Keeping Warm and Toasty

Options abound for city dwellers seeking a cozy fire

Despite logging record cold and snowfall this winter, many of us might still be yearning for the comfort of a crackling fire and hot cup of cocoa. Sorry to say, making cocoa is fairly simple; providing a warm crackling fire, especially in a prohibitive home, apartment or condo, well, that’s a bit more challenging.

But don’t start making plans to move to Florida yet. Help awaits in the form of fire places, fire pits and fire features all tailored to suit any type of indoor or outdoor living space.

Warmth almost emanates from Bromwell’s (117 W. Fourth St., Downtown), retailers of fireplaces since 1819. Owner Jeff McClorey says while the store’s biggest sellers are gas (propane) and wood burning fireplaces, he also offers a number of product solutions for challenging indoor spaces.

Relatively new to the commercial scene, alcohol burning fireplaces use a renewable fuel source (ethanol), providing a great way to go green while still enjoying the beauty of a fire feature, he says. Sleek and contemporary by design, the fireplaces require no venting and produce no harmful emissions, making them ideal for apartment or condo living. Although slightly higher in cost than some other alternative fueled fireplaces, he says the cost can be partially offset by the tax credit of $1,500 for using a renewable fuel source.

“They’re also vent free, so you’re not introducing a chimney that takes air out of the house,” he says. “If you live in an apartment or condo, you can pick it up and take it with you if you move and it’s safe. It’s designed more for aesthetics, but it does put off some heat.”

For homes with existing fireplaces that are no longer usable, McClorey offers a couple of solutions. Bromwell’s sells stone-like containers in different sizes designed to hold flammable gel. He says multiple heights placed in a vent-free universal box create an attractive and safe fire feature.

For drafty homes or those with a working chimney flue, Bromwell’s sells vent-free gas burning log inserts. He says their store carries only styles low in BTUs (British Thermal Units), reducing humidity and heat and making them safer to operate. He cautions buyers that many of the vent-free gas fireplaces come with risk from carbon dioxide gasses and the additional production of moisture that can lead to mold.

“I oftentimes see them regrettably used in a well-insulated, very tight new construction that doesn’t have a lot of outdoor air coming in,” McClorey says. “It’s an inappropriate use for them, but we see them used time and time again because it’s the cheapest way to go.”

At Heavenly Hearth (950 Ohio Pike, Withamsville), owner Brenda Flick also offers a number of alternatives to the traditional. Gel burning fireplaces, fire logs and fire pits offer all the beauty of a real flame with no need for venting and no toxic emissions, she says.

Canned flammable gel-fuel strategically placed behind logs gives the look and even the sound of real fire with water being added to the mix for crackling and popping. Each can puts out about 3,000 BTUs of heat and lasts about three hours. She says cans of gel cost about $4.50 and fireplaces can run anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand depending on design.

“They’re beautiful fireplaces,” Flick says. “You pick one up, put it down in your living room, put the gel cans in there and light them and you have a fireplace in a matter of minutes. And it’s a live flame, so you can toast your marshmallows on there if you want.”

As another alternative, she recommends electric fireplaces. She says long gone are versions featuring aluminum foil and colored lights, now replaced with sophisticated and realistic looking faux-flames.

Besides being aesthetically pleasing, the units do give off some heat, typically enough to take the chill off a room, Flick says. Like the gel versions, units range anywhere from a couple hundred to more than a thousand depending on design. She says she even sells electric inserts that slide right into an existing fireplace.

“I’ve had people get down on their hands and knees and look at this and say, ‘Are you sure there’s no fire in there?’,” Flick says. “I told them, ‘You’re not going to get burned, it’s a light bulb and mirrors. It’s not a real fire.’ ”

For those with absolutely no hope of finding space for an indoor fire feature, the great outdoors could be calling. At Watson’s (2721 E. Sharon Road, Sharonville), design manager Chris Defor says fire pits remain a big seller in the area and a great feature for entertaining. He says the store sells a wide variety of styles and materials fitting into both affordable and elaborate categories.

He says fire pits provide a great focal point for gatherings and can be used year round. Watson’s prides itself on construction, he says, matching the existing structure of the home to its outdoor alternative using like styles and material.

“Most of the projects we do are custom projects, so it can fit in their patio or match their house,” Defor says. “So the stone that’s on their house is the same that’s on the fire pit or fire place or island bar, so we can make them all look continuous.”

For those on a more modest budget, retailers such as Target offer affordable flames. At the Oakley store (4825 Marburg Ave.), Senior Team Leader Sandy Mueller says they sell fire bowls designed for outdoor entertaining that make a dramatic statement. Available in 70 styles created by using a variety of materials (tile, copper, mosaic, stainless steel, cast iron, bronze, oil-rubbed, marble and granite), the bowls range from $40 to $180 depending on size and elaborate design.

“They’ve been really popular,” Mueller says. “They’re great if you have a party. You can sit around and warm yourself while you’re enjoying being outdoors.”

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