Changing the Hearth and Surround
A less-than-inspired hearth and surround can easily be removed and replaced with something more appealing. If you replace your mantel, consider upgrading the facing masonry, too. A formal mantel should have a formal tile or stone surround to match.

Fire codes state that the surround must be 6 or more inches—depending on the thickness of the mantel—from the firebox. In addition, the hearth must extend 16 to 20 inches in front of the firebox, and 8 to 12 inches on either side, depending on the size of the firebox opening. It must be made of a noncombustible material, whether ceramic tile, stone, cast stone, or even plaster. Stone is a popular option, particularly black Zimbabwe granite, which looks a lot like traditional slate but doesn't scratch as easily or show soot.

Replacing the surround and hearth—including materials and removal of the old surfaces—runs the gamut from about $1,500 for tile to $2,500 for pricier stone. If you want to tackle the job yourself, the simplest solution is to first pry off the mantel. Then, leave the existing surround in place (if it's in good condition) and set new masonry slabs or tiles to it on a layer of thinset over the existing masonry, slightly overlapping the inside perimeter of the firebox. (For step-by-step instructions, see Fireplace Facelift) To remove the old hearth, you can rent a demolition hammer with a chisel to chip away the existing stone or tile and mortar, leaving the concrete base and firebox floor intact. To make the hearth sit flush with the floor, you may have to build up the base with an additional layer of concrete. Then lay the masonry or tile hearth pieces with thinset, spacers, and mortar, as needed.

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