Signs of Strength
By Bill Sendelback
One manufacturer called 2013 a “great year” while another said it was “an amazing sales transformation from past years.” These positive comments concern gas fireplaces, a hearth category that has steadily plunged downhill from 2005 to 2012. It’s a very welcome trend in a hearth industry that has been in decline.
Sales of indoor gas fireplaces in the U.S. were up almost seven percent in 2012, with direct-vent models continuing to lead the way, up almost 15 percent and now accounting for 78 percent of gas fireplace sales. Sales of B-vent models were flat, but vent-free units were off almost 21 percent in 2012.
However, the 291,990 units shipped in 2012 were far from the 1,086,915 units shipped in 2005, the peak sales year for the category. Although showing positive results, 2012 sales were still down 73 percent from the 2005 high, indicating the category still has a long way to go.
But 2013 shipments through the third quarter show that indoor gas fireplace sales are rapidly recovering, up more than 31 percent. Vent-free models also showed renewed strength, up more than 56 percent. Outdoor models experienced even greater strength on much smaller unit sales, up 13 percent for 2012 and up a whopping 84 percent through the third quarter of 2013.
The recent and welcome recovery in new home construction in the U.S. certainly has helped gas fireplace sales, but manufacturers report that higher-end retrofit models are doing as well as the familiar builder boxes.
“This has been a strong sales season,” says Glenn Thomson, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Innovative Hearth Products. “Our new home construction business is ahead about 25 percent, but sales through our hearth dealers also are up in the low 20 percents.” Thomson says Innovative’s low-end and upper-tier model sales are up, while sales of mid-priced models are sluggish.
“We’re up 10 percent, particularly our high-end models, and we had our best October in company history,” says Kent Roeder, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Mendota Hearth Products. “Normally this is the time we sell more inserts, but gas fireplaces are doing better than normal.”
“We haven’t had a year like this in years,” says Glen Spinelli, president of Regency Fireplaces. “We were up 42 percent in December, and sales in all areas of North America are up by double digits. We’re doing everything we can to keep up with demand.”
Contemporary styling, led by linear models, continues to set the pace in gas fireplaces, but traditional designs appear to be making a comeback.
“Although everything today has a clean look, we’re seeing a trend back toward traditional with the traditional square and rectangular sizes,” says Paul Miles, director of Sales for Valor Fireplaces/Miles Industries. Miles predicts a big replacement market for gas fireplaces with so many gas models installed in the 1980s and 1990s now needing replacement. He suggests many of these replacement opportunities will stick with traditional sizes to ensure easier retrofits.
“Linear modern models are growing steadily in all demographics,” according to Stephen Schroeter, senior vice president of Sales and Marketing for Napoleon Fireplaces. “We thought this was a niche for urban areas, but we were wrong.”
Schroeter says there is also growth in transitional products – between contemporary and traditional – where changes such as driftwood logs give modern designs a more traditional look.
“Custom home builders are already there with contemporary or transitional designs,” he says, “but some builders are stuck in the old ways.” Schroeter also says consumers are gravitating more to design and quality than price.
”Customers recognize value, and they’ll pay more to get something that looks better,” he says.
“Linear styling is continuing to grow, but we’re seeing a shift toward traditional,” according to Ross Morrison, vice president of Marketing for Stellar Hearth Products, formerly Big Woods Hearth Products. “In 2010, we sold four or five modern units to one traditional. Now it’s one to one.”
Morrison says that today’s younger buyer wants variety, not the same shapes, styles or sizes as their parents wanted.
Stellar Hearth Uses Sensor to Keep Glass Cool
Regulatory and legislative attacks on vented gas fireplaces had slowed, at least until the end of 2013. Since the February, 2013, decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals that went against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), there had been no activity by that agency, says Ryan Carroll, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s (HPBA) associate director of Government Affairs.
That court ordered the DOE to “properly” define vented hearth products to differentiate heater-rated products from decorative gas products over which the DOE will not have regulatory authority.
But on Dec. 31, 2013, the DOE published in the federal register its surprise “Proposed Determination of Hearth Products as Covered Consumer Products” in which the DOE is trying to establish its “coverage” over essentially all gas hearth products.
The HPBA says this action “has the potential to impact even more products than the rulemakings that the HPBA successfully challenged in federal court.”
The DOE’s proposed definition of “hearth product” is “a gas-fired appliance that simulates a solid-fueled fireplace or presents a flame pattern, for aesthetics or other purpose, that may provide space heating directly to the space in which it is installed.” The DOE says the “proposed definition includes, but is not necessarily limited to all vented and unvented hearth products” including vented decorative hearth products, vented heater hearth products, vented gas logs, gas stoves, outdoor hearth products and ventless hearth products.
“Virtually every gas-fired product would be subject to having energy efficiency requirements, input limits or other restrictions applied to it,” warns the HPBA. A 30-day comment period began with the Dec. 31, 2013, publication.
The HPBA is working with manufacturers to determine the most effective response. “This rule could severely limit what products manufacturers could produce, retailers could sell or customers could purchase,” the HPBA emphasizes.
