Fireplaces are hotter than ever. The National Association of Home Builders reports that, in 2010, nearly half of new single-family homes completed had a fireplace. And the National Association of Realtors say 40 percent of home buyers value fireplaces enough that they’d be willing to spend more to get a home that has one. To be clear: attractive fireplaces are hot. Outdated, poorly designed fireplaces are not. If your fireplace is more “Ugly Stepsister” than “Cinderella,” consider prettying it up using one of these four do-it-yourself fixes:
1. Paint it
A fresh coat of paint is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to beautify your fireplace. Prep is simple: Begin by using a wire brush to get all the grime off the hearth surface. Apply a stain-blocking primer to the clean fireplace before you paint to help cover soot stains. Most fireplace hearths are made from tile, stone or bricks held together by mortar or grout. It’s likely you’ll need to apply at least two coats of paint to cover these surfaces, especially brick, which tends to be porous. If you plan to paint inside the firebox, you’ll need to invest in a special heat-resistant paint. Choose a color that will blend with the room’s palette and furniture or, if the fireplace shape and design aren’t bad, choose a contrast color that will make your fireplace pop.
2. Go faux
Covering an existing fireplace with natural stone can be both expensive and difficult, requiring masonry skills, structural engineering and specialized tools. So, instead of heavy river rocks, consider faux stone. Yes, it’s hard to forget that hideous plastic-looking brick and stone from your grandparents’ home, but today’s products are oh, so much better. They actually have the same look, feel and durability of real stone – without the high costs or installation challenges. Plus, they typically weigh about 75 percent less than natural stone. Some stone veneers will require demolition of the existing fireplace surround before you prep for installation with a layer or two of building paper, covered by galvanized wire lath. Others, like AirStone, can be applied directly to substrate including brick, ceramic tile, stone, stucco or concrete block. Before investing in any manufactured stone product, make sure it and the adhesive required to install it are safe for use around wood stoves and fireplaces. Check local and state building codes to ensure your project meets requirements.
3. Make over the mantel
Even the most gorgeous fireplace won’t look complete without an appealing, well-proportioned mantel. You can build your own or, if you’d prefer, there are many paint-grade, fully assembled mantels on the market. Readybuilt Products, for example, offers more than 50 mantel styles, from Colonial to contemporary, priced at $350 to $2,500.
Be aware that the National Fire Protection Association’s safety code requires at least six inches between the sides and top of the firebox and any wood that projects up to one and a half inches from the face of the fireplace. Any wood that projects out further than that – a mantel shelf, for example – must be at least 12 inches from the opening. Contact your local building department for specific code requirements in your city and state.
4. Don’t overlook the overmantel
Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a fireplace – it’s just not special. With basic do-it-yourself skills, you can give your fireplace visual interest and height by adding an overmantel, that ornamental structure that extends from your mantel upward. You can build an overmantel using MDF (medium-density fiberboard), and trims ranging from cladding to corbels, depending upon the look you’re after. For the look of an overmantel with even less work, consider installing two or three strips of wallpaper from your mantel to the ceiling; finish the project with a couple strips of wood trim along the sides and crown molding at the top. Traditionally, overmantels were dressed with decorative mirrors.