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As a cold-weather favorite, a fireplace elicits images of cozy winter nights huddled by the fire, either with a book in hand or your loved ones nearby. Even though they are often associated with snow storms and hot chocolate, fireplaces can be enjoyed in all seasons and all locations — and on every kind of budget. Tabletop gel fireplaces are ideal for the outdoors or your dining room table, while stand-alone electric units give off the same warmth without requiring a home renovation. A wall-mounted fireplace gives off a sleek, contemporary vibe; on other hand, wood stoves give an authentic feel while gas units are a little easier to maintain. Regardless of what you pick, be sure to do your research before stepping into the fire. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

What kind of fireplace should I install?

If you are looking for a full-fledged renovation, there are a lot of decisions to make on the type of fireplace you want to purchase. Initially, you should consider how much time you want to spend maintaining your fireplace. A wood fireplace or stove requires a lot more prep time and clean-up time, since you will be responsible for buying wood and getting the fire started, oftentimes without any help. Although they require more work, they often produce a more authentic, warmer fire. If you are looking for simplicity, a gas or electric fireplace is ideal for you. With the flip of a switch, you'll have a roaring fire, though not of the same quality.

Can I have a fireplace if I don't want to renovate?

You can still easily have a wintertime fire if you don't want the hassle of a built-in unit. Stand-alone electric fireplaces are popular and inexpensive options, and they can be placed in any room with an outlet. For something that takes up less space, try a tabletop gel fireplace. With playful designs, these handy products can be placed on any table, indoors or out, for a touch of warmth and added interest. Best of all, many of these portable fireplaces are ventless, which provides a natural sense of warmth and light without any of the clean up or maintenance of a standard fireplace.

What kind of fireplace mantel should I include?

While the fireplace options are very cut and dry, finding the right mantel is a whole other matter. The mantel, which is the decorative frame surrounding the fireplace, can often become a major decorative element in your living or family room. Because they come in a variety of materials, styles and colors, they can help reinforce your style. If you're going for a more contemporary feel, metal, concrete and stone are popular options, while brick and wood are found in more traditional homes. You can find sleek and simple, or you can pick a piece that has more ornate, elegant details. Since it is oftentimes the focal point of a room, take the time to think about what look you're going for in your space.