By Bill Sendelback
While recent sales increases in wood- and pellet-burning hearth products have been a pleasant surprise for manufacturers, sales of gas hearth products continue their market domination and strong sales growth, especially with the higher-end models.
Gas hearth products continue to be the bulk of sales for the average hearth product retailer, according to research done for Hearth & Home magazine’s Buyer’s Guide. Vented-gas hearth products represent 49% of the typical hearth product dealer’s sales, while wood-burners are only 28%, and pellet-burners 12% of dealer sales.
Sales of vent-free gas models are 6% of dealer sales, and electric fireplaces currently represent 3%. Direct-venting continues to dominate the venting of gas hearth products, increasing to 92% of gas-venting options over B-vent and vent-free.
While dealer sales are evenly split 50/50 between freestanding gas stoves and gas fireplace inserts, dealers report cast-iron models average 65% of their gas freestanding-stove sales, with steel construction at 34%, and combination cast-iron and stone construction 1% of gas-stove sales.
For decades, wood-burners have been under constant attack from environmentalists and regulators for their emissions of particulates. But recently, environmental concerns have shifted to controlling greenhouse gases. This new effort is now focused on limiting or eliminating the use of natural gas, while threats to wood-burning have slowed.
As an example, the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, with its Zero Net Carbon efforts, has regulated that natural gas can no longer be used in new residential construction of more than 3,500 sq. ft. So far that restriction does not apply to new homes of less than 3,500 sq. ft., and the City of Toronto, Ontario, is considering a similar restriction. The newly elected governor of Colorado is considering statewide limits on the use of natural gas, while, ironically, at the same time allowing more wood-burning.
Such efforts are not limited to North America. Across the pond in the UK, its Committee on Climate Change is proposing that no new UK homes be connected to the country’s gas grid after 2025. Those fighting this proposal, including the UK’s Institution of Gas Engineers & Managers, say that 90% of UK consumers can’t, or won’t, be prepared to pay for alternative low-carbon heating systems.
Our gas hearth products industry and the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) are well aware of these efforts to restrict or eliminate the use of natural gas, and are working to offset such steps.
With new home construction and housing sales strong in 2018, Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) did well with its gas hearth products, says Randy Wendolek, Brand Marketing manager. But while retail sales remain strong, Wendolek sees some sales softness this year in the housing market. “2019 sales will be flat, but we’re hoping for a stronger second half,” he says.
Linear styling continues to be a strong, growing trend, according to Wendolek. He points out that consumers want a gas fireplace in which they can manage the heat, so they can safely put a TV set above the fireplace. So HHT now offers its Phoenix and Legacy models, traditional open-fronted models with no glass, that can vent unwanted heat outside. With HHT’s recent purchase of Stellar Hearth Products, the company now offers custom gas fireplaces, a continuation of the Stellar brand.
New gas fireplace inserts will soon be featured in the Supreme and Provident Series in the Heat & Glo brand, the Excursion Series in the Quadra-Fire brand, and the Ruby and Jasper models in the Majestic line. Available in 25-, 30- and 35-inch models in traditional and modern styling, these inserts are engineered for easier installation with easier flue connection and easier access to components.
Wendolek also says that consumers now want gas fireplaces that can be controlled with a smart phone app, and HHT soon will have that app available.
Gas hearth product sales grew 10% last year for European Home, a company offering domestic-manufactured fireplaces under the company name, and imported Element 4 and Focus brands from Europe.
“Our growth was not as strong as in recent years,” said Holly Markham, owner. We sell in the upper-end price ranges where we’re seeing this market expand into clean-faced, modern styling. Sales so far this year are up another 10%.”
With sales growth in higher-end gas fireplaces, Markham sees increasing popularity in linear models, and now a movement toward fireplaces with taller openings. “Even many traditional-styled models are now featuring clean faces,” she says.
European Home’s single-sided J Series.
New from European Home are its vent-free peninsula model and its J Series of outdoor fireplaces featuring its M2 single-sided and see-through models, both 60-inches wide. The J Series includes multi-colored LED lights inside the firebox, and frosted glass panels in front and behind the burner.
Markham is particularly critical of the “heat dumping” or “heat management” trend that’s growing in the industry. “Consumers want the largest flames possible,” she says, “but why can’t we try for the best flames while using the least amount of gas to produce less heat when heat is not wanted? If the customer doesn’t want a lot of heat, dealers should educate them about what they are asking for and what they might get. Isn’t that better than selling them a bigger unit than they need, and then dumping heat and dollars outside?”
DVLXG55 Plaza by Empire Comfort Systems.
Last year was a good year for Empire Comfort Systems, especially for sales of its vent-free products and high-end gas fireplaces. “Once in about every eight to 10 years we see this kind of a sales year,” says Nick Bauer, president. “When cold weather comes early, vent-free gas logs and gas fireplace inserts sell well.” For Empire Comfort, an increase in custom homebuilding is helping its sales of high-end, $4,000 to $8,000, gas fireplaces, and large, linear models of 60 inches and longer.
