Cozying up by a fireplace on a cold day provides heat, but it’s also enjoyable to watch. The Yule Log broadcast on TV channels during the winter holidays is a case in point. Viewers watch a fire burning and being tended to on television.
But the options for installing a real fireplace are growing, and becoming more affordable.
Hans Schwanke, manager for the Mankato branch of Glowing Hearth and Home, said his industry of selling and installing fireplaces was limited to just a few options back in 1996 when he joined the business. Now, he says, there are hundreds of different shapes, sizes and designs to choose from — with ventilation that can control, distribute, and limit heat.
“It’s just an aesthetically pleasing product,” Schwanke said. “People want it, and there’s a fireplace for every budget too.”
Fireplaces illuminate on display in the store, and Glowing Hearth and Home’s staff of seven sell, install and service fireplaces for customers within a 60-mile radius around Mankato. It’s an industry that Schwanke said coincides with Mankato’s urban development along the outskirts of the city.
Salesperson Tim Hill, who joined the business in 2015, said customers usually come to the store with an idea of what they want; he helps them navigate the growing list of options. The continuous changes in the industry mean he’s constantly learning on the job.
“I’ve learned a lot about fireplaces and venting, the electronics of them, how they’re made and the technical aspect of it,” Hill said. “A couple of the manufacture reps, they stopped down and spent a half day with me going through different aspects of the fireplaces, what each model does, the amount of heat it puts out. But for the most part its hands-on learning.”
While wood burning and gas powered fireplaces are common, Schwanke said fireplaces that ignite from an electrical charge are the wave of the future as federal regulations limiting word-burning emissions come into effect next year.
“Now this next year the fireplaces are going to be Wi-Fi ready; you can use them on your phone,” Schwanke said.
During Minnesota’s cold winters when temperatures regularly dip into the subzero range, electric heating prices skyrocket, costing homeowners hundreds of dollars a month.
A hundred years ago, homes were smaller and easier to heat with a wood fire. According to the U.S. Census, the median size of homes built in 2017 was over 2,400 square feet.
To combat heating costs, Schwanke said customers are tending towards zone heating. Fireplaces are strategically placed in the living room, where occupants spend most of their waking hours.
“They’re trying to heat just the area that they’re living in,” he said. “The rest of the house gets cool like the bedroom but a lot of people like cooler bedrooms. Once the fireplace shuts off, the furnace will turn on and keep the rest of the house warm.”
While many of Schwanke’s customers are homeowners, he’s been seeing an uptick in businesses and other organizations asking Glowing Heart and Home staff to install fireplaces.
“We actually do quite a bit of commercial, lately a lot of apartment complexes,” Schwanke said. “We’ll get 20 fireplaces at a time in a complex. There are so many different varieties and sizes of fireplaces so there’s always one to accommodate that area in the home or in the apartment.”
Businesses and other organizations are taking notice, discovering that customers appreciate a fire to look at while lounging with a book at Minnesota State University’s Centennial Student Union, or waiting for an appointment at the Mankato Clinic’s North Mankato location.
“This is the largest fireplace I’ve ever sold, that’s 72 inches,” Schwanke said. “It’s an elongated linear fireplace. It has a flame but yet the heat actually goes up and if you look at the ceiling there’s a long louver up there, that’s where the heat escapes out. They’re just enjoying the ambience; the heat is actually staying up and going throughout the room.”
Schwanke said selling and installing fireplaces goes hand in hand with construction businesses and architects. Word of mouth plays a large role in acquiring new customers, due to that cooperation with homebuilders, who give Glowing Hearth and Home referrals for people moving into newly constructed homes. He said Mankato has always been a stable market for the company, which has two other locations in Savage and Jordan.
“Mankato is a hub, it’s just booming,” he said. “We’re going to keep sailing. It’s going to do nothing but just grow here.”
Glowing Hearth and Home
241 St Andrews Dr., Mankato