Flick a switch and hot, pretty flames erupt, sending the winter chill packing.
Gas fireplaces are the best invention since fire.
They have become a standard fixture in millions of homes, even though they don't crackle and pop like their wood-burning ancestors.
At the Whittle family's Mukilteo home, a chorus line of flames dance over glass stones on the living room wall.
Watching the gas fireplace is usually better than anything that's on TV.
"It is the focal point of the room," said Craig Whittle.
"We warm our bones in front of it," said Lisa, his wife.
Fireplaces tend to get the cold shoulder half of the year.
"People don't think of fireplaces until they're cold," said Jeff Henderson, store manager of Aqua Quip in Lynnwood. "Then there's a flood of demand."
It's not too late to have a gas fireplace installed by Christmas. But if you delay too long it might be like trying to snag a Furby, the hot toy from Hasbro.
Expect to pay at least $4,000 for a gas fireplace package. Then kick back and enjoy a $200 rebate from Puget Sound Energy.
Fireplaces are eye candy, but these are also serious appliances.
The fronts get hot. Very hot.
Kids are especially vulnerable to being burned by touching the surface.
Mesh guards that attach to the front are an option for under $100. "It gives you a barrier between the glass and your fingers," Henderson said.
Child-proof locks are available to put on switches.
There's no crackle and pop, but the risk of fire is less than with burning logs.
Martha Augustson, a mantel designer since 1978 and owner of Martha's Design Center in Everett, has embraced the shift from wood to gas.
"Gas has taken over the market because of the quality of heat, and it doesn't have the waste and so on of wood," she said. "Whatever appliance you have I can make the same mantel for either one. It's a design piece."
Her custom mantels start at $1,850.
She has this advice: "Simple can be gorgeous. But plain isn't gorgeous."
Of course, mantels aren't mandatory.
The Whittles chose a sleek, stainless-steel frame for the wall-mounted fireplace installed in the remodel of their 1979 home three years ago, when the sooty wood stove got the boot.
The gas fireplace operates with a handheld remote.
"Whenever my friends come over they turn it on and go ooh-ahh," said their daughter, Cadence, 16.
In front of the fire, the family dog, Meg, an exuberant retriever, expresses her satisfaction in another way.
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; email@example.com
Gas fireplaces are fairly easy to maintain. The hard part is choosing the style.
If fake logs aren't your thing, there are river rocks and glass stones.
But whatever you pick, you could be stuck with it. You might not be able to change the logs to rocks, or the rocks to logs, without getting a new appliance.
You can, however, change the color on the metal fronts. The high-temperature stove pipe paint comes in about 70 colors.
If a cloudy white haze develops on the glass, try window cleaner. For stubborn build-ups use a specialty nonabrasive gel.
Vacuum to keep firebox free of dust, lint and soot.
Call a professional to inspect and service gaskets, seals and venting.
Always read the owner's manual and follow instructions.
">Aqua Quip/Lynnwood, 4232 196th St. SW; aquaquip.com.
Martha's Design Center, marthasdesign.com.
For rebate information:"> pse.com/savingsandenergycenter/.
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