It’s not sentiment, just economics. Total hearth industry unit shipments are down 67% since 2006, but the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association (HPBA) assures customers that sales haven’t dwindled because of people’s attitudes toward fireplaces.

“Some critics of the industry have equated that shipments have been down because of less fireplace usage,” says Don Johnson, HPBA’s director of market research. “In fact, shipments have been down for a variety of reasons, primarily the economy and the fact that fewer new homes are being built. When times are bad, people remodel less, so remodeling has gone down as well.”

Thankfully, many areas of the building products industry are seeing growth, including the hearth industry. In 2010, the gas fireplace segment saw its first increase (1%) since 2005. Leslie Wheeler, HPBA’s director of communications, says natural gas prices also helped drive that boost. “Gas products have taken a beating, but now that natural gas is more affordable, we’ve seen an uptick in those numbers,” she says. “By the same token, when natural gas is expensive, we see a spike in pellet products.” Gas and home heating prices, and interest in green products drove sales when the segment jumped 161% in 2008.

Ultimately, HPBA is optimistic about the hearth industry’s recovery. New construction and remodeling activity will help, as well as education about home heating products. “A fireplace is still one of the top three features a home buyer will look for in a house,” Wheeler says. “A fireplace insert is a wonderful source of heat, and homeowners that take advantage of that can save money by being able to turn down their furnace.”

—Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.

This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the April 2011 issue of REMODELING.