Both modern and traditional fireplaces call for more dramatic surrounds than the basic metal face plates that come with most models. The sheer versatility of tile allows you to create practically any look, but the installation will only last the test of heat and time if it's handled properly. Consider these five facts that determine whether your fireplace tiling project will fail or succeed before going the DIY route.
You Can Install Over Some Materials
If the fireplace is older and already features a surround that's still in decent shape, you may be able to install a new layer of tile right over it without the hard work of chiseling off the old material. You can usually safely adhere tiles to
- Brick, including brick veneers if the panels are still well attached to the walls
- Ceramic and porcelain tiles, including cracked or discolored ones that aren't loose
- Smooth and new metal surrounds, but watch out for peeling paint and rust that interferes with the tile adhesive unless it's sanded away.
When the existing surround is too damaged to use as a base, you can also skip the lengthy removal process by covering it all with a fresh layer of heat-resistant tile backer board made from cement.
Heat Protection Is Crucial
Don't assume that adding a layer of stone or porcelain around your fireplace will change its safety clearances and make it safe to move furniture closer. You still need proper heat protection to prevent fire from spreading from the sides of the fireplace and catching the walls on fire. Solid stone tiles tend to radiate a lot of heat, so you may need to install heat shield boards or cement insulation layers before laying tile.
Certain Tiles Work Best
Most glazed and fired tiles work fine under the hot conditions around a fireplace and hearth, but make sure that porcelain and ceramic products are designed for floor use. This ensures they're thick and shatter-resistant enough that the chores of handling firewood won't leave big dents in the hearth. If you use stone, stick to thinner sheets that don't store as much heat and make sure that the manufacturer hasn't sealed them with a product that could create unpleasant fumes when the tiles are heated.
Avoid metal tiles for safety reasons, and only use glass products specifically approved for fireplace use. Don't plan to use the tiles inside the fireplace itself since the direct heat is too much for any materials other than fire bricks, metal fire boxes, and certain high temperature concrete mixtures.
Special Adhesives Are Necessary
You can't just spread out the usual layer of adhesive mortar and hope that the tiles will stay on for hundreds of heating and cooling cycles. Look for a thin-set mortar product rated for high heat use or a flexible adhesive product that contains plenty of latex to combat the weathering effects of radiant heat. Epoxy products work best for installing tile directly over a wood surround, but if you're using cement backer board or working over older brick, look for a cement-based mortar instead.
Tile Size Matters
Finally, consider the size of the tile and not just its material or color. Larger tiles dissipate heat faster and tend to get warm instead of hot enough to burn the skin. It's also much easier to clear the grout lines between bigger tiles, and the installation process goes faster.
Whether you tackle the tiling yourself or leave it to a professional, it's a quick way to make both older and brand new fireplaces better fit the style of the home. Increase the value of a stock fireplace insert by giving it a unique look with a few boxes of inexpensive tile and the right adhesives. For more information, check out a site like http://www.alpinefireplaces.com.