Fireplace mantels can be a common feature among open fireplaces.
Mantels can help to enhance a fireplace and allow it to become a focal point for a room.
The area above a fireplace can look bare without a mantel and so a mantelpiece has become a staple for many homes on which decorations and other personal belonging can be placed.
We have a number of mantlepieces in the family and so we’ve together this complete guide to mantels that includes:
- What mantels are and whether one is required.
- How mantels are attached to walls.
- What materials mantels are commonly made from.
- Codes and regulations for mantels to help protect them from fires.
This guide is specifically for fireplace mantels on their own. The word mantel may also refer to the whole fireplace surround but for this particular article we’re just focusing on the flat area located at the top, either as a mantel shelf or part of a larger surround.
For more information on surrounds (which include mantels and legs) see our complete guide to fireplace surround here.
What Is A Fireplace Mantel?
A fireplace mantel, also known as a mantelpiece, commonly refers to the flat area located at the top of a fireplace. A mantel may also be referred to as the ‘shelf’ on a fireplace surround.
This flat area of a mantel provides an opportunity to place household items on top of the fireplace to help it become more of a feature point for a home.
A mantel is defined as:
‘A shelf above a fireplace opening’Dictionary.com
A fireplace mantel can typically be found in one of two forms:
- A ‘floating’ mantel or mantel ‘shelf’.
- A mantel as part of a complete fireplace surround.
A mantel can be found on its own (not part of a surround). This can often be referred to as a floating mantel or mantel shelf and can sit above a fireplace opening.
We don’t personally have a standalone mantel in our home, but the image below shows what one would look like.
A mantel can also be found as part of a complete fireplace surround. Surrounds typically include mantels, legs and sometimes the hearth.
As an example, the wooden fireplace surround for the old gas fireplace we removed from our kitchen had an integrated mantel on which we could decorate.
Why Do Fireplaces Have Mantels?
The purpose of a fireplace mantel was traditionally to catch smoke before it entered the room from the firebox of an open fireplace, but mantels in more modern times are used primarily for decorative and aesthetic purposes.
The purpose of a fireplace mantel is to:
- Help make a fireplace stand out and become a focal point for a room, especially when part of a surround.
- Help a fireplace fit in with the décor of a home thanks to a choice of materials and styles available for mantels and surrounds.
- Provide a shelf on which decorative household items can be placed.
- Cover the lintel and any joints around the top of a fireplace opening between the firebox and the wall of the chimney breast.
Do You Need A Fireplace Mantel?
A fireplace does not need to be furnished with a mantel, but a mantel can enhance the look of a fireplace either as part of fireplace surround or as a standalone mantel shelf.
Whether a fireplace has or needs a mantel can come down to the condition of the fireplace and personal preference.
Many existing fireplaces already have a fireplace mantel by itself, or a mantel as part of a fireplace surround.
The image below shows the stone surround and mantel for our existing open fireplace (in which we installed a multi fuel stove) and the concrete surround and mantel for our other open fireplace.
These mantels were already installed when we bought the houses.
The concrete mantel for our open fireplace hides the lintel and any untidy brickwork and joints behind it. Mantels, along with surrounds, can therefore be used as a way to hide any imperfections around the opening of a fireplace.
On the other we also have a wood burning stove installed in an open fireplace. There’s no mantel or surround for this particular fireplace and there wasn’t one installed when we bought the house.
We have no intentions of installing a mantel at this current time because:
- We think the fireplace looks great as it is.
- The fireplace is finished nicely, and we don’t need a mantel to cover it up.
- There are shelves in other areas of the room on which we can place household items.
How Are Fireplace Mantels Attached?
Standalone floating fireplace mantels can either be attached to a wall using lag screws or installed onto a back board, while mantels as part of a complete fireplace surround may be screwed into the wall using brackets.
How Floating Mantel Shelves Are Attached
Standalone fireplace mantels (where they aren’t attached to a fireplace surround) are typically attached to a wall in such a way that you can’t easily see how it’s attached.
This helps to make a floating mantel look more built-in and sophisticated. In order to achieve this floating mantel look standalone mantels are typically attached to a wall using:
- Screws and/or bolts on which the mantel can slide onto.
- A back board.
- Brackets such as French cleats.
- Supported by corbels.
The way in which a mantel is installed onto a wall will differ between models.
Some mantels can be resting on strong lag screws that can take the weight of the mantel. These screws or bolts are drilled into the wall with the ends sticking out and a mantel can slide onto the bolts using pre-drilled holes.
Other mantels can be screwed or nails onto a board, which in turn is attached to the wall, or simply attached to a wall with brackets or nails.
How Fireplace Mantels With Surrounds Are Attached
For fireplace mantels that are included as part of a fireplace surround, the surround itself is commonly attached to a wall using brackets with screws, particularly for wooden surrounds.
