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Fireplace Facing and Surround Buyer's Guide

Fireplace Facing and Surround Buyer's Guide

Fireplace Facing and Surround
Superior WCT Builder Series circulating wood burning fireplace

There's more to a fireplace than just the box that holds the fire. Elements like a fireplace surround play both a practical and decorative role. Metal surround panels are sometimes required to protect nearby combustible surfaces. Other times they simply serve to enhance the aesthetic of the fireplace to give it a finished look.

Other terms associated with fireplace surrounds include fireplace faceplates, fireplace fronts, fireplace frames, or fireplace trim. There is not a strict definition for these terms, so you may find that companies use different names. Also, fireplace surrounds are not the same thing as mantel surrounds or fireplace facings. A mantel refers to the shelf and/or pedestal legs that surround the fireplace. The facing is the tile, stone, or other veneers on the front surface. For the purposes of this article, we will define a fireplace surround as the metal frame that surrounds the fireplace opening.

In this article, we'll cover the function and design of such fireplace surrounds. This includes the materials they are made from, how to install them, and maintenance tips to keep them in good condition. We'll also go over some of the different terminology commonly used in the industry so you know exactly what you're looking for.

What is a Fireplace Surround?

A fireplace surround is the metal frame around the fireplace opening. On fireplace inserts, the surrounds hide the gap between the insert and the edge of the fireplace. Masonry fireplaces don't have a gap to cover, but a surround can still be used for decoration. Surrounds also create a barrier between the fireplace and any surrounding combustible material.

Fireplace Facing and Surround
Real Fyre 4-sided surround

That extra barrier is a safety feature. Some models require metal surrounds for safe installation. Zero-clearance models come pre-assembled with safety surrounds that protect combustible surfaces like your wall, cabinet, or bookshelf enclosure.

Surrounds can also help with drafting issues. They create a tighter area for combustion and limit the heat that escapes up the flue. This means more heat is radiated into your room instead of being lost up the chimney.

Fireplace Facing and Surround
Real Fyre iSeries IPI Control Direct Vent Fireplace Insert

Fireplace surrounds are usually black and come in a variety of widths and styles. They help visually anchor the fireplace and make it look complete. The surround hides burn spots that may have accumulated around the opening. You can even transform an arched fireplace opening into a modern rectangular opening or vice versa with a more custom fireplace surround design. It's worth checking out the different styles since there are so many options to suit your decor.


Fireplace surrounds are made from high-quality metal such as steel or cast iron. They are durable, fireproof and provide a layer of protection around the fireplace. The finishes are usually either matte black or bronze. Some models offer a selection of powder-coated finishes, too.

Fireplace Facing and Surround
four sided frame

The surrounds are either 3-sided or 4-sided, depending on whether you have a hearth pad or not. The 3-sided models fit around the top and sides of the fireplace opening (with the base being the hearth pad). The 4-sided models frame the entire opening of the fireplace in the absence of a hearth pad.

What Are The Types of Surrounds?

Faceplate, front, surround, trim - what's the difference? Time to set the record straight. Part of the confusion comes from not knowing the difference between whether they are or can be used on fireplaces or fireplace inserts. Fireplace inserts need a surround to cover the gap between the insert and the fireplace opening. Masonry and prefabricated fireplaces do not always need a surround.

Face or Faceplate - These terms are interchangeable and usually refer to a large overlay that covers the majority of the fireplace front. (In case you're wondering, the fireplace front is the front surface around the fireplace opening. If there is a mantel, the front usually extends all the way to the mantel.) If necessary, faceplates can be used to cover the unfinished edge of the drywall around the fireplace. To give you a better idea, this area surrounding the opening of the fireplace opening is also called the facing, which is typically covered by some type of veneers such as stacked stone, tile, brick, or slate.

Fireplace Facing and Surround
Real Fyre 4-Sided Surround

However, manufactured faceplates serve as a one-stop-shop to bypass the labor-intensive practices typically associated with covering the face of the fireplace. Manufactured fireplace faceplates come in a variety of materials and colors, with steel or cast iron being the most common. They range from sleek designs to scalloped steel or decorative bolt heads. Some faceplates serve as a frame and attachment for fireplace doors.

Fireplace Facing and Surround
Osburn medium faceplate black trim kit

Fireplace Surround - Fireplace surrounds and trims differ from faceplates in that they cover less of the front of the fireplace. Surrounds range from 4 to 6 inches in width for each surround panel. Unlike faceplates, surrounds are more often used to cover the unfinished edges of drywall or tile that cover the facing of the fireplace. In other words, the surround acts as a frame that goes around the decorative facing or faceplates used on the fireplace. Some fireplace surrounds are adjustable for various depths of materials. The goal of a surround, in many cases, is to create a picture framed look for the fireplace, allowing it to stand out or "pop" against other background materials.

Fireplace Facing and Surround
4-Sided Fireplace Trim

Fireplace Trim - A trim kit serves the same function as a surround, but is only 1 to 2 inches in width. They are also light enough that some use only magnets for attachment. Due to their size, fireplace trim is more commonly used with built-in prefabricated fireplace units. The trim serves a similar decorative purpose to frame in the fireplace to give it a distinct, polished look that stands out from its enclosure.

