The Sky's the Limit!
By Bill Sendelback
The good news is that new-home construction in the U.S. continues to improve. The bad news is that fewer of those new houses include a fireplace.
Construction of single-family new homes increased 4.4% over 2018, reaching an annual estimate of 919,000 units, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). But the incident rate of homes with at least one fireplace has fallen to 41%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, down from a high in 1996 of 59%.
That means, with a consistent 5% of new homes including two or more fireplaces, 54% of new homes built in 2019 didn’t include a fireplace. Most of those new single-family homes that did include a fireplace were low-priced, low-margin Builder Boxes. But while sales of these low-end fireplaces may be waning, the good news is that sales of high-end, even luxury, high-priced, high-margin fireplaces are growing, offering hearth product dealers new and profitable markets.
“It’s exciting what the customer wants in high-end fireplaces, and what we can turn into reality,” according to Perry Ranes, vice president of Sales for Travis Industries. “And customers are demanding more customization.” In high-end gas fireplaces, Travis offers its Fireplace Xtrordinair (FPX) in Premium and ProBuilder Series, and its DaVinci Custom line.
“Both our FPX and DaVinci lines are selling very well,” he says. “Last year we saw 8% sales growth in the FPX line, and we expect at least that much sales growth this year,” says Ranes. In the FPX line, Travis offers more than 50 options, not including face options. The FPX Premium line features Travis’ GreenSmart control system that steps down the burn rate as the selected temperature approaches.
The FPX ProBuilder Series is a linear line with fewer options for a more economical price. The entire FPX line offers laser-cut fronts. “It’s astounding how many variations are possible in our very popular DaVinci Custom line,” Ranes says. “We can produce anything you want in multiples of three feet.” In its DaVinci line, Travis soon will offer a “certain type” of venting that is patented but not yet revealed.
Six-foot, single-sided designs have been the most common in DaVinci sales, he says. Travis recently engineered and installed a 66-ft. DaVinci fireplace in San Francisco, “but we can go much bigger,” according to Ranes.
“It’s very important to keep our dealers in the loop on all our products, but especially on these high-end models. We have mandatory dealer training and a lot of additional American Institute of Architects training,” Ranes says.
Phoenix TrueView gas fireplace from Heat & Glo.
Hearth & Home Technologies
There are three market segments for fireplaces, according to John Shimek, senior vice president of Product Innovation at Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT); low-end starter models for first-time homeowners, mid-range fireplaces, a segment where sales have slowed according to Shimek, and a growing segment of high-end luxury fireplaces.
“That segment definitely has more momentum,” says Shimek. “Those consumers have always had money to spend. As this high-end luxury fireplace market grows, we’ll always have a higher incident rate in those higher-end homes.” Shimek explains that the lower overall incident rate of fireplaces in new-home construction is because the large homebuilders are growing in areas where the fireplace incident rate has always been low.
Linear styling is not a trend, Shimek says. “Linear styling with its cleaner, more minimalistic look, engineered to allow a TV set to be installed above it, now has a solid foothold in the market, particularly in the high-end models.”
New from HHT in this high-end fireplace market is its Heat & Glo Phoenix TrueView traditional-styled but clean-faced gas fireplace. A finalist for Best of Show honors at the 2018 International Builders Show, homebuilders described the Phoenix as “exactly what homeowners want,” according to Shimek. “Although technically not a direct-vent model, the Phoenix is as close as you can get to a direct-vent without a glass front.
The Phoenix, available in a 42-inch size, features a “mechanical draft with an electronic brain” that allows the combustion air needed by the fireplace, but will not allow the fireplace to operate under negative draft or in “unsafe” conditions. The Heat & Glo Phoenix’s suggested retail prices range from $7,100 to $7,600, depending on options. “This has been our most successful first-year product launch,” Shimek adds.
“High-end fireplaces are really a fun category. You are really building a room around these fireplaces. This market has a lot of energy, and it’s opening new sales doors for dealers,” Shimek concludes.
Custom fireplace by Stellar Hearth Products.
Stellar Hearth Products
Sales of their high-end, custom, gas fireplaces are up 89% at Stellar Hearth Products, a division of Hearth & Home Technologies, according to Ross Morrison, general manager. “Our sales have been on the East Coast and West Coast, but now we’re seeing sales growth in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. Much of our sales increase is the result of architects and designers visiting our website.”
Morrison says most sales in the past have been simple linear models, but now he sees more demand for larger, taller, more vertical styling. “With larger glass, designers have asked us to raise the burners so that the flame is more visible.”
A recent example of Stellar’s ability to build almost any fireplace is an L-shaped fireplace in a Montana home. One leg of the fireplace was 9-ft. long with a 30-degree offset elbow to a 24-ft. leg.
