Fireplace lintels can be an integral part of any traditional open fireplace, in which many other types of fireplaces such as electric, gas and wood stoves can also be found installed.
Lintels can often be found hidden away inside the firebox of an open fireplace but can play a crucial role in maintaining the stability of a fireplace opening.
All of our own fireplaces have lintels, and so we’ve put together this complete guide to fireplace lintels to explain:
- What fireplace lintels are.
- Where lintels are located on a fireplace and what they look like.
- Common materials that can be used as a fireplace lintel.
- And more.
What Is A Fireplace Lintel?
A fireplace lintel is a bar or beam placed horizontally across the top of a fireplace opening.
The purpose of a fireplace lintel is to spread the load from above the opening of a fireplace across down to the sides of the fireplace firebox.
A fireplace lintel can be made from a number of different materials and the type and materials of lintel will differ between each fireplace. All fireplaces can have different sizes of openings and have different loads placed upon them from above.
As an example, here’s what the lintel looks like in our living room open fireplace:
In certain cases, a lintel can instead be an arch of masonry materials such as stone or brick, but horizontal and flat lintels can be more preferable due to being easier to construct and install.
A fireplace lintel may also be referred to as a fireplace lintel bar and is commonly made from steel.
What Does Fireplace Lintel Mean?
A lintel can be defined as:
‘A horizontal architectural member supporting the weight above an opening.’Dictionary.com
When talking more specifically about a fireplace lintel, a fireplace lintel is a lintel that spans across the top of the opening of a fireplace.
An open fireplace can be seen as a gap in the wall of your home. There will still be the materials used to construct the chimney breast located above the opening of a fireplace.
Without a lintel supporting the weight of the construction above a fireplace opening there would the risk of the chimney breast failing and collapsing.
Where Is The Lintel On A Fireplace?
A fireplace lintel will be located across the top of the opening of a fireplace and will connect into the sides of the firebox. Fireplace lintels are more commonly found towards the back of a fireplace opening and may be hidden behind other materials for aesthetic purposes.
As a fireplace lintel is designed to spread the load above a fireplace across the opening to the sides of the firebox, a lintel will always be located at the top of the fireplace opening.
As a lintel is an important structural component, and may not provide any aesthetic value, lintels can be commonly found towards the back area of the fireplace opening where it meets the throat of the chimney.
How To Find A Fireplace Lintel
To find a fireplace lintel look at the top of the fireplace opening from below. A lintel should be located across the top of the fireplace opening between the outer wall of the fireplace and the base of the chimney.
The image below shows where the lintel is located on our fireplace.
What Does A Fireplace Lintel Look Like?
Fireplace lintels typically look like a long piece of material that stretches across the span of the fireplace opening. Lintels will vary in shape and size depending on the size of the fireplace opening, loading, and materials used, and may be supported by a steel section.
Although all lintels have the same unique property of being long sections of material that span more that the width of a fireplace opening, the look of a fireplace lintel can depend upon:
- The material used for the lintel.
- The width of the opening.
- The load places upon the lintel from above.
A number of different materials can be used as a lintel within a fireplace.
Traditionally, wooden mantels were more commonly used as lintels, or where an arch was preferred over a flat horizonal fireplace opening masonry materials such as brick or stone would have been used.
As timber has the downside of being a combustible material at risk from rot and a weaker material overall, more modern fireplace lintels are commonly made from steel, concrete, stone or brick.
Fireplace Lintel Example #1
For one of our fireplaces that we use as a traditional wood burning fireplace, there is a steel lintel that spans the top of the fireplace opening.
This lintel is a steel L-section that faces outwards into the room and holds up the brick fireplace construction above it.
The lintel is hidden behind the concrete mantel and surround so that it can’t easily be seen unless we look up close. If we remove the surround to this fireplace then the steel lintel would be visible and it wouldn’t look as good.
Fireplace Lintel Example #2
For one of our fireplaces in which we have a multi fuel stove installed, there is another metal lintel that spans across the top of the fireplace opening into the brickwork on either side of the firebox.
A metal register plate is located right behind this lintel, which was installed as part of installation of the new flue liner when the stove was installed. You can read more about register plates here.
This metal lintel holds up the chimney breast brickwork above it, with a stone surround and mantel located in front of it to hide the lintel.
Fireplace Lintel Example #3
We also have a wood burning stove in an open fireplace that also uses a steel L-section as the lintel across the top of the fireplace opening.
However, in this particular situation the steel lintel is hidden behind a board of wood to give the impression of a traditional wooden lintel.
Does A Fireplace Need A Lintel?
Not all fireplaces will need a lintel but in the majority of cases a lintel will be required. The requirement for a lintel can be determined by the width of the fireplace opening and the loading placed on the opening by the construction above.
