Enjoy the glow of a fireplace inside and outside your motorhome; considerations when deciding on a home state.
By Janet Groene, F47166
January 2008 FMC magazine
At one time the campfire ring was the heart of the campsite, the place where everyone gathered to cook, sing, and swap fishing stories. Unfortunately, fire bans, firewood shortages, and/or budget cutbacks now restrict many campground owners from providing fire pits at every site. Yet, there’s something primeval in all of us that yearns for flickering flames.
Might this be the year you’ll add an indoor hearth or find an outdoor fireplace that can travel with you?
“All outdoor fireplaces are not the same,” say the folks at The Blue Rooster Company (800-303-4312; www.thebluerooster.com), makers of portable, cast-aluminum outdoor fireplaces called chimineas. “Safety for your family, your property, and possibly your neighbors depends on (making a wise choice).” Many styles are available in portable fireplaces today. A fire pit or bowl is just that, a vessel with a 360-degree opening. It’s perfect for a circle of wiener-roasting guests, but it is not the best for controlling the smoke that always seems to find you no matter how many times you move your chair. A chiminea, by contrast, has a small opening on one side and is less suitable for cooking, but its smoke flows upward and away through a short chimney.
Since you’ll be carrying it around in your coach, size and weight are important considerations when choosing a portable fire container. Cast iron is ultra heavy, or should be. If your cut-rate “cast-iron” chiminea is suspiciously lightweight, it’s probably all or partly made of sheet steel. When it rusts through, its life is effectively over. In any case, iron is not a good choice for portability. However, cast iron may be preferable for permanent installations in areas where theft is a problem, because it isn’t easy to cart away.
Copper is light to carry, but requires high maintenance. It soon loses its lovely sheen, doesn’t hold up as well as other materials, and if the copper fire bowl sits atop iron legs, there’s the rust problem again. Clay chimineas are traditional and inexpensive, and the material has been in use for centuries. However, clay is very heavy and subject to breakage. Low-maintenance cast aluminum is a good choice for its light weight, durability, and the traditional look of cast iron without the rust stains that iron leaves on everything it touches.
If you plan to bring your own firewood, call the campground ahead of time to make sure it’s allowable. Many Midwestern states prohibit the transport of firewood from one area to another due to the threat of the emerald ash borer, which infests and kills ash trees.
These days it’s possible to add a fireplace and mantel inside the coach, too, if you have wall or floor space and there is proper air clearance around the units. Mantels are available in dozens of styles, wood finishes, and sizes, with some that look so real you’d expect Santa to pop out of the chamber.
In a new installation or a complete rehab, it’s possible to add gas lines and venting for a propane log. For retrofitting, it’s much easier to add a ventless fireplace. Gels burn with a real flame, a little heat, and minimum fumes. Electric logs are even safer, and newer designs are amazingly realistic.
When looking at indoor fireplaces, don’t just weigh vented and ventless options, but also consider whether you want the unit to provide heat. If extra heat would be welcome, propane provides it. Just make sure there are no ledges or obstructions that can trap the heat. In a warmer climate where you only want the look of flames, gel burns with a fairly cool fire, and electric “fires” can “burn” with no heat at all. You might even play a fireplace video on your TV. Virtual fireplace DVDs are found in bookstores and at www.amazon.com.
You can find ventless fireplaces and a selection of mantels at sites such as www.realflame.com (800-654-1704) or www.onewayfurniture.com (800-789-1995). Home improvement stores carry vent-free gas logs. A thermostatically controlled gas fireplace designed for RVs is found at www.rvfireplace.com (208-634-3132).
Of course, outdoor fire bans must be observed, even if you carry your own fire vessel. It’s also wise to check with your insurance company before installing an indoor fireplace. Lastly, remember that burning charcoal (and wood, for that matter) produces carbon monoxide and should never be done in an enclosed area.
More about choosing a home base
Readers continue to send me questions about choosing a home base, and I must reply that there are no easy answers. Your “home” state determines health and vehicle insurance costs, rights of property and inheritance, voting, whether you pay state income and death taxes, and much more. Nobody can make the decision but you. Let’s look at just one small facet of your decision: inheritance.
Inheritance rights are changing quickly in an era where every state has its own laws regarding common-law relationships, domestic partners, and marriages that are legal in one state but not in another. If you don’t yet have a will or living trust, here is a sample of what you may risk.
A woman we’ll call Jane Doe was full-timing with her longtime boyfriend, who died without a will. They’d considered themselves married and totally committed, but without a legal marriage, the state considered Jane to be without any legal rights whatsoever. Her boyfriend’s mother and children got everything, including the motorhome. She was stranded, homeless, and, as far as the state was concerned, irrelevant.
Do you expect to inherit everything if your legal spouse dies without a will? According to a story in the November 12, 2007, issue of Forbes magazine, that’s the case in only 16 states. In other states a spouse receives one-half or one-third, with the rest divided among the children. If the state charges a death tax, that comes off the top first. In Pennsylvania that’s as high as 4.5 percent.
In Mississippi, equal shares go to the spouse and all children. So, in a family with six children, that could leave a surviving spouse with only one-seventh of her husband’s estate. If children from other marriages are involved, things become even more complicated depending on the state. No children involved? In some states, the estates of people who die without a will are divided among siblings or other relatives, or perhaps even the deceased’s parents.
To date only California; Washington, D.C.; Maine; New Jersey; and Washington recognize domestic partners as equal to married partners in the case of a person who dies intestate, and even then only if they signed the state’s partner registry. The rules and recognition of common-law marriages vary widely state to state, and while many states recognize common-law marriage for heterosexuals, other partners can expect an expensive legal battle.
How complicated can things get if you or your loved one dies without a will? According to the article in Forbes, in the state of Colorado, a child given up for adoption has the legal right to inherit from a parent who gave up all rights to that child decades ago and has not seen the child since. All of the above can, of course, be resolved by arranging for an ironclad will.
I’ve said it time and again. Only you can decide on a home base, preferably with the advice of an attorney and a tax expert.
On another subject, one reader asked whether a private mailbox (PMB) qualifies as a physical address. I believe the answer is no. New security regulations at most banks and other agencies require a physical address, so it’s important to have one. (Some full-service mail forwarding services provide a street address in addition to a post office box.) A mail-drop address isn’t enough anymore in many cases.