Glowing Reviews: Best Buys in Indoor Fireplaces

Manufacturers are taking steps to reduce burns that are caused by the glass front of a gas-burning indoor fireplace. Meanwhile, more electric and gas-burning fireplaces than ever before eschew the look of traditional fireplaces.

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It’s a classic image: Wintry winds howl outside as you wiggle your toes before a roaring fire. Thanks to new standards, those holiday-postcard moments are more likely to occur with less risk of being burned: Safety barriers soon will be required for certain gas-burning fireplace models.

You also will find that the marketplace is changing. Lennox Hearth Products and FMI Products combined in September 2012 to form Innovative Hearth Products (IHP), and that will mean lineup changes as those model lines are merged. One thing that you won’t see after April 2014 is the Lennox Hearth brand name because of contractual restrictions, says Glenn Thomson of IHP. The models that will remain and the brands under which they’ll be sold were being determined at press time.

The effect of another industry change—the sale of Vermont Castings—also remains to be seen. The company, which includes the Majestic, Monessen and Vermont Castings fireplace brands, changed its name to Vermont Castings from Monessen in January 2013. The company reportedly was sold to an unnamed financial-services company in April 2013, but what effect that sale would have on Vermont Castings’ fireplace brands was unclear at press time. However, Vermont Castings tells Consumers Digest that it plans to release several new models through 2014.

HOT BUTTON. One change that’s certain, which could affect the price and selection of gas-burning fireplaces, is the inclusion of safety barriers in gas-burning fireplaces that have a glass front. That standard was developed by industry trade group Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) and approved by Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in April 2013. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2015. As of that date, all gas-burning fireplaces that have a glass front must include a safety barrier of some type. HPBA says the production of noncompliant models should cease at the end of 2013, although, of course, those models can be sold throughout 2014.

The goal is to limit the injury that’s caused if someone inadvertently touches the glass front of a gas-burning fireplace, which can reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit. According to petitioners who asked CPSC in May 2011 for safeguards for glass-front fireplaces, 2,000 children 5 years old and younger suffered severe burns from coming in contact with the hot glass that’s in front of fireplaces during the 10 years that ended in 2008. National Institutes of Health reports that fireplaces are the second-most common source of infant burns, trailing only hot beverages.

The new barrier must prevent skin cellular death—a burn that destroys skin cells—for 5 seconds, says Thomas Stroud of HPBA. That standard varies depending on the material that the barrier uses, the coating that it has and the distance that’s between the barrier and the glass, Stroud says. Fireplaces will include a note that states that the unit has a certified barrier, he says.

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The basic version of the barrier, manufacturers say, will be a screen that can be attached in front of the fireplace glass (think: screen-door mesh). Stroud notes that some manufacturers are working on cool-glass technology, but other technology, such as heat-resistant plastic or materials that feel similar to fiberglass, is on the way.

“What was most surprising to me when I saw some of the new screens is just how invisible they can be,” he says. “You can hardly even see some of them.”

Manufacturers conceded, however, that although the requirement is that each gas-burning fireplace will be shipped with a safety barrier, consumers easily can remove the barrier if they want.

Most manufacturers with which we spoke say the looming requirement will add to the price that consumers pay for glass-front gas-burning fireplaces. How much that additional cost will be, manufacturers tell us, depends on the width of the fireplace and the screen’s material and design. Manufacturers’ estimates of the added cost range from $50 for a basic screen to $1,000 for bigger, more transparent screens. One manufacturer, Hearth & Home Technologies, says prices for its gas-burning fireplaces won’t rise as a result of the new standard, because it has included safety screens as standard equipment for the past decade.

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