Stellar’s Solitude model was Gas Products category winner in the 2018 Vesta Awards. The company’s Envision Series was a finalist in the Art of Fire competition in that same Vesta Awards program.
“Our Galaxy Series has been our ‘bread and butter’ line,” says Morrison. It is available in 4-, 5-, 6-, and 7-ft. sizes in stock or semi-custom models. A taller model is available in single-sided, see-through, bay, left or right corners, four-sided, and pier styles.
Outdoor models have become more in demand for Stellar. “Forty percent of our quotes are for outdoor installations,” says Morrison. Stellar’s suggested retail prices range from $16,000 to “a couple hundred thousand,” says Morrison.
The Rumford 1500 by ICC/RSF.
Sales of the Renaissance line of wood-burning fireplaces from ICC/RSF are selling very well in all markets, says Dan Bonar, vice president – Residential Products. Featuring a large glass front for large flames and a big fire view, the EPA-qualified Renaissance models are designed for high-end homes where the homeowner wants the aesthetics of a large fire without the heat.
The Renaissance Rumford 1000 model was the Wood Fireplace winner in the 2008 Vesta Challenge for low emissions, and the newer Renaissance Linear Split Pane model was a finalist in the 2017 Vesta Awards Wood Products category. The Renaissance line now includes an EPA-qualified Rumford 1500, and a new, smaller Uptown 600 model. Suggested retail prices for ICC/RSF’s Renaissance line range from $5,500 to $11,000.
ICC/RSF promotes its fireplaces to architects and designers throughout North America, but all of its sales go through its dealers. “These are very large dollar sales, and the dealer margins are higher,” according to Bonar. “The installations can be a little more complicated so dealers need to be more knowledgeable about our products.”
Napoleon’s Altitude X Series.
“Low-end and mid-range fireplaces are showing more growth in units sold, while high-end fireplaces are growing more rapidly in dollars and are more profitable for dealers,” according to Napoleon Fireplaces’ John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales. Sales of high-end fireplaces are “taking off” in metro areas, he says. Regionally for Napoleon, fireplaces are selling well in California, the Pacific Northwest, the Mid-Atlantic region and parts of the Midwest. “The Southeast, not so much.”
As part of Napoleon’s Hot Spots research and design guide promotion, the company has hosted 300 related events nationwide for architects, homebuilders, designers, and dealers. “We found that we have all missed the boat for the last 10 years by not recognizing, recommending, and selling fireplaces that were appropriate to the home and the homeowner,” says Czerwonka. “These groups now are much more educated about the stylish and appropriate new fireplaces recently available.”
New from Napoleon is its High Country wood-burning fireplaces in traditional and linear styles, all with guillotine glass doors. New in the company’s gas fireplace offerings is its Luxuria line in linear styling and available in “good, better, and best” models, plus a see-through series. Napoleon’s Linear Series was the Gas Products winner in the 2017 Vesta Awards.
Napoleon’s HD and HDX fireplace models have sold very well, says Czerwonka, but are being phased out in favor of the company’s new Altitude and Elevation Series featuring elevated LED ember beds and accent lighting. “We’ve shown the Altitude and Elevation models to our dealers, and the consensus was that they are the best fireplaces they have ever seen,” he says.
Suggested retail prices for Napoleon’s high-end fireplaces range from $5,000 to $15,000. “We’re using standard sizes, but with these new high-end models we’re focused on putting elements of custom fireplaces into residential applications.”
200H Front Facing clear gas fireplace by Ortal.
“This year started slow, but we’ve had a great sales year,” according to Kevin Rantin, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Ortal. “We’ve always done well on the West Coast, but now we’re doing quite well on the East Coast, too.” Ortal offers a very wide range of “high quality, contemporary, frameless” gas fireplaces in single-sided, corner, three-sided and see-through models, plus stand-alone models.
“We’re seeing more interest in units with taller fire viewing areas,” says Rantin. “Most are about 16 inches high, but we’re seeing viewing areas as high as 24 inches. We’re also seeing an uptick in sales of our stand-alone models as well as our 360-degree island models.” Suggested retail prices for Ortal models range from $2,500 to $20,000.
New from Ortal in its high-end gas fireplace offering is its H Series featuring a 22-inch-high fire viewing area and Ortal’s Cool Wall Technology that allows installation of a TV above the fireplace, or the unit to be recessed without needing a power vent. Rantin promises more new Ortal models shortly.
The City Series, San Francisco Bay by Regency.
Regency Fireplace Products
Regency Fireplace Products is seeing its sales of high-end fireplaces grow by double-digit percentage increases, according to Glen Spinelli, president. “These new, larger fireplaces with more features are meant to look unique and to make a statement in the home,” he says. “Homeowners are willing to spend as much as $50,000 for this unique statement. Cost is not a factor.” The suggested retail prices of Regency’s models range from $6,000 to $20,000. “These new high-end models are taller with larger flames. Some customers want heat but some do not. Most models offer no restrictions on clearances to combustibles. That is what designers want – to be able to put the fireplace wherever they want. The technology of these high-end models has really pushed forward in the last six or seven years, and that technology is trickling down to lower-priced models.”
