With decreasing winter temperatures, many homeowners are beginning to think about those cozy weekend afternoons snuggled up next to a fireplace. While almost every home in the United States has some sort of central heating with natural gas and electric furnaces being the most common, the 2010 U.S. Census revealed that just over 2 percent of all homes in the country relied on wood for their primary heating needs. With fossil fuel use on the decline (they are non-renewable resources, remember), fireplaces can offer a sustainable and renewable option for primary or complementary home heating. And of course, the warm, natural heat from a fireplace adds a sense of nostalgic charm to any home. Not all homeowners, however, will want to undergo a potentially expensive renovation project to install a wood fireplace. Below, we look at the pros and cons of adding a new fireplace to you home.
Demand for Fireplaces
Despite the growth of new, energy efficient heating technologies such as heat pumps, the number of households heating their homes with wood grew 34 percent between 2000 and 2010. This made wood that fastest growing heating fuel in the United States. In terms of numbers, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that “about 2.5 million households (2.1%) across the country use wood as the main fuel for home heating, up from 1.9 million households (1.7%) in 2005. An additional 9 million households (7.7%) use wood as a secondary heating fuel.”
Not all fireplaces burn wood, of course, and homes who rely on wood for their primary heating needs will often rely on more efficient burning technologies such as wood pellet stoves or centralized cast iron stoves. Fireplaces, however, continue to be a central feature of millions of homes across the country with 46 percent of owner-occupied homes in 2011 having a usable fireplace.
Does a Fireplace Increase Home Value?
Fireplaces used to be the center of every home. Before the day and age of central heating and high-efficiency insulation, families would gather around the mantle in the cold winter evenings where a steady fire would bring warmth to the home. Today, fireplaces are more considered to be a “luxury” addition to homes that can increase overall value.
In fact, a survey by the National Association of Realtors found that just under half of all home buyers would be willing to pay significantly more for a home with at least one fireplace. While the increase in value that comes with a fireplace depends on several factors, most buyers were willing to add an additional $1,220 home value. In high-equity locations, however, a gas or wood fireplace might boost the value of a home by more than $12,000, which would more than cover the purchase and installation costs.
Pros and Cons of Installing a Fireplace in an Existing Home
One of the most commonly overlooked benefits of installing a fireplace in a home is that you are gaining an additional source of heat that can significantly reduce your monthly heating bills in the winter. Wood heating is widely considered to be more cost effective than electric or natural gas furnaces, and the savings on your monthly utility bill will certainly factor into the payback period for your investment. Furthermore, wood fireplaces are an essentially carbon neutral heat source which can be an important consideration for homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint. The carbon dioxide released when wood is burned was sequestered out of the air when the trees were growing meaning that there is no net gain in atmospheric CO2.
On the downside, fireplace installation can be costly, especially for gas units that require in-wall installation. Local building codes and fire codes might also stipulate required chimney height, fireplace emission limits, and construction requirements for the firebox and the flue. Depending on the construction of your home, these codes and regulations can drastically increase the installation price. For homeowners who are building a new house, however, adding a fireplace during the construction process will reduce the overall installation cost.
How Much Does a Fireplace Cost in a New Home?
The costs of a gas or wood-burning fireplace in a new home can vary widely, depending on the type of unit, the size, and your location. For example a lightweight metal firebox might only cost $1,000 for purchase and installation while a high-efficiency, gas burning, granite-lined fireplace could cost you tens of thousands of dollars. According to one estimate, “a new fireplace unit costs $1,600 to $2,000 on average, while installation and finishing adds $2,100, or about 25% to 50% of total cost.”
Whether you opt for a high-end natural gas fireplace or a more traditional wood-burning and brick-lined unit, a fireplace can expand the comfort levels and charm of your home, increase your property value, and reduce your monthly heating bills in the winter.