The vast majority of fireplaces will have a lintel. A lintel is required to spread the load from the wall construction above a fireplace opening down through the sides of the fireplace.
The requirement for a fireplace to have a lintel will depend on the codes and regulations for the particular area.
In the US, the NFPA 211 code Standard for Chimneys and Fireplaces, paragraph 18.104.22.168 of the 2019 edition states that:
‘Masonry over a fireplace opening shall be supported by a lintel of non-combustible material.’NFPA
The size requirements for a lintel will be bespoke to each fireplace as all fireplace openings and the loadings will be different between each situation.
If you’re looking to have a fireplace installed or lintel moved within an existing one, speak to a local professional for advice on lintel requirements for your particular area of residence.
There’s No Lintel In My Fireplace
In the apparent absence of a fireplace lintel, check the back of the top of the fireplace opening for any signs of a lintel, where the chimney starts. A lintel may also be hidden behind plaster or masonry, or a brick or stone arch may have been used instead of a horizontal lintel.
It’s more likely than not that a fireplace will have a lintel located at the top of the fireplace opening.
Lintel materials to look for include steel, concrete or even timber in the form of a single beam that stretches across the top of a fireplace opening and into the sides of the fireplace firebox wall.
As lintels aren’t always an aesthetically pleasing feature of a fireplace, it may be located further to the back of the fireplace opening, or may be hidden behind plaster, mortar or further masonry constructed to hide it out of view.
Use a torch or flash on your mobile to check behind the top of the fireplace opening, where it meets the chimney.
The lintels for our particular fireplaces are located more towards the back of the openings and are hidden out of view behind the fireplace surrounds.
As a lintel is such an important part of an open fireplace it can be worth getting a professional round to investigate further if you can’t find a lintel in your fireplace.
Fireplace Lintel Codes & Building Regulations
In the US, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides Code & Standard document 211 ‘Standard for Chimney, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances.
While the 2019 of the NFPA document states that masonry over fireplace openings shall be supported by a lintel, paragraph 22.214.171.124.1 also states that:
‘The minimum required bearing length on each end of the fireplace opening shall be a nominal 4 in. (102mm).’NFPA
In the UK, construction of combustion appliances is regulated by the Building Regulations Approved Document Part J.
Fireplace Lintel Replacement & Installation
When building a new fireplace or adjusting the opening on an existing one, a lintel will almost always be required to ensure that the fireplace remains structurally sound.
It can be common to install a wood burning stove in an existing open fireplace (like we have done) and in certain cases the opening of a fireplace may need to be increased in size to accommodate a stove.
Widening or increasing the height of a fireplace opening can mean moving a lintel higher up the chimney breast.
When installing or replacing a fireplace lintel the following should be considered:
- The total size of the fireplace opening, in particular the width.
- The loading on the lintel from above the fireplace.
- The type and material of lintel to be used.
- Clearance distances required to combustible objects in line with local and national building regulations and codes.
- Bearing lengths at each end of a fireplace lintel in line with local and national building regulations and codes.
- The required height of a lintel if a wood stove is being installed.
Speak to a fully certified local installer or professional when it comes to installing or replacing a fireplace lintel as it will be important to ensure that any existing brickwork located above a fireplace opening will be properly supported.
How To Raise A Fireplace Lintel
A certified professional should be consulted and used to raise a fireplace lintel, if required for reasons such as when installing a wood burning stove too large for an existing fireplace opening.
What Lintel To Use For A Fireplace
Common fireplace lintel materials include:
Steel Fireplace Lintels
Steel lintels are very common because of their ease of acquisition and installation, and are able to hold up heavy loads over greater width spans.
As steel isn’t a combustible material, certain clearance distances may not be required when using a steel lintel.
Steel lintels can come in L-sections or channel sections and can be hidden towards the back of a fireplace opening out of view.
All three of our own open fireplaces use steel lintels.
Concrete Fireplace Lintels
Concrete fireplace lintels are similar to steel lintels in that they’re both strong and common materials to use within fireplaces as lintels.
Timber Fireplace Lintels
As wood is a combustible material, timber fireplace lintels aren’t anywhere near as common as they use to be for safety reasons.
However, wood can be more aesthetically pleasing than other lintel materials such as steel and so can be paired with steel section to provide both the benefits of looks and strength.
Stone & Brick Fireplace Lintels
Stone and brick fireplace lintels were more commonly used within ‘arched’ fireplace opening constructions where the arch spread the loads much like a horizontal lintel.
Nowadays brick is less commonly used for lintels but may be used when spans aren’t very wide.
Stone beams can still be used as lintels but may need to be reinforced with a steel section as can be prone to cracking under the weight.