How to Properly Plan for a Fireplace Surround

All too often, people walk into our showroom with a photo of a fireplace surround they would like us to provide, yet we cannot duplicate it because their wall space is not adequate for the design they have chosen or the firebox differs dramatically from the one they have in their home. This causes them to have a difficult time grasping why we can’t make it look like the photo.  We recommend you plan ahead to prevent this from happening so you can have the design you want.

Here are several reasons why your design would not look the same as the photo you bring in:

1. Your photo has a raised hearth (seat under the box) that is 15” off the ground, however, your firebox is either set on the slab or not high enough to allow for a 15” raised hearth.

The placement of your firebox in the wall is crucial to the final outcome of the design.  Decide in advance whether you want a raised hearth, a pedestal base, skirt, etc. (see fireplace anatomy below).  Depending on the surround you choose, a raised hearth may balance the design.  Also keep in mind that a raised hearth provides additional seating in the room.  These decisions must be made before the home is framed to prevent costly modifications.  There are a variety of ways to design a raised hearth.  The first photo has a 15” modern hearth with a 1 ½” square hearth cap on top of the seat.  The second photo has a 15” raised hearth with egg and dart trim and bullnose hearth blocks for a seat.  The third photo shows a bullnose hearth with a 5” pedestal above if to set the legs on top of for a grander look.  The final photo reflects the terminology for the fireplace components.


2. You want a television above your mantel but you selected a box that is 50” tall.

Many people want a television above the firebox plus a really tall box.  Unfortunately, this combination limits your surround options and places your television too high for optimal viewing.  A huge firebox can actually have a negative impact.  Here’s something to ponder … do you want your box bigger or your surround grander?  A larger box can actually overpower the room and lead to a compromised, scrawny design.  Most fireplace designs require at least 15-30” of space above the top of the firebox opening to look legitimate.  When there is a TV above the mantel shelf, the nominal shelf height is 50-65”.  The vicinity of your seating and TV will determine the height for placing the television which will be explained shortly.  This means the top of your firebox once set in the wall should be no more than 50” high.  If you have a shorter box you can make the mantel shelf even lower than 65”.  We suggest sitting a distance away from the fireplace for your scenario to determine a comfortable height to look up at the TV.  Mark the preferred TV height on the wall and make your mantel shelf a few inches below the bottom of the TV.   It is also important to choose a TV that is not wider than the shelf of the fireplace surround so it does not look unbalanced.  The pictures below show you a variety of ways to add a TV, even with a raised hearth or pedestal if you choose the right box for your design.


3. The floor plan looked great, but you didn’t notice there was only 55” of wall space for the fireplace surround.  Your firebox is 42”so you have 6” on each side of the box….

The fireplace wall is often not considered of high importance until it is time to choose what to put around your firebox.  If you don’t have at least 65” to work with, you are going to have a small, unimpressive surround that is cut down to squeeze into small space.  Again, people think the box has to be really big and impressive…..let’s face it, you are looking at this box the majority of the time without a fire in it, so why is it a priority over the beautiful surround you are going to enjoy year round, every day?   Even a corner fireplace can be made wide if you bring the corner into the room.  Skimping on space at the fireplace wall leads to puny, unimpressive surrounds that appear to be poor planning from the start.   If your wall is small, most every style you find online will not fit and you will be bringing in photos of beautiful surrounds you can’t have because you have no wall space to fit them.  If you give us wall space, we will give you beautiful surrounds!  Pictured below are examples of small walls that we improvised to create more costly custom styles surrounds to accommodate small spaces.


4. I don’t want a hearth in front of the fireplace since it could be a tripping hazard or because I want a clean look that opens up the room.

The more modern looking fireplaces we are creating look clean and sleek without a hearth on the floor, so the shape of the body of the 3D fireplace is pronounced against the floor.  In order to get a surround without a hearth several things must happen.  The builder needs to inform you of the fire codes for your neighborhood.  We have found that the Direct Vent fireboxes have grown in popularity and have created the ability to omit the hearth on the floor as long as the firebox is raised off the ground in the wall.  If this is the case, most of the time you can run tile floor, wood floor or even carpet all the way to the wall.  A direct vent box has a fire behind a closed in glass case, so it does not allow sparks to come out of the box that could cause a fire in the home.   A wood burning firebox will always require a non- flammable floor in front of it.  This can be a tile floor or you can use our product in front of it in the form of a hearth which is 16”-20” standard with a variety of other custom options.   Pictured below are different scenarios of fireplaces without hearths on the floor. As far as a tripping hazard is concerned, we do offer hearths that have 45 degree corners to eliminate that concern.

Examples of 45 degree raised hearths and 45 degree 3” bullnose hearths                 

5. The firebox is not centered on my wall so what can I do?

There are occasions when the box is not centered in the wall.  We can create a design that makes this look intentional as you can see below. 


6. The gas connection is in the wall near the firebox.

Most people don’t think about the fact that the surround is usually 12” or more outside of the firebox, so if the gas key is in the area where the surround will go, it will either have to be moved, or the stone has to be cut out to leave the key exposed.  It is best to locate it around the corner of a built out wall, not on the facing or make sure it is at least 15” away from the box.


As one can see from these examples, there are many issues to address regarding the fireplace box set up, in order to optimize the selection process for fireplace surrounds.   It is best to plan ahead with your builder or remodeler to address these areas of concern early so you can plan to choose the fireplace surround you want to have.  The floor plan design, wall space allotted for the fireplace wall, type of fireplace, and the size of the fireplace all play a factor in what the final outcome of your surround will be.  Planning ahead will prevent disappointment and unexpected delays or costly modifications to achieve your ability to choose the surround you want to purchase.    Our office is happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.