How to Remodel a Fireplace

A dog sleeping in front of a fireplace.

A fireplace in a home is usually seen as a plus. However, there are those certain fireplaces that you find, especially in older homes, that just do nothing for the room, or worse yet, they make it look old and dated. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to remedy this because a fireplace remodel is completely possible as a DIY project.

Deciding on the style of remodel you want is the first step. It will help determine whether or not you have to rip it all out, or if you can simply cover over it or paint it. When you're choosing what style to move forward with, consider the style of the rest of your house so that you can keep the theme consistent when you renovate your fireplace.

If your home's style has country feel to it and you have a dark, brick fireplace, you may be able to keep the brick and do a simple whitewash to brighten it up. But if you're going for a modern look, wrapping it in tile may be just what you need to make it look sleek. Another option is to create a blank canvas by ripping it down to the bare bones or building a frame around it and putting up drywall, which allows you to make it any style you want. Below we'll explore these options to help you decide how to make your fireplace the most commanding feature in the room.

Simple and Quaint—Use Paint

A white brick fireplace.

The easiest way to remodel your old fireplace is to paint it. Most old fireplaces are built with brick around them, and a coat of white paint can be an inexpensive option to make it look elegant. Other stone used in a fireplace, such as lava rock, can also benefit with a coat of paint.

Keep in mind that brick or stone often soaks up the paint very well, so you'll want to prime it first. When choosing a paint, go with a latex that can handle high heats of at least 200° Fahrenheit. The paint can be any sheen you want, but make sure you have a good roller for a textured surface to apply it with. Before you start, be sure to properly prep the fireplace brick for paint. Then, begin with one coat of paint. If it's not quite right, keep adding the coats until it's perfectly sealed and to your liking.

Complete Overhaul—Use Drywall

To give your fireplace a fresh start, drywall is a good choice. For this you will either have to remove all the old material (such as stone or bricks), go directly over the brick (as long as it's flat) or you'll want to build a wood frame around it to attach your drywall to it. This is one of the more expensive ways to remodel a fireplace, but it's also one of the best if you wish to totally transform it. Drywall also allows you to then create your own style and decorative touch.

When attaching your drywall or plasterboard directly over the fireplace wall, you'll have to cover the joints with tape and compound and then attach your plasterboard with masonry adhesive or screws. The first way, known as direct bond, is the easiest and requires no covering up of screw holes later on. To prepare your brick for the adhesive, cover it first with a thin coat of PVA adhesive, and then apply your masonry adhesive. You'll need to hold it firmly against the brick until it takes hold of the plasterboard. Furring strips can be used to help temporarily hold them in place as well—just screw them on and cover the screw holes later with drywall compound.

If you have a fireplace made of stone that's not even and flat, your renovation will be best done by either chiseling all the rock out and preparing your surface from the base wall behind it, or by creating a frame that goes around the stone that you can then attach the drywall to. In many cases, using furring strips attached along the top, sides and bottom will be enough of a frame as long as you anchor the strips to the stone. If you're needing a larger frame, just take some measurements to determine what you'll need to hold your drywall in place.

Once you have the drywall in place, don't forget to use joint compound and fiberglass tape to seal in the gaps between drywall sheets. Then you can paint it, or you can even cover it with plaster if you'd like give it a different texture and look.

More Modern Appeal—Tile

A tile fireplace with a green chair against it.

A very nice look with fireplaces is tile, and if you have ever put tile floors in or tiled on walls, this will be a fairly easy project for you. If you have an even brick fireplace, you have a surface that you can just tile over. For those with lava rock or stone, you'll want to first attach cement backerboard and then simply apply your Thinset as you normally would and set your tiles. When tiling a fireplace, do not use mastic as it cannot handle the heat.

When going over brick, prep it for tile by removing any loose mortar with a wire brush and cleaning off any soot with a wet rag soaked in white vinegar. After the bricks have dried a day or two, mix up your Thinset cement until it's the consistency of mayonnaise and trowel it on so that it fills all the grout joints. The end result should be a surface that's completely flat without any seams.

After it's dried, give it a day and then you are ready for the tile to be set. To do this, put down another layer of your Thinset using a notched trowel and set your tiles into it. Keep in mind that the most important area to be aware of when tiling around a fireplace is the tiles directly above the firebox. To make sure they are perfectly straight, use a board nailed in horizontally across your firebox. Use the top edge as the shelf to help keep the tiles in line as they set and remove it once the Thinset has hardened.