With Christmas nearly upon us, many homeowners are planning to buy a fireplace or hearth appliance in 2013. Whether it’s a fireplace, wood stove or a gas fireplace, consumers are looking into different alternatives to stay warm this winter.

Fireplace and hearth appliances are proving to be one of the most popular features in American homes. Almost half of all U.S. households (55 million) have at least one fireplace or freestanding stove. And, fireplaces consistently rank in the top three features that new home buyers desire, coming in third place after outdoor porches and kitchens. (National Association of Home Builders) With all the choices available, I thought it would be helpful to describe each of them in more detail.

Modern fireplaces are very practical and affordable; many factory-built systems are inexpensive to purchase and install. Most of them use a safe, lightweight chimney (or no chimney at all) and do not need the additional structural support required for a masonry chimney. And because of these features, they can be easily and safely installed in almost any room. The combustion is contained to a steel firebox, and the circulation of the air from the inner and outer boxes heats up the living space. Because they use spacers to enclose the cabinet, they can be installed close to the wood framing in new construction or home remodeling. Homeowner especially like the value that they add to their home, in some cases as much as 12%, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Another popular choice is freestanding stoves which can be made from cast iron, steel or stone. They can come in a wide variety of sizes and finishes including porcelain, enamel or paint. In contrast to the past, today’s stoves are much more efficient using up less fuel. Heat radiates from their thick metal or stone construction to keep homes cozy on the coldest winter days. And many have a ceramic glass to allow fire viewing.

Other hearth options include log sets and inserts which are retrofitted into existing fireplace units. Before you choose a hearth appliance, determine your priorities. Do you want your hearth product to create ambiance in the space or do you want more performance from your appliance. The answer that you give to the question will determine the best product for you.