Photo by Judy Stokely

Update: Fireplaces used to be vital to the functioning of any home to provide heat and warmth for inhabitants. But since the advent of indoor heat systems, fireplaces have become purely decorative in the home. But the old use still remains ingrained in our memories as we still love nothing more than to gather round the glow of a fire. A fireplace provides a nice focal point in a living room and is a natural area for friends and family to gather.

The appearance of the fireplace, often the focal point of a home, is important in many  homes. Remodeling and updating a fireplace and mantel can make a room look and feel completely different. Compared to some other remodeling projects, a fireplace remodel is relatively inexpensive. Depending upon the choices you make about style, materials, installation and size, a fireplace remodel can cost as little as $150 for a simple pre-fabricated mantel and a change of color for the fireplace or as much as $3,000-4,000 for a more elaborate change in its appearance.

If you have decided you want to change your fireplace, start with a little bit of research. Look at houses built in an architectural style similar to your home. Also look at design and decorating books and magazines. This will help you understand the fireplace style that is most appropriate for the architectural style of your house. It will also help you think about design options you want to include in your remodeled fireplace. Whether you want to update the look of your fireplace, change the proportions, or achieve a more or less formal appearance, this research will help you define what you really want.

The next step is to learn about the types of materials you can use to remodel your fireplace and which materials do and do not work together. You will already have some ideas from your research. Talk with a fireplace contractor or a home designer or just spend some time shopping home improvement stores to learn about the different types of lumber, the types and styles of moldings and pilasters (columns) that are available, and the other materials you may want to use, such as stone, brick, drywall, etc. It will be worth your time also to look at and consider tile and cultured or fabricated stone for your project.

Once you know what materials are available and you define the style you want in your new fireplace, check on your local building codes early in the design process. Flammable materials, such as wood, need to be kept some distance from the firebox. Local building codes may vary, so you need to know local requirements. According to the National Fire Protection Association, however, there are minimum standards. This agency has stated minimal safety standards as follows:

  • There must be a least 6 inches between the sides and top of the firebox opening and any wood that projects up to 1.5 inches from the face of the fireplace.
  • Any wood that projects more than 1.5 inches from the face of the fireplace, such as a mantel or pilasters, must be at least 12 inches from the opening of the firebox.

Home improvement stores will have a number of pre-fabricated fireplaces and mantels available in various sizes or built to the size you need. These will cost far less than a custom-designed fireplace and mantel built on-site. Another way to save time and labor cost, as well as recognizing some savings on the cost of materials, is to consider pre-made panels for the fireplace surround. These panels are made of stone that has been cut to a thickness of ½ inch to 3 inches. These thin pieces of stone are then attached to a backing and sold in panels. For a do-it-yourselfer, this can be the ideal way to achieve the appearance of a custom fireplace that is affordable and easy to install. Another option for an older house or to achieve the more ornate look of an older house is to buy a used or antique mantel.

If you want to add a fireplace to a room and you don’t want to lose space in a room on the second floor to a chimney, you might want to consider installing a direct-vent gas fireplace. This type of fireplace does not need a chimney 101 Ways to Save Money When by by Dan Fritschen because it vents through the wall at the back of the fireplace.

In building or remodeling a fireplace it is extremely important that materials be installed properly. You will also find that you will need to be very precise in cutting lumber, moldings, stone, tile, or other materials. If you are doing the work yourself, you will need an accurate miter box and you will need to make very precise measurements.

Whether you build or remodel your own fireplace or you hire a contractor to do the work for you, careful research before you start designing the focal point of your room and care and precision in the work will produce a wonderful addition or update to any room.