One of the newest ways to add warmth to a bathroom is also one of the oldest: a fireplace.
While fireplaces have traditionally been found in living rooms, dens and occasionally bedrooms, the idea of soaking in the bathtub while a cozy fire glows nearby is gaining popularity. Realtors have long known that a well-designed bathroom adds a significant boost to a home's resale value, and fireplaces are a sought-after feature as well. In fact, according to the National Association of Home Builders, a fireplace is one of the top three features requested by consumers out to buy new homes. Put that fireplace in the bath, and you have a room with a real wow factor.
Not so long ago, adding a fireplace meant installing a traditional, full-size mantel placed over a fireplace opening that's sitting on a hearth. Today, however, a huge variety of prefab fireplace designs — from classic to sleekly modern — means that homeowners can find a perfect fit for any type or size bathroom straight out of the box. The Heat & Glo Crescent II model, for example, even allows homeowners to nestle a small fireplace in an unused corner.
New technology in gas and electric fireplace design is a primary reason why more homeowners are choosing to go with the glow in their bathrooms. Wood-burning and some gas fireplaces require venting to the outdoors, which generally calls for a serious (and often expensive) renovation. But newer gas fireplaces designed for small spaces are either vent-free or only require access to an outside wall for venting. No actual chimney or stovepipe is required.
Electric models, also known as ambient fireplaces, are also vent-free. The Heatilator Silhouette 60 model offers the look and feel of a real, full-size fireplace, complete with iron grate, but is simply plugged in just like any other home appliance.
In some older houses, small bedrooms that already have existing fireplaces are renovated into larger baths, and the fireplace is kept in place. But most of these older fireplaces burn wood — which can be messy and bad for air quality, particularly in a moist environment such as a bathroom. However, many wood-burning fireplaces can be converted with a gas or electric fireplace insert. Fireplace inserts are simply closed stove boxes that fit inside the existing fireplace. Installing an insert can offer significant savings on a home's energy costs, as drafts don't come in or out of the house via the old fireplace's vent or chimney, and newer inserts offer a highly efficient heat source for a single room.
Installing a fireplace insert can be quite simple, as with the Heat & Glo Crescent Model which can be sized for virtually any pre-existing opening and literally plugged right in and turned on. Gas fireplace inserts are a bit more complex and require a hook-up to a house's existing gas line.
A flickering wall-mounted fireplace like the Dimplex Wall Mount Model offers homeowners a nice view while relaxing in the bath or shower, but many people choose to install fireplaces at floor level in bathrooms, taking the chill out of traditionally cool bath floor choices like tile and linoleum.
One very popular option in master suites is a two-way fireplace, like the Napoleon Natural Vent Multi-View Model. These types of fireplaces are situated in the wall between the bathroom and bedroom, and can be seen and enjoyed from either room.
While older, wood-burning fireplaces required stacking wood and stoking the flames, today's gas and electric models, as well as many inserts, come with a remote control. The "fire" can be ignited or scaled back with the push of a button as a homeowner lounges in the tub. Some models also come with wall-mounted thermostats and timers, meaning that just like a coffeemaker, the fireplace can be programmed to start and warm up the bathroom just before morning wake-up or evening wind-down times.
The cost and time for installing a fireplace in a bathroom can range from only a few hundred dollars and a D.I.Y. weekend afternoon for a simple electric unit, to thousands of dollars and a professional installation for larger, high-end gas units that require attachment to a home's gas line. There are a myriad of price and design options within this wide range.