The CSA standard requiring barriers on glass fronts of gas fireplaces and gas stoves goes into effect with products manufactured as of Jan. 1, 2015. Existing products in inventory, that do not include barriers, may continue to be sold by manufacturers and dealers.
A recent change to the standard now restricts decorative elements on the barriers to five percent of the barrier surface area and to a maximum width of ¾ inch. Wording on the product labels will now say that the barrier shall be installed when the unit is installed, putting the burden on the installer to put the barrier in place.
Canada’s P.4 efficiency test for gas hearth appliances is approaching the end of the revision process, according to Tony Gottschalk, manager and executive director of the HPBA Canada. A number of formulas in the standard have been corrected, but no decision has yet been made whether to include minimum efficiencies.
What may be the final meeting of Natural Resources Canada and the industry was to be held Jan. 9, 2014.
“There has been very constructive dialog between the hearth industry and Natural Resources Canada,” says Gottschalk, “but there simply is not enough known about how gas fireplaces are actually used in Canada to make a decision.”
Perhaps it’s the upswing in new home construction, or improvement in the economy, or the vast array of new looks and sizes offered by manufacturers, but sales of gas fireplaces are benefitting, and that’s good news for the entire hearth products industry.
The Manhattan fireplace sets the mood for relaxation. Equipped with fuel-saving electronic ignition and advanced burner technology, Manhattan also features a Stylo glass front, Crystaline ember bed, Mirro-Flame porcelain reflective radiant panels and a multi-function LED spectrum light strip. The light strip transitions from the entire RGB color range or can be set to any color.
From Napoleon Fireplaces & Grills; visit www.napoleonfireplaces.com.
The REVO Series is an innovative fusion of technology, design and safety in square, horizontal and vertical models. Slender, seven-in. deep profiles can hang on the wall or be recessed in the wall for installation in nearly any room. The Razor burner provides a stunning modern flame, and artistic front options can be accented with optional LED backlighting in seven vivid colors.
From Hearth & Home Technologies; visit www.heatnglo.com.
Tradition Meets Beauty
This Traditional Fireplace is vent-free and a luxurious option for the homeowner wishing to add warmth and beauty to an Outdoor Room or backyard space. Features are a complete igniter system, 28,000 to 41,000 Btus and stone trim. An attractive log set is included.
From Bull Outdoor Products; visit www.bullbbq.com.
The Bentley fireplace for the Marquis Collection is a dedicated, clean-view, direct-vent fireplace that can be used with log sets or glass media. Homeowners can choose the fireplace as a decorative or heater-rated appliance. Bentley comes in 39 in. and 42 in. sizes.
From Kingsman Fireplaces; visit www.marquisfireplaces.com.
Stand Alone Fireplace
The Stand Alone 70 TS freestanding fireplace series is ideal for home remodels. The 70 TS adds an attractive, warming fireplace with minimal disruption to an existing space.
From Ortal USA; visit www.ortal-heat-usa.com.
Realistic and Durable
The Aries direct-vent fireplace showcases realism, durability and energy efficiency. Aries is available in 35- or 40-in. widths and is offered in multiple style options to fit contemporary or classical style homes.
From Innovative Hearth Products; visit www.astria.us.com.
High Heat Fire
The 4415 fireplace has high heat output and a sleek, linear appearance. The fireplace can heat up to 2,100 sq. ft. with a long row of dancing flames and built-in fans. Homeowners can choose from a selection of fireback options along with realistic Driftwood and Stone Fyre-Art. Other features are a translucent, under-lit crushed glass floor and heavy-duty steel firebox. A safety screen installed over the glass prevents accidental contact with the hot glass.
From Fireplace Xtrordinair; visit www.fireplacex.com.
Large, Luxury Fire
With an elegant, dramatic presentation, the Yellowstone Direct-Vent Fireplace is the centerpiece of the home with handcrafted doors and a huge viewing opening. The flames are tall and realistic, and a concealed electronic ignition reduces fuel consumption. The Yellowstone offers up to 66,000 Btus per hour. Other features are a separate outside combustion air intake for indoor air quality preservation, and hand-grouted refractory panels available in warm red Herringbone or Stacked Brick.
From Ironhaus; visit www.ironhaus.com.
The Grace Front Collection is sleek and sophisticated and offers complete customization, with five gorgeous finishes and eight core elements, including arched and frame fronts in two widths. Other features include accent bars, accent corners and dome rivets.
From Mendota Hearth Products; visit www.mendotahearth.com.
A new generation of high efficiency, heater-rated gas inserts and zero clearance fireplaces features aluminum-finned heat exchangers for ultimate efficiency, integrated micro-mesh safety screens that disappear into the flame, fully programmable remotes, one-touch temperature control and exceptionally quiet operation.
From Pacific Energy; visit www.pacificenergy.net.
Dramatic Flame, Great View
The Horizon HZ54E Series offers a wide-angle view of a unique and dramatic flame. The fireplace is perfect for contemporary homes and open-concept living spaces. Inset reflective panels amplify the appearance of the stunning fire. The styling is backed by practical function, delivering consistent, controllable, high-efficiency heat even during power outages. The fireplace is available with a driftwood log set and a series of designer surround options.
From Regency Fireplace Products; visit www.regency-fire.com.