Perhaps it's the bitter memory of last winter's polar vortex, or maybe it's just the volatile price of fuel, but homeowners are warming to fireplaces.

Contractors and architects say their home-renovation and new-construction customers are eager to include fireplaces of all kinds in their projects - gas inserts, wood-burning, electric units that double as house heaters, even outdoor fireplaces.

Ed Barnhart, principal at Always by Design architects and designers in Center City, recently contracted with two buyers of new houses.

"They each had very strong feelings and yet a different take on the fireplace," Barnhart said.

"One absolutely had to have a wood-burning, and the other wanted a gas fireplace - period. These evoke very strong feelings."

Some features in a house are standard no matter who the owner is. But with fireplaces, it seems, it's personal.

"It depends on where you fall on the experience curve in life," Barnhart said.

For example, the younger couple with whom Barnhart was working wanted a wood-burning fireplace.

"This was their first home," he said. "They both had memories of growing up with wood-burning fireplaces. They hadn't yet experienced having to feed the fire, nor how much heat a fireplace can pull out of the house."

His gas-burning-fireplace client "was aware of and up on the technology and ramifications of having a heat source in the house" coming from a combustion system.

That client chose a sealed-combustion fireplace, with its own oxygen supply and release, he said. The design used a separate air path rather than drawing oxygen from the house, and had a glass front.

Barnhart generally chooses two brands for fireplaces: Fireplace Extraordinaire and Heat & Glo.

With electric or gas fireplaces, homeowners can tune the heat to the size of the room, as well seek a decorative effect.

Other models burn at an extremely low temperature, or can be paired with a blower assembly to heat another room or floor of the house.

For heating a dwelling, a fireplace can serve as a handy backup in the event of a power failure, Barnhart added - provided it has a manual ignition and not just an electric ignition.

There are many benefits to having a fireplace, including keeping your home warm without the use of power, providing the opportunity to use wood that might otherwise be wasted, and even cooking.

Chris Munz, of Munz Construction in Holland, Bucks County, said he renovated a small stone fireplace in his family home into a fire "space," using the experience as an experiment for when he is renovating clients' homes.

"Wood-burning fireplaces are among the favorite amenities for home buyers. This creature comfort gives a luxurious look and feel to the home and adds an extra touch of architectural interest," Munz said.

Before their renovation, the cramped stone fireplace in Chris and Debbie Munz's home was in need of a fresh look.

"Now, it's a gorgeous focal point at the heart of the home," he said.

Richard Buchanan, of Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester, said the desire for fireplaces does not limit itself to interior spaces.

"A trend we are doing much more routinely is the outside fireplaces integral to the house form, rather than as a freestanding, glorified barbecue," Buchanan said.

Such outdoor fireplaces are sometimes called Grover fireplaces or just a "Grover." They are similar to Rumford fireplaces, which are mostly vertical, shallower, and not as slanted in the back, and radiate more heat into a room.

For open fireplaces, the Rumford design is considered more heat-efficient.

"It's an opportunity to have outdoor social space with a focus," Buchanan said.

"The fireplace creates an activity around which gatherings can happen."

@erinarvedlund