Fireplaces are hot and getter hotter, and they offer remodelers and homebuilders the opportunity to upgrade both projects and margins.
Fireplaces significantly enhance home values. "It's not just the fireplace that whole part of the house is much nicer given the ambience," says Steve Melman, economist with the National Association of Home Builders. In the past decade, about 5 percent of all new homes have featured two or more fireplaces, he says.
Because most of the work is contracted out to specialists such as the installation crews of fireplace dealers, masons, plumbers and low-voltage electricians (for thermostatically controlled gas models), contractors report margins on fireplaces in the neighborhood of 20 percent to 50 percent.
And fireplaces sell themselves, says Paul Zuch, president of Capital Improvements design/build in Allen, Texas. Even in the South, upscale customers want the charm of wood-burning fireplaces. Zuch achieves that with pre-engineered block-assembly fireplaces by manufacturers Isokern and Rumford.
"In a traditional wood-burning fireplace, a mason could take three to four days to build a fireplace," Zuch says. "With the block-component fireplaces, a crew can install a full masonry fireplace in four hours." Many of his customers opt to add a gas line to light the wood, or later add a gas log set.
In updating older homes, John Murphy, president of Murphy Bros. Designers and Remodelers in Minneapolis, often gives facelifts to wood-burning and gas fireplaces. In a remodel of a traditional masonry fireplace, Murphy's crew installed slate tiles and replaced the hearth and mantel over the 1960s-era brick fireplace, bringing the slate to the ceiling.
The job, which was part of a renovation to a family- and dining-room project, included a new poured-concrete floating hearth four inches above the floor, which made for a modern look that showcases the wood-burning fireplace. Murphy estimates his profit margin on the fireplace remodel at 28 percent above the total cost.
Murphy and Zuch suggest considering the following when upgrading a project to include a fireplace or a facelift for one:
Freelance writer Marcia Jedd writes frequently on design and construction issues.
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