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How to Reface a Fireplace Surround and Hearth

Here's how you can make your home more comfortable, attractive, and safe

Chipped bricks, a stained hearth, and years of accumulated soot can turn what should be the focal point of a living room into an eyesore. Replacing a hearth and surround—either with seamless tone slabs or with ceramic or stone tiles—makes a big difference in the way a fireplace looks.

On these pages, Dan McLaughlin, with help from carpenter Thad King, shows how to replace an old quarry-tile hearth and cover a brick surround with four sleek granite slabs, each 1¼ inches think. It took McLaughlin and King just a few days work to rejuvenate this fireplace and reinstall the existing mantel. Installing a tile surround might take a bit longer, but there's less heavy lifting than with stone.

Step 1

Fireplace Facelift

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Anatomy of a Fireplace
Click "enlarge this image" to see illustration labels.

Step 2

Pry off Mantel

Photo by Brian Wilder

If the mantel is to be reused, mark its outline on wall and floor.

Use prybars to gently remove mantel from wall (as shown).

Make sure all wood framing and lath are at least 2 inches away from the firebox opening, as required by code.

Tip: This is a good time to consider building or buying a new mantel.

Step 3

Remove Old Hearth

Photo by Brian Wilder

Tape thin plywood or cardboard to floor around hearth to protect floor from scratches and debris.

Use demolition hammer with a chisel bit to chip away old hearth and the mortar underneath (as shown). Leave concrete hearth base and firebox floor in tact.

Brush and vacuum debris and dust from hearth base.

Tip: Wear eye and ear protection and a dist mask when using a demolition hammer.

Step 4

Prepare Hearth Base

Photo by Brian Wilder

Notch the ends of a 2x4 to make a screed that's a foot longer than the hearth; its bottom should fit easily in the excavated area. For the flush hearth, cut the notch depth equal to the thickness of the new hearth stone, plus 3/8 inch (for thinset).

Wet the hearth base. Mix and pour concrete topping.

Set ends of screed on floor, notches down. Pull it across hearth while moving it quickly from side to side (as shown).

Add or remove topping mix and continue to pull screed across it until base is flat. Smooth with a trowel.

Let mix set overnight.

Step 5

Spread Thinset for Hearth

Photo by Brian Wilder

Stick suction cups to new hearth slab and test fit on the hearth base.

Mix enough thinset mortar to cover hearth base.

Pour thinset onto base.

Comb the toothed trowel through the thinset to raise evenly spaced furrows across entire surface (as shown).

Save leftover thinset for next step.

Step 6

Set the Hearth in Place

Photo by Brian Wilder

Use suction cups to lift and set slab (as shown).

Press down firmly on hearth to adhere stone to thinset.

Check that hearth does not rock. If ti does, lift hearth and add more thinset.

If the hearth is meant to be flush with floor but is too high, tap on stone with the rubber mallet; if the hearth is too low, lift it and add thinset.

Fill joint beltween firebox and hearth with thinset. Scrape of excess and tool smooth.

Step 7

Set Surround Pieces

Photo by Brian Wilder

With trowel, comb thinset onto backs of side pieces.

Set each piece in place on top of hearth and press against brick. Make sure inside edges slightly overlap the sides of the firebox.

Lay straightedge across tops of side pieces. Check that they align. If not, pivot slightly.

Butter thinset on top piece. Set it on the side pieces (as shown). Press tight to brick. Check that joints are flush.

Allow thinset to harden overnight.

Step 8

Fit Wood Mantel

Photo by Brian Wilder

Set mantel on hearth, tight against new surround. Align with outline on wall.

Measure from back of mantel to wall. Cut wood filler strips to that thickness.

Glue and nail the filler strips to back of mantel, flush with its edges. Glue and nail molding extensions to strips.

Using a compass, scribe the strips where they touch the wall (as shown). Cut along scribe lines with a jigsaw.

Step 9

Fasten Mantel to Wall

Photo by Brian Wilder

Mark the locations of wall framing.

Set mantel so it's centered on the surround.

Push mantel tight to wall and surround.

Toenail mantel into framing with 8d finish nails (as shown).