Q: Our brick fireplace dominates the small room it's in. To make it look less foreboding, I'd like to panel it with wood and paint the wood white. What's the best way to attach paneling to the brick?

— Ron, Studio City, CA

A: Tom Silva replies: Building codes are rather strict about the use of combustible materials around masonry fireplaces. The specifics are too complicated to discuss here. Show your plans to your local building inspector so you don't get into trouble down the road.

To answer your question, I'd drill into the brick (not the mortar) and attach metal channels with masonry screws, and then screw fire-rated Type-X drywall to the channels before applying the paneling. That would create a fire-protected air space behind the wood.

But detailing this construction would be awfully tricky, so I think you'd be better off considering materials other than wood. How about covering the brick with plaster instead? With it, you can get a silky smooth surface, a rough and rustic surface, or anything in between. Then paint it any color you want. And since plaster is noncombustible, you won't have to worry about air spaces or code restrictions.
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