There comes a time when every fireplace will start to lose its prominence as the focal point of a room. Whether from wear and tear or just the changing whims of style, your home's fireplace is a great outlet for your remodeling creativity. Many options exist to either update your existing hearth or completely revamp it with a new hearth system. Whichever you choose, a well executed fireplace renovation can bring back the cozy, charming atmosphere you previously enjoyed.
Unify Your Fireplace and Room Designs
A big part of understanding how to best update or renovate your fireplace lies in understanding the room surrounding it. Take stock of your design scheme. Is it modern? Classic? Does it fit a particular motif? (Colonial, Southwest, Asian, et cetera.) If you're renovating the room as well as the fireplace, you should consider making the fireplace one of the room's main design anchors.
Though the classic image of the fireplace involves rustic or classic Americana design schemes, in fact the fireplace remains perfectly suitable for any decorative ambition. The most sweeping — that is to say the most readily apparent — changes will come when you alter the fireplace facing, the mantel or surround, and the chimney itself.
Clean or Resurface Your Fireplace
In terms of fashion, brick chimneys and mantels are often the worst offenders when it comes to looking outdated. Bare, "natural finish" brick and heavy wooden mantels can weigh down otherwise careful room renovation plans, throwing the room's design balance out of whack. Fortunately, they're some of the easiest elements to change.
Brick fireplace facings can accumulate staining over time, whether it be from past issues with adequate chimney draft or the occasional downdraft forcing smoke and ash into the room. If your décor all but warrants the brick to remain unaltered, there are products available to bring the fascia back to its original appearance. Light smoke deposits can be removed with a special hearth cleaning compound. This compound is usually only available through specialty hearth retailers, such as eFireplaceStore.com. The low acid content in the sprayable compound gently eats away at deposits and allows you to blot the residual away with a damp cloth, bringing the appearance of the brick back to a clean and newly laid look. For heavy buildup of soot or smoke stains, a more abrasive cleaning compound may be needed. Muriatic acid works well for removing heavy build up, but great care must be taken when using it. Gloves and eye protection must be worn at all times. Another option is a paintable soot removal product that can be applied to the brick, allowed to dry, and then peeled off. When peeled away from the brick surface, soot stains will be lifted away as well. This option only works well on brick that is not porous.
If the desire is to shift the look of your hearth to a more modern appearance, applying a brick glaze or paint to the surface is a great way to update to a clean look. There are numerous paints and glazes on the market that meet the 300 degree temperature recommendation for the brick surrounding the fireplace opening. Before paint can be applied, the brick should be thoroughly cleaned by one of the methods previously mentioned above.
- Figure 1
Add a Decorative Surround or Overlay
Whether the fireplace is a traditional masonry type or a prefabricated metal firebox, there can be a lack of definition between the edges of the fireplace opening and the surrounding veneer that causes the fireplace to become lost in the overall design of the room. What could have been a strong design aspect is now a wasted opportunity. For masonry fireplaces, the surrounding brick can be covered with a number of noncombustible veneers. Figure 1 gives an example of a fireplace insert that uses a clean and timeless black metal shroud to overlay the brick of the fireplace. Granite, marble, and tile are all rapidly increasing in popularity for this purpose. Using the same material as used in a nearby backsplash or countertop installation is a great way to tie the spaces together. Such an update can dramatically change the look of the fireplace, allowing the décor of the entire room to follow suit.
Many homeowners find that updating a prefabricated fireplace can be significantly more difficult. Renovators find that there is a lack of means to change the bland, black metal fascia of a metal firebox. Manufacturers typically do not actively support a model of fireplace long after production, meaning replacement of outdated design aspects such as brass doors or louvers can be difficult. That being the case, there are still options to work around this. There is a broad range of high temperature paints offered by companies such as StoveBright. These paints will allow the recoating of the metal firebox surface, bringing it in tune with the surrounding update. Another option is a complete fireplace overlay. This is essentially a decorative metal fascia that can be attached to the existing fireplace face. These usually included door assemblies and decorative trim in a color of your choosing. This refit of the metal fascia can allow the desired look of the fireplace to be realized.
Replace Your Mantel
There are a broad range of mantel options available to change the look of your fireplace. Designs ranging from retro to modern existing, with a broad range of more traditional offerings in between. Remember, too, that mantels range in size from simple shelves to elaborate hand-carved wood or stone centerpieces.
Keep the mantel at the same size scale as the furniture surrounding the fireplace. If your end tables and coffee table are relatively small, the mantel should be small as well. Also while considering sizing, it is important to consider the necessary spacing and clearances required from the fireplace opening. Depending on the type and model of fireplace, clearance to a mantel shelf can range from a few inches to well over a foot. Maintaining this clearance is not only a safety consideration, but a great way to ensure that the investment being made will last for years to come.
- Figure 2
Install a Fireplace Insert For Greater Efficiency, Convenience
Fireplace inserts are self-contained but fit comfortably within the firebox, or opening, of your existing fireplace. Some are direct vent, meaning they use a ventilation shaft, while others are entirely self-sealed. Figure 2 is an example of a direct vent fireplace insert with a decorative door overlay for added character. Besides the traditional wood-burning fireplace insert, there are also electric, propane, and natural gas burning models.
Inserts provide greater energy efficiency by more effectively containing the heat they produce when compared to traditional fireplaces. Less heat is lost through the chimney and redirected back out towards the room.
Most inserts will offer a decorative surround that is used to cover the space that exists between the edges of the fireplace insert and the fireplace itself. Manufacturers will usually offer numerous styles, allowing the selection of a surround that will most closely fit the style of the room. Some will offer completely custom surrounds for odd fireplace dimensions.
Install New Accessories for the Fireplace and Chimney
We've already covered the key elements of a DIY fireplace remodel — but don't let this step's place on the list fool you: the new accessories you select for your fireplace facelift and chimney should be more than an afterthought. A new grate will make your firebox seem instantly alive (when installed after a thorough cleaning), and a new tending kit will likewise energize your hearth. For the chimney, a mirror above the mantel will make your room brighter but can also make it seem larger.
Finally, your fireplace can remain a place of light and warmth in the spring and summer by burning candles in the firebox and atop the mantle. Use different-sized candles within the firebox and hearth, and a simple string of tea lights on the mantle to create a charming mood, day or night. Warm weather, after all, is no reason not to enjoy a newly renovated fireplace.