Hearths are an integral part of many types of fireplaces, and help to keep both you and your house safe from having a fire in your home.
I have two fireplaces in my home: one in my living room and one in my kitchen. The same chimney serves both fireplaces, but each fireplace has different sized hearths that are made from different materials.
Wondering why my hearths were so different in size and material, I’ve done a ton of research into fireplace hearths over the years.
I’ve therefore put this article together explaining everything you need to know about fireplace hearths, including their purpose, what size they need to be, and what the best materials are for use in a hearth.
What Is A Fireplace Hearth?
A fireplace hearth is the area located at the base of the fireplace on which a fire is built, or a fireplace insert or stove is placed. The hearth is made from a non-combustible material and typically extends out into the room and to the sides from the fireplace opening.
Dictionary.com defines a hearth as:
‘The floor of a fireplace, usually of stone, brick, etc., often extending a short distance into a room.’
A fireplace hearth was traditionally used for both heating and cooking for many centuries. Nowadays, fireplaces are typically only used for heating or decoration purposes.
Fireplace hearths are made out of a non-combustible material such as granite, stone, marble, ceramic, cement or slate. These non-combustible materials help to keep the heat of the fire away from your house, while also providing an aesthetically pleasing platform for your fireplace that can be designed to suit the décor of your home.
What Part Of The Fireplace Is The Hearth?
The hearth is found at the very bottom of a fireplace. It’s the slab of non-combustible material that sits flat at the base of the fireplace on which a fire or fireplace unit sits.
It can be found surrounded by the walls of the fireplace inside the firebox, and extends out into the room past the fireplace opening.
Below is a diagram I put together showing which part of the fireplace is the hearth:
A hearth is sometimes referred to as the ‘inner hearth’ and ‘outer hearth’, located inside and outside of the firebox respectively. In some cases the hearth is the floor located outside of the firebox, while the inner floor of the fireplace can sometimes be known as the ‘firebox floor’. The extension of the hearth into the room from the fireplace opening is also referred to as the ‘hearth extension’.
For the purposes of this article the hearth will refer to the entire floor area of a fireplace.
What Is The Purpose Of A Fireplace Hearth?
A hearth serves as both cosmetic and functional features of a fireplace.
The purpose of a fireplace hearth is to provide a barrier between the floor of a building and the heat of a fire inside the fireplace or stove. A fireplace hearth also provides a decorative stand on which a fireplace stove, insert or standalone unit can be placed alongside fireplace accessories and fuel such as wood logs.
The hearth is an integral part of a fireplace and helps to protect your home from the heat of a fire, thanks to a layer of non-combustible material separating the floor of your home from the hot coals, embers and flames of a fire.
A hearth’s extension into a room acts a safety feature when having a fire in your home. A fireplace hearth extends out into the room in order to help prevent any soot, ash or burning embers from spilling or spitting out onto the floor of the room.
A hearth’s extension also provides a suitable and flat area for which a fire guard can be placed, in order to protect both users of the fireplace and furniture of the room from any hot embers that are released by the fire, and to help prevent young children and pets from getting near the fire.
A hearth can also be used to store fireplace accessories and tools, and as an area to store logs or coal for use in a fire.
A hearth helps to create a ‘safe space’ around a fire, in a way that delineates where the fireplace starts where the floor of the room ends, meaning that it helps to prevent you from standing or sitting too near to the fire.
A hearth can also function as a decorative feature of a room that can fit with the décor of a home, thanks to a range of non-combustible materials of different designs and colors that can used as a hearth.
Many see a fireplace as a focal point of a room, and so the hearth (being the part of the fireplace that sticks out the most into a room) can be used to help draw attention to the fireplace through clever design.
A well designed and great looking hearth helps to enhance the look and feel of your fireplace and room, while also being to help ensure that your home and family is kept safe from using a fireplace.
Is A Fireplace Hearth Required?
A hearth is typically found with traditional open fireplaces but isn’t found with some other types of fireplaces, so do you need a hearth for your fireplace?
A fireplace hearth is a necessity for all solid fuel burning fireplaces, including wood burning fireplaces and stoves.
A hearth is not required for electric fireplaces but can be used to enhance the aesthetics of owning an electric fireplace that looks like other types of fireplaces, such as wood burning stoves.