The brackets will typically be located at a number of positions around the outer perimeter of the mantel with surround, but may also be on the inner side. The brackets were sunk into the wall and plastered over so that they couldn’t be seen.
The image below shows where the brackets were on our old gas fireplace surround with mantel.
Unlike floating mantels, surrounds with mantels are commonly sat with their load on the hearth and so don’t typically require the same sort of load bearing joints. Wooden surrounds (like ours) will be screwed into the wall to help prevent it from falling over, rather than being used to hold it up.
For more information see our article on how to remove a fireplace surround with mantel.
Are Fireplace Mantels Hollow?
Lower cost fireplace mantels are more likely to be hollow compared to mantels made from higher quality materials. Timber mantels are also more likely to be hollow compared to mantels made from other materials.
To make floating mantels look more built in, you’ll typically only be able to tell whether a mantel is hollow by inspecting it close up.
Fireplace mantels can come in range of prices depending on the quality of the materials used and the craftmanship. Price can also be affected by whether a fireplace mantel is hollow or not.
You can typically expect that cheaper mantels made from manufactured wood to have a higher chance of being hollow compare to more expensive mantels that are made from, for example, one piece of timber.
For mantels that are included as part of a fireplace surround, it can yet again depend on the type and quality of materials used.
Lower cost mantels made from manufactured wood are more likely to be hollow compared to more expensive stone mantels and surround.
As an example, the wooden fireplace mantel and surround we removed from our old gas fireplace when renovating our kitchen was hollow, as shown below.
For more information see our article on what’s behind a fireplace surround with mantel.
Parts Of A Fireplace Mantel
For floating mantels that are separate from a surround, the only major part is the mantel shelf itself.
If a mantel is found as part a fireplace surround, the main parts of a mantel can include the mantel shelf, header, legs, and in some models the hearth.
The labelled picture below explains the parts of our old gas fireplace surround that included the mantel.
What Are Fireplace Mantels Made Of?
Standalone floating mantels are commonly made from wood, while mantels found as part of a complete fireplace surround can commonly be found made from wood, stone, concrete and marble.
Floating mantel shelves, which are mantels found on their own without being part of a complete fireplace surround, are commonly constructed of wood.
As the weight of a floating mantel shelf needs to be supported by the wall it’s attached to, wood makes a good material for such mantels because of its lighter weight compared to any masonry constructed mantels.
Wood mantels can also be hollow to save even more weight and save on manufacturing and purchase cost, without affecting the looks.
Fireplace surrounds (with integrated mantels) can typically be found made from a wider range of materials including wood, concrete, brick, stone and marble.
The surround and mantel for our old gas fireplace was wooden, while we also have a concrete mantel for our open fireplace and a stone mantel for the fireplace in which we’ve installed a multi fuel stove.
What Are The Dimensions Of A Fireplace Mantel?
Fireplace mantels will come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so suit the range of different sizes that can be found for fireplace openings.
The widths of a fireplace mantel will vary to suit the variety of fireplace opening and chimney breast sizes, but typical depths for floating mantels can be between 10 and 12” while typical heights can be found between 4 and 6”.
It can be common practice to have a floating mantel that is wider than the fireplace firebox opening. Any shorter and it may not look right.
It can also be common to have a floating mantel that is just a bit shorter than the chimney breast it’s attached to, but can also be just as common to have a mantel that runs the whole width of the chimney breast.
As an example, the following are the dimensions of our old wooden fireplace surround with mantel:
- Length – 48 inches (4ft) / 1.22m
- Depth – 8 inches / 20cm
- Height 45 inches / 1.15m
This mantel was wider than the fireplace opening but also shorter than the width of the chimney breast, which allowed to fit in with the surroundings.
How To Protect A Fireplace Mantel From The Heat
To protect a fireplace mantel from the heat of a fireplace, clearance distances to combustible materials in line with local and national codes and building regulations will need to be considered. The depth of a mantel can also affect the total clearance required from the fireplace opening.
When it comes to protecting a fireplace mantel from heat, you’ll need to consider:
- Whether the mantel is constructed of a combustible material.
- What the local building codes or regulations are for your particular area of residence.
Mantels made from combustible materials such as wood will need to be located a certain distance away from the opening of a fireplace for safety purposes. This distance will need to be in line with your local or national building codes or regulations.
If you have a mantel that is part of a fireplace surround you can read more about what the codes are for fireplace surrounds and how to protect combustible materials from the heat in one of our other articles.
What Is Code For A Fireplace Mantel?
In the US, The National Fireplace Protection Agency (NFPA) governs clearance distances to fireplace mantels within Code 211 Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances.
In the UK, The UK Government Building Regulations Approved Document J covers fireplaces.
