. Larson, Published January 26 2013

Warm and inviting: Fireplaces become focal points of home, add charm to rooms

FARGO - The smell of slow-burning wood, the crackle of the fire and the cozy heat from the wood-burning fireplace make Mary Locken’s sunroom a popular hangout in the winter.

“It’s just so peaceful and relaxing,” Locken says. “It invites you to have down time.”

Locken installed the fireplace when she added a sunroom onto her Fargo home. She envisioned a closed-off area for her teenage sons and their friends to relax and hang out.

But the room became a gathering spot for the whole family.

Locken’s son, Nick Horski, says his favorite part of the fireplace is the “chill factor.”

“That comment really sums up our family feelings about the fireplace and our new sunroom,” Locken says.

One of the main reasons people include fireplaces in their homes is family, says Blaine Lokhorst, manager of fireplace sales and service at Hebron Brick Co.

“If there is a room in a home that is not used much, add a fireplace,” he says. “A fireplace adds warmth and charm to a room and creates a warm, cozy environment for families to spend time together.”

A fireplace can increase the resale value of a home, provide an extra heat source and improve heat efficiency, all while creating ambience, he says.

In Lokhorst’s eight years with Hebron, he says the popularity of fireplaces has increased by more than 100 percent.

Typically the busiest time of year for fireplace installments are fall and winter months, says Darla Skaurud, general manager of Home and Hearth. Home and Hearth designed and installed Locken’s fireplace.

The sunroom fireplace is the second her home, and both fireplaces are wood burning. Locken favors wood-burning fireplaces over electric or gas for the atmosphere they create.

“I am so traditional when it comes to fireplaces,” Locken says. “You just can’t replace the crackle, smell and ambience of a wood-burning fireplace.”

Fargo resident Donna Heck misses the crackle and smell of her wood-burning fireplace, but she enjoys the convenience of her gas fireplace. Heck and her husband, Darren Dunlop, replaced their wood-burning fireplace in their basement with a gas fireplace about a year ago. Hebron Brick Co. installed the fireplace.

The couple wanted a gas fireplace because the wood-burning version became a lot of work, Heck says.

“You had to be committed to it,” she says. “The gas fireplace is instant gratification and convenience. We turn it on every time we’re down here. ”

Gas, electric and wood-burning are common types of fireplaces. Gas fireplaces generally cost more to operate than electric fireplaces, but they also produce more heat, Skaurud says.

Numerous variables impact the price of a fireplace like its size, amount of venting needed and the desired options, she says. Electric fireplaces at Home and Hearth start at about $500.

Fireplaces can be installed anywhere in a home, but the most common room is a family room or great room, Lokhorst says.

To install a fireplace, a gas line must be able to reach the room where it would be installed, and it must also be feasible to install the proper venting, he says.

Once a homeowner knows where a gas line and vent systems can be installed, they can decide on fireplace placement.

“We want to make sure the fireplace is in a space that works with the flow of the home and furniture arrangement,” Skaurud says.

After placement is finalized, homeowners can explore the appearance of their fireplace. The look of fireplaces can be as unique as its owners.

Heck and Dunlop chose to forfeit the mantle and hearth for a window-like look. They also have amber glass in the fireplace that appears to sparkle when the fireplace is lit.

“I like how updated it looks,” Heck says.

Locken wanted her fireplace to have a casual, lodge-like appeal, so she chose synthetic stone that looks like river rock and kept the overall look simple.

The size of a fireplace depends on the size of the room, Lokhorst says.

A 40,000 BTU fireplace is common for a large family room but would be too powerful for a bedroom, he says.

The main consideration for homeowners who are thinking about installing a fireplace is economics, Lokhorst says.

“Replacing an old wood stove or fireplace with a more energy-efficient appliance saves fuel, money and protects your family’s health,” Lokhorst says.

According to Xcel Energy’s natural gas price for the Fargo-Moorhead area, it costs an average of 15 cents per hour to operate a 30,000 BTU natural gas fireplace. Based on the national average cost of liquid propane, the cost to operate a 30,000 BTU propane fireplace is around 80 cents per hour, Skaurud says.

An electric fireplace can be run with lights only, or with lights and heat, and the cost varies from 3 cents per hour to 8 cents per hour, she says.

Wood-burning, electric or gas, fireplaces can add warmth and ambience to a home.

“There’s just something about watching a fireplace,” Heck says. “It’s tranquil.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525