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Is a Fireplace Worth the Money Now that Santa’s Gone?

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That’s a burning question (ha-ha-ha!) we Floridians with or without fireplaces ask. The fireplace-less among us wonder whether we should have one built, while the fireplace-full among us wonder, What was I thinking putting in a fireplace? The only one who ever uses it is Santa Claus!

True though that may be, “Fireplace Envy” is a real affliction suffered by millions of fireplace-less South Floridians once every Cold Front. I don’t know who these millions are but I know they’re out there, and I know they’re out there not because I hear them screaming, “God it’s cold out! I wish I had a fireplace!” — though I do — but because I Googled “fireplace” and “South Florida,” and The Google came back with “About 1,280,000 results.” Now, since according to The Google there are “About 6,000,000 people” in all three South Florida counties, and The Google is never wrong, that’s “About one Google result for every four-and-a-half people,” a number which may only increase as our population grows.

One of the most common side effects of Fireplace Envy is called “Fireplace Itch,” which means that you’re itching for a fireplace. Luckily for us it’s a rashless itch. In Florida, Snowbirds are most susceptible to Fireplace Itch. For those who don’t know it, Webster defines a “Snowbird” as someone who comes to Florida for the good weather, then leaves for the bad. There’s a sad poignancy to their Fireplace Itch, however: most of the time it’s too hot in Florida for a fireplace, even in the winter. And some of the time it’s too hot for a fireplace up north, though only in the summer. Therefore many Snowbirds find themselves with two fireplaces — one here, one there — but they can’t use either because they’re always in the right place at the right time: where they won’t be cold.

This begs the question: why build a fireplace in a place that’s hot as hell six months of the year? Because, say some, a fireplace can increase the value of your home. But the truth is that an appraiser need not factor a fireplace into the value of your home if she doesn’t think it would add value, and she could even deduct value if your flue has flown and the chimney sucks precious cold air conditioning out of your house from May through November.

The moral of that story and a good high-concept DIY Network spinoff idea would be “Fix That Flue,” but remember that fixing the flue might not be enough since having a fireplace could increase the cost of your home insurance — something to research on your own before spending Da Big Bucks!

’Cause installing a fireplace where there isn’t one can indeed cost Da Big Bucks. It doesn’t have to, of course: once again checking The Google I found a “reddish color mini-fireplace” for under fifty bucks that looked like it was worth half that much, but it did have the advantage of operating on 15 amps and a long extension cord — just don’t use it in the shower, so say the instructions. Then I found a fireplace for a couple grand that did look nice and operated on natural gas, but the natural gas I have isn’t the kind that would fuel a fireplace though it does keep Tums in business. I have propane, but I reserve it for my generator.

The oldest type of fireplaces are the ones that burn wood, but Florida isn’t famous for its wood. We do have palms but they’re technically not trees because they’re technically not made out of wood: they’re mushy on the inside, and don’t have growth rings. We also have Live Oaks, not to be confused with Dead Oaks. The confusion there is that a Live Oak is one whose leaves don’t fall off in the winter, whereas a Dead Oak is one that doesn’t grow leaves. Another downside of wood-burning fireplaces is that it’s pretty much illegal to cut down a mature tree without a permit, and permits can be pricey. Call the city or the county before you even try, then buy your firewood at Publix, where you buy everything else. Remember: the best sales on firewood happen in August.

Cable TV is trying to convince me that the fake flames of the aforementioned electric fireplaces look increasingly real. They do — after several margaritas. I’m not a fan. But since we’re on the topic of alcohol, now there are fireplaces that run on ethanol which to me is a gift from God because if you’re cold you can burn it in the frpl. — real-estate shorthand for “fireplace” — and if you’re thirsty you can drink it with cranberry. Not that I’m recommending that because I’m not, but — wink, wink — I like those ethanol fireplaces for that reason alone. Best of both worlds, two birds one stone, you catch my drift. (Until I realized they denatured it, sucking out all the flavor.)

Of course many of the homes in South Florida built in the 1950’s come with fireplaces in place, but beware: you can’t just switch a wood-burning fireplace to a propane-burning fireplace to a natural gas-burning fireplace to an ethanol-burning fireplace to an electric doesn’t burn anything fireplace. No! That would be too easy! Consult a professional because the different types of fireplaces have different types of insets and different ventilation requirements — if any. Your Safety First Rule of Thumb should be: if you’re burning anything other than a witch make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in place, witches being an exception because they have no carbon footprint, and once burned no footprint at all.

And on home value: a good suggestion would be don’t build a fireplace ’cause you think it’ll increase your home’s value and thereby make you rich. Chances are not. Build a fireplace because you want one — you like the romance, you like the ambiance, you like to sweat a lot in the summer. Then again you might just want to get a Yule Log Screen Saver on your computer and stuff a space heater underneath. It’s not romantic — true — or New Hampshire — also true — but you will be looking at a flame, your feet will be warmer, and there’s very little chance that Santa will get stuck inside.

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