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"Good evening, friends."

During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt cued up listeners all around the country with these three warm words.

The times were tough, to say the least, but families found comfort in gathering 'round the radio to hear FDR's reassuring reports.

More than 70 years later, the fireside remains the epicenter for family gathering, conversation, repose and relaxation.

There is a crackling calm associated with the sparky stuff — and thanks to modern-day technology, it can be harnessed and yoked in many ways.

Gas glow

By using natural gas or propane, the need for cleaning up messy wood chips and ashes is eliminated as well as the cost of purchasing or chopping wood.

The Paul Bunyan ax can stay in the garage.

If you have a wood burning fireplace, you can have it easily converted to a gas fireplace or simply choose a freestanding fireplace, which can be placed in any room of the home.

"Gas fireplaces are very safe," said Ron Seder, owner of Seder's Fireplace at 1515 Central. "And it burns clean, too."

Newer gas models are equipped with gas IPI, or intermittent pilot ignition, said Trevor Craig, owner of the Fireplace Center at 824 Central Ave. Essentially, this technology has eliminated the need for a standard pilot to be on at all times.

"This ends up creating some savings for you, too, around $8 a month," Craig said.

Heat & Glo is a popular brand for Craig and his customers. New design trends like outdoor fireplaces and see-through fireplaces have also fueled the popularity of gas models.

Electric luxe

If you love the warmth and effect of a fireplace but live in an apartment, a home without a chimney, or you are on a tight budget, consider an electric fireplace.

Do not be fooled by the name; electric fireplaces are attractive and provide a beautiful glowing bed of embers and realistic-looking wood.

Most electric fireplaces can simply be plugged in and are ready for operation. In addition to the convenience, ease of operation, and overall effect, electric fireplaces tend to be less expensive than other models.

Another item that has been well-received for Seder and can be plugged into a wall is an electric stone waterfall.

"The waterfall combats humidity in the winter and helps fight dry skin," he said. "And like listening to a fire crackle, it can also be very soothing."

Popular pellet

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Pellets are nothing more than sawdust and ground-up wood chips that have been compressed to form a fuel source for your fireplace.

"Pellet stoves are still very popular in our region," Seder said. "It doesn't get as hot as a wood burning stove, but it creates nice heat."

Another benefit of pellet stoves?

"The state has issued a $500 tax credit for burning biomass products like wood or pellet," Craig said. There is also a federal energy tax credit for wood burning and pellet stoves up to 30 percent of the purchase with a $1,500 cap.

Wonderful wood

Craig agreed that there is a correlation between the stability of the economy and wood burning stove use.

"People see cutting and burning their own wood as a way to save money, sure," he said.

And the smell, the experience of enjoying the radiance of a wood burning fire almost speaks to the primordial being deep within us.

When you get ready to choose a wood stove, you need to make sure you find a stove that is EPA certified. Also be sure to ask the salesperson about the amount of BTUs the stove will burn. This is important since a common error made by many buyers of wood stoves is that they purchase more heat than their home can accommodate.

"When people come in, we ask them a series of questions to really get a feel for what model fits their need and budget," Craig said. "Total square footage is definitely a consideration."

With so many styles now available, you can choose a traditional look or something more ornate. You will be able to enhance your wood stove with your fireplace hearth, door style and even the type of tools you choose to display next to your stove.

Maintaining a wood burning or pellet stove is hands-on, so if you're skittish around flames, a gas or electric model might be a better bet for you.

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