“This year is half over,” adds Bauer, “but our sales are pretty steady across the board. We had our best pre-season sales orders ever. With this trend toward higher-end models, we’re now hitting price points that we never thought we would hit.”
New from Empire Comfort is its DVCT-50 gas fireplace in the company’s TruFlame Series, a 50-inch, traditional-styled model. The company’s new Plaza Series, a finalist in the Gas Products category in the 2019 Vesta Awards program, features “Cool Touch” technology, allowing non-combustible material to be placed to the edge of the fireplace opening. The Plaza Series has retail prices ranging from $10,000 to $15,000.
Canyon Timbers by Hargrove.
Last year was the best sales year in gas log manufacturer Hargrove’s history, according to Mark Hitchcock, director of Sales and Marketing. “We saw more interest in remote controls and electronic ignition, and we sold considerably more high-end log sets than in the past. We’ve had an uptick in sales every year for the last six years, and so far, 2019 also is doing very well.”
In some markets gas logs are not looked at as a “viable option,” says Hitchcock, “so dealers stopped emphasizing them. But now dealers are even adding wood-burning fireplaces just to put gas logs in them when the customer wants a less expensive gas fireplace than a direct-vent model.”
Driftwood and birch logs are making a resurgence, says Hitchcock, “but they are still niche products. Our Canyon Timbers sets with their charred look are still our bread and butter.” Hargrove is seeing increasing sales success with its Radiant Heat Series vented-gas log sets, featuring ceramic-fiber logs and offering “more heat into the room.”
New from Hargrove is its Hidden Controls Burner that hides the controls behind the burner and logs. Also new is the company’s Pinnacle burner, providing taller, more vertical flames for Rumsford-styled fireplaces. Hargrove now offers its Coal Basket in a vent-free model for smaller fireplaces.
RH Peterson Burnt Aspen gas logs.
Last year was a “phenomenal” gas hearth product sales year for RH Peterson, says Jerry Scott, senior vice president of Sales. “Sales started earlier and continued later in the year. We had to work overtime and weekends to keep up with demand.”
Peterson saw a better early-buy period this year. “It was a wonderful 2018,” Scott adds, “and we expect a wonderful 2019.”
Despite some localities taking pot shots at gas-burning, the “environmental cleanliness of gas hearth products resonates with consumers,” Scott says. “These products are easier to use, cleaner, more beautiful, and people want to save energy.
“Many consumers want more contemporary looks such as with glass or rock ember beds, but traditional styling is picking up speed,” says Scott. “Contemporary is a bit of a novelty. Fireplaces bring back images of past traditions such as the holidays.” Peterson also is seeing its outdoor fireplaces and fire pits selling well. “These tend to be welcome summer sales for dealers,” he says.
New from Peterson are models of birch log sets and its new Contemporary i series direct-vent gas fireplace inserts in 25- and 30-inch sizes.
HearthStone Stoves’ Waitsfield gas stove.
Last year was an “okay but lackluster” sales year for gas stoves and inserts for HearthStone Stoves, according to Dave Kuhfahl, president. “We’ve been highly focused on our wood stoves, getting them ready for the NSPS 2020 deadline, so we’ve not added new gas products,” he says. However, HearthStone’s flagship model, its Waitsfield gas stove, has seen nice sales increases. “It’s that kind of an economy where higher-end models are selling,” he says.
Kuhfahl also feels HearthStone has had voids in its gas fireplace insert line. “But we’ll fill those voids, too, after we wrap up our NSPS efforts,” he says. Kuhfahl expects HearthStone’s 2019 gas products sales to be “up some.”
Kuhfahl is surprised by HearthStone’s strong sales in gas models with standing pilots rather than IPI units. “We actually discontinued standing pilots, but we had to bring them back,” he says. “A lot of our stoves are used as heat sources, and standing pilots really work.”
Another reason for HearthStone’s slower sales of gas models last year was that the company was developing glass barriers for those models so production slowed during the development. “We did not want to simply slap a screen on the outside of our glass doors,” he says. “We wanted to attractively incorporate that screen into the door. We did just that, and this screen now is not removable, a safety factor that also will contain any glass breakage.”
Allume DLX by Innovative Hearth Products.
This year, sales of gas hearth products started slowly for Innovative Hearth Products (IHP), but picked up when winter weather cleared, according to Michael Lewis, vice president of Marketing. With gas fireplaces the major part of IHP’s sales, the company offers a full range from entry level to premium models with its Superior brand geared for homebuilders, and its Astria brand aimed at specialty hearth dealers.
“We’ve done a lot in the past year to overhaul our gas fireplace lines with new logs, new firebox interiors, and larger flames,” says Lewis. “In 2015, we went after efficiency, but customers want big flames. So we’ve focused on interior aesthetics while maintaining efficiency.”
