I am so excited to finally be sharing our process for making over our fireplace! It’s only been three years since we moved into our home, and I really did love the shiplap that we originally installed, but we were having too many issues with it to leave it up. We completed this project in the fall, and I’ve finally taken the time to sit down and type out the process. I am so so happy with the results and love our new brick fireplace even more!
PROBLEMS WITH THE ORIGINAL
Almost immediately after using our fireplace the first few times, we noticed that sap was draining out of the shiplap from the heat. After letting it go on for quite a while, we actually sanded everything down, used heat-resistant paint, and repainted everything! However it didn’t take long for the sap to continue seeping and the paint to bubble and peel. I wasn’t sure what the problem was as we had cement board installed behind the shiplap and I’ve seen lots of other people seemingly not have issues with shiplap around their fireplaces, but regardless we knew needed to swap for something else.
When we removed the shiplap we were shocked to see that the back of the wood was in fact charred and the cement board was crumbling! We eventually figured out that the drywallers had used 1/4″ cement board to match the thickness of the drywall above it. The problem is that 1/4″ cement board is only intended for use on the floor, as it cannot handle the span of the stud spacing on the wall! I’m not sure if this was the sole reason we had issues, but it seems likely that it contributed to the problem. We also had a child back up too close to the fireplace with a blanket, which melted to the screen. Clearly we were winning in the fire-safety department!
While we knew we needed to redo the fireplace, there were many design aspects we were unsettled on. Do we just replace below the mantel? The entire face? What about the sides? I initially wanted to go for a more modern large slate black type tile, then Wes threw out the idea of red brick. I promptly asked him if he was aware that most people are trying to get rid of, or paint over, their brick fireplaces!? While browsing different local tile selections however, I came across some beautiful red brick options at Lowe’s and I started to try and find some “pretty” brick fireplace examples online. I fell in love with the herringbone pattern layout, and wanted to at least do the top of the face that way.
- Cement Board – 1/2″ for walls (The boards we used were leftovers and I couldn’t find a link, but this is good option!)
- Natural Stone Mortar – White
- Wet Saw – We’ve had this one for years, and it has been faithful for a lot of tiling projects! You can also usually find these for rent fairly easily, but we found it was cheaper to purchase than rent for more than a day.
- Blade – there are lots of options, but this is the one we used
- 1/4″ x 1/4″ Square Notch Trowel
- Flat Brick Tiles – Stillwater, (we used 7 boxes)
- Corner Brick Tiles – Stillwater, (we used 4 boxes)
- Polyblend Sanded Grout – Bright White
- 3/8″ Dowel Rods
- Vinyl Grout Bag
- 5 gal bucket
- Sponges – (to wipe down bricks after installing & after grouting)
- Caulk – Bright White
- Small Level
- Media Wall Box
- Mantle – 60″ Rustic Oak
- Outlet Covers – Antique Copper
- Protective Gloves
- Brick Jointer – (grout smoothing tool)
- Brick Sealer
- cheap Paint Brush for “rough surfaces”
Reframing + Media Box Installation
Because we knew we needed to go with the thicker 1/2″ cement board, it also meant we needed to replace the upper drywall to avoid a difference in depths. Luckily, removing the drywall from the face of the fireplace also gave us the opportunity to add something else we had been wanting: a media box! The original framework had a stud right in the center with outlets attached for the TV and cable. We removed that stud, and added two others we had handy, spaced out to allow us to center our media box.
We purchased 3 metal outlet boxes, 2 for outlets and 1 for media cables. It was pretty simple to rewire the electrical outlets, and Wes had run the media cables through the house in the first place, so he had no issues reconfiguring those for us as well.
Our first mantle was a piece of reclaimed lumber that was super heavy and had warped over time. This time we wanted to go with something wider, lighter, and easier to install! We used the metal rods that were very securely placed in the studs from our first mantle to help support our new one, as well as another 2×4 run across the supports. This mantle is hollow and slipped right over the supports and screwed in from the top.
