Q: I’d like to remove my fireplace brick, but it goes all the way up from the hearth to the ceiling. Is it possible to remove the brick and replace it with another material? After removal, what type of material should I use to cover things up? Is there something that I can use that will still allow me to use the fireplace?
A: Yes, you can remove the brick facade and replace it with another material. And you will still be able to use the fireplace. The only restriction is that the material around the firebox must be noncombustible. Common choices are marble, some other type of stone or tile.
Check your local building code to determine how far the hearth must extend in front of the firebox and the area on the sides and top of the opening that require noncombustible material. Expect 8 to 12 inches on the top and sides and a minimum of 18 inches for the hearth. When it comes to the hearth, the deeper, the better. There’s nothing worse than a hot ember that burns a hole in the carpet. The remainder of the wall can be any material you want, from drywall to plaster to the rustic appearance of wood.
The removal process is fairly labor intensive, but if you do the demolition yourself you’ll save a bunch of money. Furthermore, if you do the whole job yourself, all you’ll be out is the cost of materials. Go slowly, be careful and you’ll be fine. When you’re done you’ll have a spiffy new look for pennies on the dollar.
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You will need a hammer and a cold chisel. If you want to make quicker work of it, rent a small electric demolition hammer.
Make sure to remove any breakable objects from the area and cover the floor. Dropping a brick from 8 or 9 feet in the air is not a good idea. Have a helper handy to receive and stack the bricks when you remove them.
To remove the old brick, start at the top and work down. Begin by chiseling the mortar on the top line of brick. It might be a little tough to remove the first brick, but once you pry it out, the others should follow more easily. Remove one brick at a time. Work down the wall until all of the face bricks, including any mantel you might have, are removed. Then remove the bricks from the hearth.
With the wall and the firebox opening stripped, you’re ready to reface.
It’s vital to have a flat, solid surface on which to affix the new stone, tile or marble. For larger, flat pieces of tile or marble, you can either plaster a mortar bed over the existing brick to create a substrate or you can affix cement board such as Durock with thinset mortar. Use concrete nails to hold the cement board in place. When the mortar dries, you’ll have a solid, flat surface.
If you use smaller, irregular material, such as individual stones, you can forgo the cement board. Just apply a thick layer of mortar and embed the new material. In both cases you will have to pretreat the old brick with a concrete adhesive to allow the new mortar to stick to the old brick.
A word of caution: If you decide to use material that is very heavy, make sure the floor framing will support the weight. You might have to go into the crawlspace to install a couple of concrete piers with a beam across the floor joists to support the added load. Also, if you decide on stone or another type of brick, you’ll need a steel bar across the top span of the firebox to support that weight.
Two final suggestions: This is a good time to have your fireplace inspected by a licensed, bonded chimney sweep. Also, it’s likely that your project will require a building permit. Make sure you get one.