More contemporary fireplaces and outdoor models are trends Lewis is seeing. “We’ve always had a strong outdoor fireplace offering, but we’ve needed more contemporary models, so we’ve done a lot of work to strengthen our contemporary lineup,” he says. “Contemporary styling is not a flash in the pan.” Lewis says larger, linear fireplaces are going into commercial and hospitality installations, and consumers are seeing and wanting more of this look.
New from IHP is its Allume and Allume DXL 60-inch linear models in its Astria brand. New outdoor fireplaces soon will be added to the IHP offering.
Napoleon’s Luxuria gas fireplace.
Napoleon Fireplaces had a “very good” 2018 gas-fireplace sales year with a double-digit sales increase, according to John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales. “We introduced new linear models in good, better, and best categories and see-throughs, all featuring our Dynamic Heat Control to allow TVs to be placed as close as 14 inches to the top of the fireplace without needing power venting.”
Ascent is Napoleon’s builder model. Aries is its “good” model; Vector is its “better” model; and Luxuria is Napoleon’s “best” category in this new lineup.
First quarter 2019 sales were slow for Napoleon’s gas models after a January price increase pulled sales into December, but sales came back “quite strong” beginning in April, says Czerwonka.
Price points are working their way up, he says. “More features in our ‘better’ and ‘best’ models are attracting customers to buy up.” And he points out that the biggest trend in gas fireplaces is “clean-faced, clean-faced, clean-faced.”
New from Napoleon are four new gas fireplace inserts in its Oakville Series, featuring easier installation and service. In Napoleon’s new Ascent line for homebuilders, 13 models also are now available in LP, no longer requiring a conversion from natural gas.
Napoleon is using its Hot Spot research to develop gas fireplaces that can be completely customized in the field. “Now dealers can take any model and modify it to fit any specific design style the consumer wants,” says Czerwonka. “We offer hundreds of options, but by starting with a basic fireplace model, this reduces dealer inventory and is easy to understand and use.”
Also new from Napoleon is its Riverside series of clean-faced outdoor models. A new patent-pending, direct-vent wall termination in stainless steel is paintable and extends only 2-½ inches from the outside wall.
City Series San Francisco Bay by Regency.
Regency Fireplaces did “extremely well” last year with sales of its gas hearth products, especially its City Series linear gas fireplaces, says Glen Spinelli, president. “This series has done very well with architects and designers for high-end new homes,” he says. And 2019 sales look bright for Regency with sales up 8% by June.
Dollar sales are up with Regency more than the company’s unit sales. “We’re selling much more expensive models, those retailing from $8,000 to $10,000. Dealers are doing well with custom-home builders with these higher-end models,” Spinelli says.
“Consumers now have so many options in gas fireplaces. They want the variety, and dealers want the flexibility to offer anything the consumer wants.” To meet these needs, Regency is offering basic gas fireplace platforms in both traditional and contemporary styling to accept the many options, including top venting, rear venting, and heat or heat management.
“We’re now even seeing linear models being fitted with traditional log sets rather than glass or stone ember-beds,” Spinelli adds. Regency also is offering basic platforms for gas fireplace inserts in small, medium, and large sizes with options including more finishes and more front and surround styles.
Horizon Series H3 by Valor Fireplaces.
“We had good, manageable sales growth last year, up 10%,” says Paul Miles, president and director of Sales and Marketing for Valor Fireplaces. “A very busy fall did create some challenges for us. We had a very good year in freestanding gas stoves, up 40%, but that is not the majority of our business. Our strongest sales volume last year was in gas fireplace inserts, showing a good sales percentage increase.”
After a strong fall 2018, this year started off soft for Valor. “With the bad winter weather early this year, dealers could not install, but things have picked up now,” Miles adds.
“Two or three years ago, contemporary styling was all the rage, but that now has stabilized. We’re seeing all styles – contemporary, transitional, and traditional – selling well as long as they have clean faces. And we’re back into logs in gas fireplaces, even in contemporary linear models, and a move away from glass ember beds.”
Miles sees new energy in the remodeling market as old fireplaces from the ’70s and ’80s are now being replaced. “The consumer now wants better looking, more efficient fireplaces. So we’re replacing those 20- to 30-year-old, zero-clearance units. There also is a tremendous market replacing old fireplace inserts.”
New from Valor is its Horizon Series H3, a traditional-styled, mid-sized gas fireplace.
Despite some regional concerns about the continued use of natural gas, there are no signs that sales of gas hearth products will not continue with strong growth, especially now, with manufacturers offering so many options to customize any installation to exactly what the consumer wants.
- Empire Comfort Systems
- European Home
- Hargrove Manufacturing
- Hearth & Home Technologies
- HearthStone Quality Home Heating Products
- Innovative Hearth Products (formerly FMI & Lennox Hearth Products)
- Napoleon (Fireplaces, Grills and Heating & Cooling)
- Regency Fireplace Products
- RH Peterson Co
- Valor Fireplaces / Miles Industries