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Everything You Need to Know Before Refacing Your Fireplace

Mar 14, 2019 | fireplace, installation

The fireplace in a home is often considered the center piece of the living space. It tends to be a focal point around which we gather to entertain, relax, or enjoy the warmth. Even in those homes where the fireplace is rarely if ever used, it remains a part of the main living space that is; at the very least, forever in our periphery.  For this reason, many homeowners will update or change the fireplace facing to match current trends, interior décor, or just to get rid of an unpleasing appearance.

In this article we will discuss a few of the unfortunate pitfalls that can befall an average homeowner during this process, and how to avoid them. We will also out line the proper steps that should be taken in the planning and installation process.

First, let’s talk about some of the “myth’s” or assumptions most home owners make about the process of refacing a fireplace.

Myth #1

My contractor, designer, or architect knows how to properly reface a fireplace because they do it all the time.

Truth: Most contractors or trades people have ZERO knowledge of proper fireplace construction or installation. (although, most will say they do) There are many different types of fireplaces, and each of these have different requirements depending on the manufacturer, type of construction, fuel use, and local code requirements among many more variables. For this reason, home owners should always start this process by hiring a certified fireplace specialist to explain what can, and cannot be done in the refacing process. This will save time and money by preventing an entire project from being having to be scrapped and redone properly.

Myth #2

I am converting my existing wood burning fireplace over to gas, and I don’t need to follow the rules for a wood fireplace anymore.

Truth: A wood burning fireplace is always going to be a wood burning fireplace. The rules and regulations for a wood fireplace are centered more around clearances, air flow, heat transfer, and convection than the actual fuel being used. A wood burning fireplace can almost always be converted from gas back to wood, and thus has to maintain it’s integrity as a wood burning appliance. In addition, local codes do not acknowledge fuel usage, but rather appliance type when regarding regulations.

Myth #3

There is such a thing as fire-proof sheet rock.

Truth: Nope! All gypsum based sheetrock is covered in paper on both sides. The fire rated sheetrock you have seen in home improvement stores is actually used in commercial and multi-family construction. It’s fire rating references how long it takes to burn as opposed to it being flammable or not. Trust us that it is. Therefore, no amount of sheet rock can be used in the immediate area around a fireplace opening.

MYTH #4

If I put tile, concrete board, stone, or brick over wood framing or sheetrock; it makes it safe and non-combustible.

Truth: It doesn’t. At all. Ever. Let’s apply some common sense to this. We can all agree that the burner on a stove is hot. We can all agree that cracking an egg directly onto the burner will make a messy burner and burned egg. So instead of cracking it directly on the burner, we place a (non-combustible) skillet in between the two. Now our egg cooks more controlled and slowly, but it cooks none the less and will burn if left unchecked.

By covering a combustible surface with a layer of non-combustible material all we are accomplishing is increasing the amount of time it takes for our combustibles to burn. So, much like the egg in the frying pan; our combustible wall will eventually burn too.

Here are a few photos to show you how NOT to reface a fireplace.  Three of these photos even show paper covered drywall all the up to the edge of the open flame fireplace! The most important thing to note in these photos is that none of these are DIY by a homeowner. In every case these were large scale contractors doing remodels in the entire home, and not one of them consulted a fireplace specialist. Each of these had to be torn out and redone to pass home inspections at a later date.

Okay, so now that we’ve established some of the DON’Ts, let’s discuss how to do this properly with these easy to follow steps.

  1. Develop an idea of your finished wall. Pick the materials and designs that you want to incorporate into the new look. Consider things such as televisions, artwork, and mantels. Making these decisions beforehand will help guide you through the process much more efficiently.
  2. HIRE A FIREPLACE SPECIALIST to meet you in your home to discuss your vision. Have samples of materials on hand and pictures of finish outs you are trying to emulate. During this “inspection” your fireplace specialist will explain how to safely accomplish your project using the materials and design implementation you have in mind. Be mindful that the specialist’s job is to make your finished fireplace safe. This may mean he will tell you that you cannot do what you wanted to, and suggest alternatives. THIS IS EXACTLY WHY YOU HIRED THEM. Once you have settled on a plan of action, your fireplace specialist should be referred to as often as necessary during the build phase.
  3. Hire a contractor who is willing to go by the book, and use the guidance of the fireplace specialist. In some cases, it may very well be the specialist you hired that also performs the work. If not, you will need to hire a contractor to complete this task.  Some contractors will have an “I don’t need any help” attitude, and if they can show you a CERTIFIED fireplace specialist on staff then great. But odds are they can’t, so it is up to you to make your intentions and requirements clear from the onset. Be very firm on this! Also, take pictures of all phases of the job as it progresses. These may come in handy later!
  4. Refer back to your fireplace specialist when needed. It is better to pay someone to make sure the job is done right than having to pay someone to redo it.
  5. Before paying the final balance to your contractor, have your fireplace specialist do a final inspection to guarantee it is proper and safe to use.

Following these 5 simple steps along the way will go along way into making this project quick, easy, and most importantly safe.

Refer to www.CSIA.org or www.NFIcertified.org to find a qualified fireplace specialist near you.

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