Jennifer and Michael Cerullo and their children like to gather in their living room with the remotes close to them – one for the TV and the other for their gas-fueled fireplace.
The boys, Michael, 10, and Justin, 6, love pushing the buttons. And the parents have gotten used to the high-tech hearth.
"Sometimes I come in the house and put it on," Jennifer said. "I’ll have it on when I cook dinner."
Many Long Islanders gather around traditional, wood-burning fireplaces with chimneys that take work to set up and maintain. But for the Cerullos, of St. James, the thrill is in having the warmth and comfort at their fingertips.
"You don’t have to put logs on it, clean up the ashes or worry about a flu," Michael Cerullo said. "You don’t have to get the chimney cleaned. It provides the heat source that you need."
Some homeowners are modernizing their fireplaces, converting to natural gas, propane and electric or just installing new mantels for a different look, without old-fashioned chimneys.
"Everybody dreams of sitting in front of a fireplace in their home and relaxing," said Mike Marks, owner of Bohemia-based The Fireplace Factory.
Sure, many still prefer the traditional, wood-burning fireplaces.
"There’s the nostalgia, having fires like when I was growing up," said Lance Homan, who recently expanded his wood fireplace in Farmingville. "You continue the legacy of having fires in the family room."
Building a fire has an earthy feel to it and many would rather not bring in other types of fuel. "You don’t rely on anybody to supply you with gas," Marks said.
Traditional wood fireplaces with chimneys may not even provide as much heat as more modern, efficient fireplaces since so much heat flows up the chimney.
But traditionalists don’t care. "They’re not made for heat," said Cory Jenkins, owner of Funda-Mantels, a fireplace mantel manufacturer in Ridge. "The heat comes out of the chimney. Most people burn those for the look."
Homan likes seeing a fire take shape with a little help from kiln-dried wood. "I didn’t get it to heat my house," he said. "I got it for the ambience. You can hear the snap, crackle, pop."
Inserts for efficiency
While high-tech fireplaces can be part of new construction, residents also can install fireplace inserts in old-fashioned fireplaces, converting to other fuels. "The insert goes into their existing fireplace that makes it efficient," Marks said.
"We have people who haven’t used their fireplace for many years, because it’s inefficient," Marks said. "They get inserts."
Fireplace inserts essentially allow residents to transform old, traditional, wood-burning fireplaces into ones that can run on fuels such as gas, propane and electricity. The inserts are fitted into an existing, old-fashioned word-burning fireplace, converting it to an alternative fuel.
This new generation of fireplaces comes with fans to spread heat. The Cerullos’ fireplace remote control includes a thermostat. Donna Clark, of Mount Sinai, said her gas fireplace’s remote can work with Alexa as well as with buttons.
"There are five flame settings," Clark said. "You can make it so the embers glow, if you don’t want that much heat."
Fanning the flames
Dunrite Chimney & Stove in Centereach two years ago set up a new fireplace and Funda-Mantels did the cabinets for a client who switched from traditional wood-burning to a newer, more efficient fireplace that also uses logs.
"They went with a high-efficiency wood fireplace," Jenkins said of the East Setauket residents. "It's like a wood-burning stove but it's in the wall with a fan. When you burn the wood, it blows the heat into the house."
While logs are stacked nearby, this fireplace gives the residents a little help with technology. This blend of tech and tradition comes with a green start button that you can hit to ignite the fire.
There is also a dial to adjust the flow of air into the fireplace, affecting how it burns.
"You put the wood in, press the button and ten minutes later you have a fire," Jenkins said. "You can adjust the speed of the fan, depending on how hot you want the house to be."
Wood pellets burn clean
Old-fashioned fireplaces use logs but it’s possible to convert one to run on wood pellets without a traditional chimney.
Wood pellets, made from compressed sawdust, are a convenient fireplace fuel, Marks said. "Load up the hopper and turn it on," he added.
They are an easier way to warm the house without giving up wood. "Some people use it to help heat their homes. They run them all day," Marks said, noting 40-pound bags of pellets can go for $5 and keep a fire running a day or longer. "It’s efficient."
Pellet-powered fireplaces use direct vent chimneys like those for gas and propane rather than traditional chimneys. "It’s metal vent pipe," Marks said. "It’s very clean burning."
Gas up for ease, comfort
Many people like lighting up with gas.
Natural gas – or propane, if gas isn’t available – can give you an instant fire at the push of a button, Marks said.
Gas-powered fireplaces are catching on as a way to warm up a home because of their convenience, efficiency and the ambience they provide. "More people are getting gas fireplaces," Jenkins said. "They can actually heat more than one room in the house."
Gas fireplaces typically tap into the utility line and propane-powered fireplaces often rely on 80-gallon tanks.
Electric fireplaces are a sort of plug-and-play version of the traditional hearth. "They’re less expensive and easier to install," Marks said. "They don’t look real. It’s a light bulb that spins behind a screen that makes it look like a fire."
An electric fireplace provides heat, much like an electric heater might, while looking like a traditional hearth with a high-tech appearance and feel.
"It will relieve the chill in a room," Marks said. "Why do people want them? They don’t want to go through the expense of building a gas or wood fireplace. And it still gives a nice ambience."
Electric fireplaces can resemble traditional fireplaces, particularly the mantels. "Some look more realistic than others," Marks added.
Most fireplaces, regardless of fuel, are boxlike cavities in the wall.
Linear fireplaces, which can run on various fuels, run longer and bring a high-tech look to a house.
"A linear fireplace is horizontal with a sleek, contemporary look," Marks said. "That’s up and coming."
The new style of hearths are found in homes, hotels and restaurants.
"The long rectangle gas fireplaces that go right in the wall are very contemporary," Jenkins added. "The slim lines can be 8 feet long and 15 inches high. They can cover a whole wall."
As for the costs, basic wood, wood pellet, gas and propane inserts could range from $5,000 to $7,000 installed, according to Mike Marks, of The Fireplace Factory. Marks said electric inserts typically cost much less, often ranging from $1,500 and up.
Choosing the mantel
Fires burn for a while but mantels around the hearth provide lasting grace to a fireplace.
Jennifer Cerullo gave Funda-Mantels, based in Ridge, a photograph of her fireplace. The company used it to customize her white poplar mantel.
"There’s a lot of molding on it," she said. "There was some nice woodwork. It wasn’t just a plain mantel."
Among the hundreds of mantel designs, some are trending, including white Shaker-style mantels and rustic shelves, said Cory Jenkins, of Funda-Mantels.
"A lot of people are doing rustic shelves with a reclaimed wood look," he said. "We take new wood and make it look like that with stain, gouging it out and making it rough."
Railroad spikes are common in mantels, especially if they’re going to be used to hang Christmas stockings.
Donna Clark loves the frame around her gas hearth in Mount Sinai made with cultured fieldstone complemented by walnut shelving and custom white cabinets.
"The mantel is gorgeous," she said. "We have natural stone around the fireplace. At the very top, there’s a walnut shelf."
Mantels typically range from around $600 to as much as $5,000, depending on the size, style and species of wood, Jenkins said.
The Cerullos have matching white bookshelves near their fireplace, which is set on a limestone slab.
"We didn’t go with the marble face," Jennifer Cerullo said. "Marble could be modern. We didn’t want that look."
Cerullo said her high-tech fireplace and wood mantel, complete with stone base, all cost around $10,000.