Gas fireplaces don’t typically require a hearth, but gas fireplaces with glass fronts require a hearth.
What Is A Fireplace Hearth Made Of?
Each fireplace hearth is typically made up of one type of material, and the most commonly found materials used as hearths include:
- Ceramic tiles
- Quarry tiles
We have two hearths in our home; one for the fireplace located in the kitchen and one for the fireplace located in the living room.
Even though the fireplace back onto each other and utilize the same chimney, they are made of different materials. Our kitchen fireplace hearth is made from granite while the living room fireplace hearth is made out of cement.
I go into more detail below about each type of material that can be commonly used in a fireplace hearth.
Brick can be considered the most traditional material used for a hearth. Bricks are cheap, easy to install and highly heat resistant meaning that they can be used as a hearth for all forms of fireplaces.
Depending on your taste, bricks aren’t as pleasant to look at compared to other types of hearth material, but are also commonly found used within fireplace surrounds.
Granite is a great material to be used in a hearth; it’s very durable and hardwearing, and can come in a range of patterns, texture and colours. It also isn’t too expensive.
The fireplace in my kitchen has a hearth made out of granite:
A downside to granite is that it expands and shrinks as it heats and cools, and so must be laid as separate slabs when being used a material for a solid fuel burning fireplace hearth. Granite subject to intense heat from solid fuels such as wood could cause it to chip and crack over time if it’s used in a hearth as one slab of material.
Our granite hearth in the living room fireplace is made up of one slab and so wouldn’t be appropriate for use with burning wood in open fireplaces or wood burning stoves. It was however used for a gas fireplace that we originally had in our kitchen fireplace and so would have been appropriate for use with that type of fireplace.
Furthermore, granite is supposed to be fairly scratch resistant but we’ve noticed some fairly big scratches on our granite hearth (which may have been caused by me removing the gas fireplace insert that we used to have in the fireplace – I’m not too sure). There’s no sign of any chips or dents however which shows granite’s durability as use in a hearth.
Marble look sleek and modern, and is easy to clean. It’s also highly heat resistant and so can be used with all types of fireplaces.
It can be the perfect material for use as a fireplace hearth, but comes at an expense compared to other types of hearth materials.
Limestone is a common type of heathstone. It’s fairly inexpensive but as it’s a soft form of stone it should only be used with open gas or electric fireplaces (which won’t produce the same heat intensity as solid fuel burning fireplaces). Limestone is also on the easier side to stain.
Soapstone can also be another material used for a hearth thanks to it’s great heat properties.
My dad has a form of stone for his fireplace hearth that fits the décor of his home:
Our living room fireplace hearth is made from concrete. Concrete is cheap, easy to patch up and can be painted to suit the décor of your home.
Below is a picture of our concrete hearth that we painted black:
Ceramic or Porcelain Tiles
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are very heat resistant and easy to wipe down.
My partner’s parents have a fireplace hearth that is made from ceramic tiles:
Slate is another great natural stone to be used as a material for a fireplace hearth. It provides a more rustic look over other types of hearth material, but is also more prone to staining and requires more regular and rigorous cleaning to keep it looking good.
As with granite, slate can’t be used as one slab of material with solid fuel burning fireplaces, and so will need to be set in sections with expansion joints to cope with the high heat intensities from burning wood or coal.
A friend of mine has a fireplace heath made of quarry tiles. They are typically red in color and are made in a similar way to brick. Quarry tiles help create a more traditional look for a fireplace.
Quarry tiles don’t stain very easily, are durable and are very heat resistant.
A fireplace cannot be made from wood because wood is a highly combustible material and would not protect your home from a fire in an open fireplace or stove.
What Is The Best Material For A Fireplace Hearth?
A fireplace hearth helps to provide a barrier between a fireplace and the floor of your home, while also improving the look and feel of your fireplace.
The best material for a fireplace hearth is therefore one that:
- Is fire-resistant
- Can withstand the heat of a solid fuel burning fire
- Is non-combustible
- Doesn’t crack
- Is hard wearing
- Looks great
- Is durable
The best material for a fireplace hearth when burning solid wood fuels such as wood is granite. Granite is highly resistant to heat, is non-combustible, hardwearing, and can look great in any fireplace.
