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Mother Nature has an interesting sense of humor.

Consider a 1,770-acre Minnesota lake about a three-hour drive northwest of Minneapolis. A map of its crazily irregular shape so much resembles a maze that early settlers christened it Mantrap Lake. The name stuck because “its many bays and peninsulas entrapped and baffled travelers … in their endeavors to pass by it or around it.”

Today, Mantrap Lake is a fishing paradise. Some say the state’s biggest muskies prowl the waters here. The area’s natural charms also attract homebuyers, captivated by lakeside property along 35 miles of wooded shoreline.

Many of the homes at Mantrap Lake bear little resemblance to the rustic, Spartan summer cottages of decades ago. Architects, builders, contractors, and owners now specify the latest home styling, including contemporary features you might expect in the finest homes in the Twin Cities, Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York.

Linear fireplaces surge in popularity

Notable among these features: a linear propane gas fireplace. “The linear propane fireplace is popular because it offers a chic, modern look to nearly any room in the home,” says Justin Isaacson, owner and operator of Ike’s Heating & Cooling and Ike’s Fireplace of Nevis, Minnesota. The contractor recently finished installing a 48-inch-long linear propane fireplace in a Mantrap Lake home remodeling project designed by RemWhirl in nearby Crosslake.

The linear style, sometimes called rectangular or contemporary, is surging in popularity for a wide variety of reasons. Isaacson says that as late as three years ago, linear fireplaces represented just 5–10 percent of his sales. Today, one out of every two fireplaces he sells is a linear model.

Fuel for a remote but luxurious lifestyle

Due to their modular nature, direct-vent fireplaces can be easily installed in any room and with a variety of surround material options.

The remoteness of Mantrap Lake residences means natural gas is not an option — and makes propane a home heating essential for many homeowners. “Propane is a clean-burning fuel,” Isaacson explains. “It requires quite a bit less maintenance than a pellet heater or wood-burning fireplace. A propane fireplace might require maintenance just every two years or so. Propane units are also far easier to service than a pellet stove, which requires complete dismantling and cleaning.

“With a propane fireplace, you clean the pilot, flame sensor, glass, and away you go.”

Propane-fueled fireplaces also emit less soot and other air-polluting emissions compared with wood-burning fireplaces. In fact, jurisdictions in some parts of the country restrict the use of traditional wood-burning fireplaces during certain times of the year due to their detrimental impact on air quality.

Benefits to builders and homeowners

Aesthetics, safety, efficiency, and comfort also factor large in the switch to linear fireplaces. For homeowners on Mantrap Lake, propane’s versatility means they don’t have to compromise lifestyle for a gorgeous lakeside location. Linear propane benefits include:

  • Direct-vent technology. Direct-vent fireplace technology has revolutionized the world of fireplaces. No longer dependent on chimneys, home designers are now free to add a fireplace to nearly any room. “The direct-vent fireplace is very modular and easily adapts to different locations,” Isaacson says. “It can be installed in a bedroom, basement, bathroom, or even outdoors.”
  • Safety. A direct-vent fireplace uses outdoor air instead of indoor air for combustion. It pulls in air from the outdoors through the outer chamber of a double-vent pipe. The inner chamber of this pipe exhausts fumes. This forms a continuous convection loop. No flue. No chimney. No backdraft hazards or headaches.
  • Aesthetics. The long, sleek, linear look adds dancing flame drama to any room. Architects especially like the way linear fireplace flexibility can add design balance to any room with a large-screen TV. Traditional box-like fireplaces can look diminished or lost near a sprawling TV screen. A linear fireplace can restore charm and warmth scaled to the owner’s taste.
  • Styling. The sky is nearly the limit. Create visual drama with realistic logs, colored glass, or stones. The length can run from 3 to 21 feet or more (the world’s longest linear fireplace measures 66 feet for a development in California). Zero-clearance engineering means any building material is safe next to the fireplace glass front, helping create interesting contrasting effects between the fireplace and the surround material.
  • Energy efficiency. Isaacson is a big fan of the heat output offered by a linear propane fireplace. “The unit we just installed puts out up to 50,000 Btus, which is a pretty large amount for a fireplace,” he says. High-efficiency fireplaces can achieve fireplace efficiency ratings of over 90 percent. A traditional wood-burning fireplace is about 15 percent efficient.
  • Comfort and convenience. Isaacson says it’s tough to beat the ease of use of a propane-fueled fireplace. “You just flip a switch, push a remote control button, or tap a smartphone app to start,” he says. “The ambiance is immediate and the heat not long afterwards. There’s no delayed effect. Plus, there are no logs or smoke to worry about.”

It’s good to know our collective fascination with live flame shines brighter than ever. For Isaacson and more and more residents of Minnesota lake country, nothing checks all the boxes like a linear propane fireplace.

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Dennis Harrington