How Far Does A Mantel Need To Be Above A Fireplace?
The clearance distance for combustible mantels away from a fireplace opening will need to be in line with the respective code or regulations for the location.
The National Fire Protection Agency states within Code 211 (2019 Edition) paragraph 126.96.36.199 that:
‘Combustible material above and projecting more than 1 and a half in. (38mm) from a fireplace opening shall not be placed less than 12 in. (305mm) from the top of the fireplace opening.’NFPA
Further clearance may also have to be given to mantels from a fireplace opening if the mantel exceeds certain depths.
Speak to a certified installer or professional to get advice on the requirements for installing mantels in your particular area of residence.
A fireplace mantel can only be lowered if the clearance distances to combustible objects in line with codes and regulations are still met.
How Much Are Fireplace Mantels?
Prices for floating fireplace mantel shelves can be anywhere from $50 to $1000, but the average cost for a mantel shelf can be between $150 and $250. The price of a mantel can be influenced by its size, brand, craftsmanship and quality of materials used.
There are a range of mantels shelves available to suit a variety of fireplace sizes, home decors and budgets.
Larger wooden floating mantels made from higher quality wood and finished to a higher standard are likely to demand a higher price tag compared to smaller, hollow mantels made from manufactured wood.
See the range of fireplace floating mantel shelves available to buy here.
Can You Paint A Fireplace Mantel?
Fireplace mantels can be painted much like any other piece of household furniture. The process for painting mantels can be different for mantels made from different materials, such as wood, concrete, marble, stone and brick.
Can You Paint A Wood Fireplace Mantel?
Wooden fireplace mantels can be painted but may require further preparation work compared to other types of mantel materials to ensure that the paint sticks well and looks good.
Items that may be required to paint a fireplace mantel (depending on its current condition, the type of wood and the quality of finish you want) can include:
- Paint brush & paint
- Sandpaper & damp cloth
We’ll be painting the wooden surround we took out of our kitchen when we renovated a white color to suit the updated modern décor of this room.
Can You Paint A Stone Fireplace Mantel?
Stone fireplace mantels (typically included as part of a complete surround) can be painted.
For our own stone fireplace mantel that surrounds our multi fuel stove, we’ve decided not to paint it as the stone was the look we were going for in this particular situation.
We could paint this stone mantel if we wanted to further down the line.
Can You Paint A Concrete Fireplace Mantel?
Concrete fireplace mantels can be painted.
The concrete surround and mantel for our living room fireplace when we bought the house had already been painted black. We’ve since touched up this concrete mantel just because it needed it.
We simply masked around the mantel and used a heat-resistant black spray paint.
Can You Paint A Marble Fireplace Mantel?
A marble fireplace mantel can be painted, but will typically require the use of a primer coat underneath the paint.
What To Put On Fireplace Mantels (& Decorate Them With)
Fireplace mantels can be decorated with a number of different household items to help cement a fireplace as a focal point for a room, while a range of objects can also be hung on the wall above a mantel to help further enhance the look of a fireplace.
Common items to put on a fireplace mantel include:
Common items to hang above a fireplace mantel include a:
- Framed artwork
Fireplace Mantel Decorating Ideas (What We’ve Done)
Here’s how we’ve decorated our own fireplace mantels.
Our living room open fireplace (with concrete mantel and surround) is decorated with candles placed on the mantel shelf with a picture placed on the wall above.
Our other stone surround and mantel fireplace with multi fuel stove installed is decorated with a range of items including plants, candles, pictures and ornaments, and we also have a mirror leaning against the wall above.
There’s no mantel for our fireplace with wood burning stove but we do have a picture placed above the fireplace opening. The wooden beam also helps create the look of a mantel but doesn’t actually stick out.
Can You Put A TV On A Fireplace Mantel?
A TV can be put over a fireplace mantel as long as the mantel is installed in accordance with local and national codes and regulations, and that the TV is sufficiently protected from the heat of a fireplace. There is still a small risk that a TV can be damaged when located above a fireplace.
It can be better to install a TV on the wall above a fireplace mantel rather than to rest a TV on the mantel itself.
This can be because certain mantels, particularly floating mantles shelves, may not be able to cope with the additional loading as well as dealing with its own weight.
We’ve actually installed a TV above the open fireplace on the chimney breast in our kitchen. We don’t use this fireplace as we have another open fireplace our living room that we use instead, and so we felt comfortable installing the TV here on the chimney breast.
Speak to a local professional to ascertain whether installing a TV above a fireplace mantel is achievable.
Can You Have A Mantel Without A Fireplace?
A mantel can be installed in homes even without a fireplace. A mantel can traditionally be seen as a staple component of a fireplace, but a mantel can be installed on any wall of a home to place decorations on or to provide another feature to a home.