Fireplace Front - Fireplace front used for a fireplace insert (also called a face or faceplate in this case) overlays all but the viewing area of the fireplace insert. Unlike prefabricated or masonry fireplaces, fireplace inserts typically come with a surround as a standard addition to the insert front because it serves both functional and aesthetic purposes.

Fireplace Surround Installation

Fireplace Facing and Surround
Installing Fireplace Facing

Fireplace surround kits are relatively easy to install. Read the instructions and make sure you have the necessary tools before you begin. Here is an overview of the installation for a fireplace insert. (Note that the details may be different if you are installing a surround on masonry or prefabricated fireplace.)

  • Install the fireplace insert according to the manufacturer's instructions. It is important to choose the right size and configuration so the gaps are all covered.
  • Assemble the surround. The surround may be a single piece or it may come in up to five pieces. The necessary screws, nuts, or brackets should be included in the kit.
  • Attach the surround to the front of the fireplace. Usually, the surround comes with fasteners that attach to adjustable brackets on the side or front of the fireplace insert.
  • With the surround in place, you can install the optional faceplate. In many cases, the faceplate overlays the surface of the surround. Faceplates can also house fireplace door assemblies.

What about Wood Mantel Surrounds?

Fireplace Facing and Surround
3-Sided Fireplace Surround on Raised Hearth

Although this article is focused on metal surrounds, you may find yourself interested in installing a wood mantle shelf or a full wood mantel surround. In that case, you'll need to adhere to building codes. Metal surrounds do not need clearance, but wood mantels are dangerous if installed too close to the fireplace opening.

Start by checking for any local codes for wood fireplace mantel surrounds. If you don't have local codes, follow the guidelines for the National Standard Building Code or the National Fire Code. Also remember to keep stockings, greeting cards, and other combustible material away from the heat of the fireplace. Use the required clearances for the wood mantels as a guideline for keeping any other flammable material away. Click here to see a visual diagram of the clearance requirements for a wood mantel surround.

In general, this means that any combustible trim or mantel must be at least 6 inches from the fireplace opening. If any components of the wood mantel placed along the edges of the fireplace facing projects farther than 1.5 inches, then you should add extra clearance.

The additional side clearance should compensate for the additional projection of the combustible parts to ensure your mantle is safe. For example, if any parts of your mantle project out 5 inches from the front of the fireplace, you will need 5 extra inches of clearance space from the sides of the fireplace opening. (This makes 11 inches of total clearance from the opening of the fireplace.)

The mantelpiece across the top has its own clearance requirements. Again, the minimum clearance for any combustible material is 6 inches away from the sides of the fireplace opening. If the mantel projects more than 1.5 inches (which most mantels do) then you need more clearance.

One way to maintain the clearance is to install the horizontal top mantelpiece 12 inches or more above the fireplace opening. If you want it to be less than 12 inches away, the rules get more detailed.

Remember these details:

  • You must have an inch of clearance for every 1/8 inch that the mantel extends. (Again, this is referring to the top mantelpiece above the fireplace.)
  • If your mantel extends ? inch, you'll need 7 inches of clearance.
  • Note that the 6-inch minimum rule always applies, so even if the mantle only protrudes 5/8 inch, you will still need 6 inches of clearance.

Factory-built fireplaces often have their own clearance requirements. Read the manufacturer's installation requirements to make sure you maintain safe clearances.

Zero-clearance manufactured fireplaces also include specific guidelines and installation requirements. Many allow for wood or framing that comes right up to the insulated fire-box. However, always make sure you follow the restrictions for your particular model.

Most fireplaces need some non-combustible material that surrounds the front of the fireplace. Wood-burning fireplaces also need non-combustible material on the hearth. The non-combustible material could be a metal surround. For some fireplaces, it could also be material like brick, stone, or tile.

Care and Maintenance

Fireplace surrounds and faceplates are designed to last and rarely require maintenance. You can occasionally wipe down the surround or faceplate with a soft cloth to remove any dust. If the surround gets scratched, you can touch it up with high-temperature paint.


Most fireplace surrounds, faceplates, and trims come disassembled. This makes them small enough to ship via small parcel post. If the surround is shipped with the actual fireplace unit, it may arrive with the unit via LTL freight. Inspect the item for damages and report any issues to the manufacturer immediately.


Fireplace Facing and Surround
3-Sided Fireplace Surround

Your fireplace model may need a surround for safety, or you may wish to install one purely for style. Either way, there are several options to make your fireplace functional and beautiful. Some fireplaces require surrounds specifically rated for use with that model. This is especially true for prefabricated fireplaces or inserts. It's worth doing your homework to make sure you buy a surround that is safe and compatible.

Please reach out to us if you have any questions about your fireplace surrounds! Our NFI Certified Technicians are happy to help!

About the Author

Collin Champagne

With over 13 years in the industry, Collin is a National Fireplace Institute (NFI) certified technician and managed content for the eFireplacestore and eCanopy brands. He has achieved the highest NFI certification possible as a Master Hearth Professional and is certified in all three hearth appliance fields: wood, gas, and pellet. With experience with sales and in-field installations, his expertise shines through his technical knowledge and way with words.

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