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Gas fireplaces are $50–$200 more expensive than they were before, because models now must include safety barriers to prevent anyone from touching the fireplace’s hot glass front. Meanwhile, the first update in 24 years to minimum efficiency standards for gas furnaces seems to be in the offing.
When we last checked in with indoor-fireplace manufacturers, they warned us that the then-imminent safety-barrier requirement for gas fireplaces would result in fewer choices for consumers, because manufacturers would winnow out models that would cost too much to bring into compliance.
That didn’t happen.
We found that today’s gas fireplaces typically are $50–$200 more expensive than they were before because of the cost to include the safety barriers. However, more models are in the market than previously. Almost every major manufacturer now sells clean-face and linear fireplaces. No one could provide sales numbers for clean-face and linear fireplaces, but the 14 industry experts and retailers whom we interviewed agree that the expansion of those models represents the hottest trend in the market.
Clean-face fireplaces, which have minimal framing that’s around the edge of the fireplace opening, now start at $590, compared with $675 before. Linear fireplaces, which are wider than they are high, typically are between 36–60 inches wide. However, 11 manufacturers now make custom linear fireplaces that are as wide as you want. At the extreme end, we found linear fireplaces that are as wide as 21 feet—and cost at least $150,000, not including venting!
Consolidation also changed the industry. The two largest indoor-fireplace manufacturers in terms of sales, Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) and Innovative Hearth Products (IHP), expanded in the past 3 years and reintroduced their fireplace lineups.
HHT acquired Vermont Castings Group in fall 2014 and now includes six fireplace brands: Heat & Glo, Heatilator, Majestic, Monessen, Quadra-Fire and Vermont Castings. IHP, which formed in September 2012 when FMI Products and Lennox Hearth Products combined, now has four new brands: Astria, Comfort Flame, Iron Strike and Superior. These brands sell redesigned FMI and Lennox models as well as new models.
PUTTING UP BARRIERS. As of Jan. 1, 2015, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires all vented gas fireplaces to include a safety barrier as standard equipment to prevent anyone from touching the fireplace’s hot glass front, which can reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) developed the standard to limit injuries. According to Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2,000 children age 5 and younger received severe burns from 1999–2008 as a result of touching glass fronts.
All safety barriers now must be certified by an independent third-party laboratory, which tests a barrier by pressing a probe to its surface. The barrier must withstand the pressure and prevent the probe from contacting the glass front, says Tom Stroud of HPBA, who helped to develop the standard.
No data exist on whether fireplace burns decreased as a result of the safety barriers, but all 14 experts whom we interviewed say the barriers made gas fireplaces safer.
The barriers typically are made from fine wire mesh that’s engineered to be firm. They’re designed to be invisible or at least not to obscure the view of the fireplace’s flame. We visited two indoor-fireplace stores, and we had to get within 2 feet of most of the models to see the barrier.
We found that the type of mesh that’s used in barriers varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, as do the coatings of the mesh. The type of mesh doesn’t affect the price of the barrier, but the width of the fireplace does. Every manufacturer with which we spoke has a slightly different proprietary approach to building its barriers.
The standard doesn’t require manufacturers to account for a minimum distance between the safety barrier and the fireplace’s glass front. We found that the distance typically varies from one-half inch to 5 inches, depending on the design of the fireplace and how far that the fireplace frame protrudes from the front of the firebox.
If a manufacturer wants to do 1 inch, that’s fine, and if it wants to do 4 inches, that’s fine, Stroud says. “You just can’t be able to push the barrier in and contact the glass.”