How to Tile a Fireplace Surround
Tiling a fireplace surround is an elegant upgrade well worth the effort. In a few days, you can create an entertainment spot for dinner parties and family holidays
The time for those exposed bricks framing your fireplace, with their pocked faces and rustic finish, is long past. Nights by that fire practically screamed for a glass of Chablis and the soothing sounds of Lionel Ritchie. Now you're more about dinner parties and family holidays in front of the hearth. But before you go at the bricks with a paint roller and some white semigloss, consider the more elegant cover-up of art tiles.
Tiling a fireplace surround isn't a quickie makeover. But as This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers demonstrates, it's well worth the effort. In a few days, you can upgrade the heart of your home, taking it from date-night cliche to elegant entertainment spot ready to impress.
Tile a Fireplace Overview
A flawless fireplace surround starts with a well-thought-out design and ends with an eye for even spacing. Depending on the tile you use, the design may be as simple as centering the starting position, as with subway tile, or as complicated as spacing decorative tile in the middle of a field, as with accent art tile.
Many art-tile manufacturers will custom-make their tile to match your surround. But regardless of which tile you use, you'll save a lot of time by making a cardboard template of your surround so that you can lay out a pattern on the floor, space the tiles appropriately, and choose a starting position before committing everything to the fireplace itself.
Start by laying a row of tiles on the template where the top of the firebox would be, beginning with the center tile and working outward from there. Then you can see if you need to adjust the tiles to avoid cutting any slivers at the ends. On the legs of your surround, plan to use full tiles in the field and leave any cuts at the bottom.
Whenever you tile a vertical surface, you have to start from the bottom row and work your way up. For the field above the firebox opening, you'll need to screw a piece of wood to the bricks to provide support for the heavy tiles while they set. At the bottom of the legs, you'll have to estimate the size of the last cut tile and rip a piece of wood for a level starting point that keeps the joints lined up from leg to leg.
Keep in mind that tiling requires you to work quickly, and while tile spacers are helpful, it may be necessary to go back before the thinset grabs and slightly cheat the tiles one way or another to make them fit perfectly with their neighbors. As long as your joints look even, it's more important that you avoid a large grout line at the last tile than worry about sticking to the exact measurement of the spacer.