Most people love the idea of sitting next to a crackling fire. They like to start a bonfire when they’re out camping, roasting marshmallows and hot dogs with friends and family members. Or they have a goal to own a home with a built-in fireplace, so they can stay cozy and warm throughout the winter.
A century ago, fireplaces and wood stoves were the most practical ways to stay warm during harsh winters. Today, there are much more efficient means of generating heat, with advanced, energy-efficient HVAC systems and nearly airtight homes. So why are fireplaces and fire pits so popular?
The Psychology of Fireplaces
First, it’s important to consider the psychology of fireplaces. One study observed 226 participants watching a video of a fireplace, and took measurements of blood pressure before and after this observation session. Researchers also asked participants to explain their experience with the fire. The average participant showed a significant drop in blood pressure after the session, and the longer they watched the fire, the more precipitous this drop became. In a control group with an upside-down picture of a fire and no sound, blood pressure actually increased.
In other words, real fires have a calming effect. This may not be news to many readers. After all, most people subjectively feel cozy or relaxed when sitting by a fireside. However, it’s important to note that these relaxing effects are backed with objective scientific evidence.
Explaining why this relaxing effect occurs is a bit more complicated. One hypothesis is that fires are naturally engrossing to most of our senses. We feel the sensation of radiating heat, which is especially valuable in winter, we see the flickering of orange flames, which is especially captivating in the dark, we hear the crackling of wood, and we even smell the smoke (and possibly food) associated with the fire.
For some, fires also evoke a feeling of nostalgia, connecting them to another place and time. For example, they may remember camping trips when they were younger, cooking food over a fire or sitting around with their family. The more they continue having fireside experiences, the stronger and more layered this effect becomes.
Sheer Variety of Options
Another factor to consider is the sheer number of options related to fire pits and fire places. If someone is interested in having an outdoor fire, a consumer can buy a simple and inexpensive fire pit that can serve most of their intended purposes, or they can buy something more robust, capable of supporting a bigger fire or fitting in perfectly with the rest of their home décor. If a consumer is interested in having an indoor fireplace, they could potentially invest in a traditional wood burning fireplace, complete with a modern chimney. They could also invest in an electric or gas-burning fireplace, which could run cleaner and more efficiently.
The Continuation of Value
It’s also important to realize that fireplaces remain popular in part because they’re so popular already. Fireplaces are frequently listed among the most commonly-desired features of a home, and have the potential to boost a home’s value by as much as 12 percent. In other words, installing a fireplace can not only grant you all the psychological benefits of having one for the duration of your ownership, it can also objectively increase the value of your home when it’s time to sell.
In this way, fireplaces have become a luxury item or a status symbol. Even if you don’t use it regularly, buying a house with a fireplace or installing a fireplace in an existing home is sure to pay off.
It’s unlikely that our love affair and utter fascination with fire pits and fireplaces will die out anytime soon. Fires remain psychologically captivating, and serve as a way to stay warm and cozy, but also to bond with one another. Whether a person is interested in a fireplace because of their inherent love for crackling fires, or they just want the addition of value to their home, it often makes sense to have one. Accordingly, the cycle of value could continue indefinitely.