I wanted our mantle to go on before the brick to that it would be grouted in with the brick, rather than sitting on top, but it could certainly be done either way! It was also at the point that we decided to go ahead and use the corners and do the sides of the fireplace in brick as well. (I’m SO glad we did!)
Determining & Centering Our Layout
I initially laid out our tiles on the floor to get a rough idea of what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to do the herringbone on the entire face of the fireplace, but add a soldier row (vertical line of bricks) above the fireplace. Our corners all had a short side and a long side (pictured above), but I knew that I wanted all the short sides to be the border on the sides of the front. To make the subway pattern look correct on the sides, we cut every other “long side” of the corners in half.
The trickiest part of the project for me was centering the herringbone pattern. Explaining it here might be even trickier, but this is the YouTube I referenced. I drew two lines as our guide: The first line was the center of the fireplace, which I lined up with the CENTER of the lower brick in the ^ pattern. The second line was where the bottom corner of that same brick needed to touch to have the brick at a 45° angle – we also used a little level for each brick we put up to keep us on track.
Installing The Brick
Because I knew I wanted the special corner bricks to serve as the border to our herringbone on the front, we started by installing the subway pattern on each side. We did the corners first and worked towards the wall, row by row, top to bottom. Once our sides were complete, we tackled the front of the fireplace. We started in the center, using the lines I mentioned above as a guide, and worked our way out to the sides. It is a little hard to describe, but we did a couple of “rows” from the center out to the sides at once, but still overall working from the top of the fireplace to the bottom. When we got to the mantle, as it was already installed, I used math to determine/measure where our brick pattern should start again under the mantle.
While composing this blog entry I realized that I failed to get pictures of this step – easy to do when we were caught up in the process I suppose. I did snag a little screen shot from a video I got of the last piece going up though, that shows how we back-buttered the tile and how it should look with the trowel-lines. We only applied mortar to the brick, though some sources also preferred to add mortar to the wall as well.
To space our bricks and help keep them in place while we worked, we cut up a couple of 3/8″ dowel rods into approximately 1″ and 4″ sections for the herringbone areas and used longer pieces on the subway areas.* We typically only had to leave the spacers for a few minutes while the mortar set up, then moved them to the next section we were working on.
*I got this idea from watching Ashley Basnight’s super helpful YouTube tutorial where she did a huge feature wall in her bedroom. You will see in that video that she used PowerGrip adhesive to install the brick tiles on her drywall. Because we were installing on cement board and near a heat source, we opted to stick with mortar, as the adhesive isn’t meant for application on cement board. (We also used the mortar on the drywall sides!) In the reviews for our brick I saw that most of the other customers used adhesive on their drywall successfully, so that is an option!
Grouting, Sealing & Caulking
Some people like to stick with mortar in between the bricks for perhaps a slightly more “authentic” feel, but I found the sanded grout easier to work with and I think it still looks great! I mixed a small amount at a time, just enough to fill the vinyl grout bag, then piped the entire bag into the spaces before smoothing. I linked the handy little tool I used to smooth the grout lines above, and it definitely made things so much easier!
Another preference here would be the depth of the grout: I have seen some examples of making the grout as deep as the brick & even covering it somewhat which definitely gives off a “this wall has been here forever” vibe, but I really wanted to show off the rustic edges of the brick we chose so I kept the grout a bit shallower.
The brick we chose does not *require* sealing, however based on others experiences I found online, sealing the brick helps to bring out the color, prevent “brick dust” (which we had a ton of just installing), and helps prevent staining if something gets spilled on it somehow. You can see the difference in the picture above! The sealing was super easy: I used a cheap brush and quickly applied to the bricks one at a time. We also bought the matching caulk to our grout and sealed along the floor, ceiling, walls/shiplap, and benches.
Everything honestly turned out better than I even imagined it would! I’m obsessed with the herringbone pattern, and glad we decided to extend it down the entire front. I also love the how the straight bricks above the fireplace balance it out. The mantel has also held up well, even with all our stockings at Christmas!