I’ve been in the fireplace industry for over 25 years now and I have never seen the incredible demand and lack of supply for fireplaces that I’ve seen in 2021.
We’ve taken calls from manufacturers recently who say, “We are no longer accepting orders for fireplaces for the remainder of 2021. We are unsure WHEN we will start accepting orders in 2022.” The biggest disruption on the manufacturing side is the lack of electronic control modules (see fig. 1). If you happen to see one of these little guys out and about, please let a fireplace guy know and you’ll quickly become their best friend!
The other hesitations have resulted from the rising cost of raw materials. Some manufacturers have reported that aluminum and steel prices have tripled in cost since last year. Other materials have gone up over 20%. Manufacturers have told us that even if they agree to pay the high price for components, there is no way to guarantee that they will even get the products. Manufacturers are receiving shipments of components only to find that they get ½ of what they expected to receive. We are hearing talk that the shortage will last thru 2022.
So what options are there for the consumer this year? The easy answer is anything that doesn’t have an electronic control module as a primary component. Ten years ago, fireplaces operated off a standing pilot light system with what we call a millivolt valve (see figure 2).
While these systems are still available, they do not offer the homeowner the ability to easily adjust the flame height or speed of the fan system from a remote control. They also leave the pilot light (“little blue flame”) burning year-round unless you manually turn them off.
While these are tried and tested and very reliable, they have fallen out of favor with the consumer from both a feature and efficiency standpoint. Again, some fireplaces are being offered with these valves, but the consumer needs to know what they are giving up to get that fireplace.
If now is not the right time for you to get a new construction fireplace or a high efficiency insert that utilizes these systems, maybe a standard gas log is the answer. We have not seen huge delays in vented and vent-free gas logs. So, while we do anticipate having adequate supply, we do wonder how long that will last if the other types aren’t available? Anyone remember the folks loading up on toilet paper last year. ☹
Electric fireplaces don’t seem to have the shortage in the semiconductor like the electronic control module. These types of fireplaces have already been on the rise for several years due to ease of planning/framing/installation. They still do not offer as much heat output as their gas cousins, but the looks are getting better every year.
So, what is the forecast for fireplace availability for 2021/2022? No one really knows. We all hope that it will start to turn for the better. What we do know and are seeing now is that you have less options and they are more expensive than ever before. We love our industry and want to see it to continue to grow. However, we LOVE our customers and want to them to know what they are buying AND what features they are willing to give up. While we have been told by some manufacturers to offer the millivolt valves, we are hesitant because we know that fireplace is more expensive with less features. It just doesn’t seem right to us. Fireplace & Bar-B-Q Center has always taken pride in educating our customers and helping them navigate the options in our industry. We think this year is more critical than ever for the consumer to have that trustworthy advocate to help them make their fireplace decisions.
If you are interested in knowing more about the future of the fireplace industry, just stop by and see us at 103rd and Metcalf in Overland Park. We love to talk about our business and our industry!