Granite is one of the most common materials for a fireplace hearth, and is also a reasonably priced material and so it makes a good case to be the best material for use within a fireplace hearth.
You may need to be careful however around granite hearths when moving or sliding sharp objects, as we’ve had issues with scratches on our granite fireplace hearth. We love the look of our granite hearth though, and are very please that it came with the fireplace when we bought the house.
The best material for a fireplace hearth is ultimately the one that is safe, and fits in and looks the best with your particular type of fireplace. Thankfully there’s a range of great hearth materials to choose from to suit your budget, colour and design requirements.
What Size Is A Fireplace Hearth?
Each county has their own guidelines for recommended hearth sizes that should be followed to help keep your home safe when having a fire in your home.
Information on the preferred dimensions for a fireplace hearth can be found on the International Association of Certified Home Inspector’s (InterNACHI) website for the International Standards of Practice for Inspecting Commercial Properties.
In the UK, you can find details on required hearth sizes within Part J of The Building Regulations.
As each location has different rules and regulations, check your local building codes or control for further information on the correct sizes of hearths for your particular fireplace.
These dimensions should only be used as a guide and actual hearth dimensions should be confirmed by a suitably qualified professional.
So how far should a fireplace hearth come out?
InterNACHI recommends that for fireplaces that have an opening of 6 square feet (0.56 square meters) or smaller, a hearth should extend at least 16 inches (406mm) out into the room from the opening, and by at least 8 inches (203mm) away from the sides. For fireplaces that have an opening of greater than 6 square feet, the heath should extended at least 20 inches (508mm) out from the fireplace, and at least 12 inches (305mm) to the sides.
In the UK, Building Regulations state that hearths must extends at least 150mm to the side of a firebed and at least 300mm outwards into the room for an open appliance. For closed appliances the 300mm can be reduced to 225mm. For open fireplaces, the hearth must project at least 500mm out into the room.
Be sure to check with a professional what size of hearth is required for your particular location and fireplace situation.
How deep should a hearth be?
InterNACHI recommends that for any size fireplace opening, the thickness of a hearth should be at least 4 inches (102mm).
In the UK, Building Regulations state that hearths must be at least 12mm thick when temperatures on the surface of the hearth will not exceed 100 Degrees Celsius. For temperatures over 100, the hearth must be at least 125mm thick if there is at least a 50mm gap underneath the hearth, or at least 250mm thick if it is located on a combustible floor.
Be sure to check with a professional what depth of hearth is required for your particular location and fireplace situation.
Can You Paint A Fireplace Hearth?
A fireplace hearth can be painted, but it can depend what material the hearth is made from. Materials such as concrete and brick are more appropriate to be painted compared to materials such as granite or marble.
Painting a hearth is a great way to keep your fireplace looking new and fresh.
We painted the concrete hearth and surround on our fireplace located in the living soon after we moved into the house. We also touch up the fireplace with paint when necessary to keep it looking nice.
Here’s what the fireplace looked like when we bought the house.
Here’s what our living room fireplace looks like now that we’ve touched it up with more black paint:
This is the spray we used paint the fireplace black:
It’s important that any paint that you use on your fireplace is fire-resistant.
Before painting your hearth you should ensure that:
- Any rough parts of the hearth have been sanded down to be relatively smooth. Paint sticks better to smooth surfaces than it does rough.
- The hearth has been wiped down and cleaned (we’ve used sugar soap and that seemed to work well).
- You have chosen the paint color of your choice.
- Any carpet or flooring around the hearth is protected by an old bed sheet or similar unwanted sheet.
What Is A Raised Fireplace Hearth?
A raised fireplace hearth is a hearth that is built up from the floor.
A raised fireplace hearth, and therefore a raised firebox, provides a few benefits over one that is located on the floor:
- Better safety for young children and pets with the fire being less easily reachable from the floor.
- The fire can be viewed at sitting down height.
- The fireplace can become more a focal point for the room.
There are also a few downsides to having a raised hearth:
- Increased construction material costs.
- The fireplace appears to take up more floor space.
What Is A Hearthstone Fireplace?
A hearthstone fireplace is a fireplace that has a hearth made of stone.
Dictionary.com defines hearthstone as:
‘A stone forming a hearth’