Regency’s City Series is a modern, linear gas line in 40- and 72-inch models, plus left and right corners and piers. New in that line is the City 60, offering taller glass and available with power venting. Also new from Regency is its G800, a 36-inch gas model with top or rear vent and a suggested retail price of as much as $7,000. The Alterra CF780 is a new, larger wood-burning fireplace with traditional rectangular, but clean-faced, styling. It also features a guillotine glass door. “These models offer future flexibility for the customer since gas logs can be installed in them,” says Spinelli.
The Architectural Series by Town & Country.
Town & Country
The Town & Country line of traditional-styled, high-end wood and gas burning fireplaces from Pacific Energy Fireplace Products have “always sold well,” according to Cory Iversen, National Sales manager. Now Pacific Energy has introduced its Architectural Series, a line of linear, semi-custom, premium, ultra-high-end gas fireplaces. This new, big linear series is available in sizes from 3- to 8-ft. in one-foot increments. Models include sophisticated controls that also measure gas pressure, and includes installation and maintenance modes.
“We could sell more of our Architectural Series but we’re taking a slow, measured approach to introducing it because it’s so important to have all the bugs ironed out. And we want to make certain we can keep up with demand,” says Iversen. “We want to be sure these (units) are trouble-free.”
The Architectural Series is aimed at high-end homes and commercial applications. Suggested retail prices range from $10,000 to $20,000. Pacific Energy is promoting the new line to architects, designers, and custom-home builders with all sales leads passed on to its dealers. “Most of our Architectural Series dealers already sell our Town & Country line, so this is such a good fit,” Iversen says. Architectural Series dealers must display the product, and that installation is done by factory personnel as dealer training.
Spartherm 700–ZC Fireplace.
Spartherm sells primarily high-end gas and wood-burning fireplaces and freestanding stoves, manufactured in Germany. While selling mostly in eastern Canada and the eastern U.S., sales of its models have been “steady” this year as it attempts to expand to other North American markets, according to Markus Aumann, Export Sales manager. “We’re known for our angled units, but we also offer a full range of single-faced fireplaces that are priced to be competitive with the larger, single-faced models manufactured in North America. But sales of our single-faced units are more difficult since there are so many of these available from many manufacturers here.”
Spartherm, however, is increasing its range of products, including a line of 2020-certified wood-burners to be introduced in spring 2020. Spartherm also offers its Wood Premier Edition available in single-sided, left and right corner, and three-sided models, all with glass doors that rise up to allow an open fire. Spartherm’s Varia high-end, wood-burning fireplace was the Wood Products winner in the 2017 Vesta Awards.
The Arte 3RL-100h from Wittus.
Wittus – Fire by Design
Wittus has been importing, distributing, and retailing high-end wood and gas European stoves and fireplaces for 40 years. Wood-burners start at a suggested retail price of $4,000 and range up to $10,000. Wittus’ gas fireplaces start at $2,500.
“Our customers always want high-end, contemporary fireplaces, but we’ve definitely noticed an uptick in inquiries for see-throughs and fireplaces with larger fireboxes,” according to Alyce Wittus, vice president. “People now want more choices and custom designs. We now are offering more styles and shapes most of which can be clad with any type of façade including stone and marble. The retractable glass doors on some models can be opened to enjoy a cozy fire or closed for greater efficiency.”
Moberg Glass Fire with ceramic stone hearth.
Just when you thought that a very custom, high-end fireplace might top out at $100,000, Moberg Fireplaces comes on the scene with very, very high-end, true custom fireplaces that start at $100,000 and top $1 million!
Walter Moberg, president and CEO, sells his one-of-a-kind masterpieces all around the world – literally. “Our client base continues to be dominated by wealthy business owners,” he says, “but a new sector is emerging with high-end amenity spaces for condominiums. We are now more involved in projects in Europe than ever before. Our sales are robust and growing, along with the expansion of very high-end homes and museums.
“We continue to specify and provide traditional/classical wood-burning masonry fireplaces for larger homes, but we also produce one-of-a-kind ANSI-listed gas fireplaces that are both fire sculptures and mechanically controlled for extreme environments.”
Gas fireplaces continue to dominate Moberg’s business “except in very high-end residences where the client demands the ‘real’ thing.”
Moberg designs both contemporary and traditional styles, but he says there is “some tiredness” with linear styling.
Installation of Moberg’s creations are done by local contractors in each country, but Moberg’s staff supervises each installation.
No, Moberg does not sell through hearth product dealers.