Fireplace surrounds can be an essential part of any fireplace, whether it’s traditional open fireplaces, gas fireplaces or wood burning stoves.
Fireplace surrounds help to make a fireplace into more a feature and a focal point for a home, as well as providing a shelf space above the fireplace to allow you to decorate it with personal items.
There are surrounds for our own open fireplaces and wood stoves, and through renovating our home we’ve also removed a surround when taking out an old gas fireplace.
We’ve therefore put together this complete guide to fireplace surrounds to explain and show:
- What a fireplace surround is, what it does and whether one is needed.
- Whether fireplace surrounds are hollow and how they are attached.
- What materials fireplace surrounds are typically made from.
What Are Fireplace Surrounds?
A fireplace surround is the object that sticks out from the outer wall of a fireplace into the room and surrounds the fireplace opening. A fireplace surround is usually made up of the sides and mantel but may or may not include the base of the fireplace, known as the hearth.
A fireplace surround is usually thought of as the components that protrude from the wall of your home away from the fireplace firebox opening.
In many cases a fireplace surround can come as one unit and can be made up of the following components:
- And sometimes the hearth.
The mantel consists of the top part of the fireplace surround that is commonly found to be flat on top so that ornaments and other decorations can be placed. A mantel can also be commonly bought as a standalone component to create a ‘floating mantelpiece’ look.
You can read more about standalone floating mantel shelves in another one of our articles here.
The sides of a surround, also referred to as the legs, provide support for the mantel above and also helps create a barrier between the fireplace and the room.
The hearth is flat area at the base of a fireplace on which the fire is built and other objects can be placed such as a fireplace screen. A hearth sticks out into the room to provide protection for the floor against hot embers. Some fireplace surrounds will have a hearth as part of the unit.
The images below show the surrounds for our own open fireplace and old gas fireplace.
As the size of fireplace openings are never quite the same between homes, fireplace surrounds come in a range of shapes and sizes to suit.
Surrounds also come in a range of designs, materials and patterns so that you can find one that fits in with the décor of your home. Designs range from antique to contemporary, while materials can include wood, stone and concrete.
What Does A Fireplace Surround Do?
The purpose of a fireplace surround is to:
- Be a stylish and attractive component of a fireplace that helps to make a fireplace a focal point for a room.
- Provide a barrier between an open fireplace and the room so that fires can be more safely contained within the firebox and help keep hot embers away from any combustible materials within the room.
- Allow you to place household decorations above the fireplace on the mantel.
- Can help to keep smoke from coming into the room.
Does A Fireplace Need A Surround?
A fireplace does not always necessarily need a surround, but the requirements for a fireplace surround must be in line with local and national codes and building regulations.
A fireplace can also look very bare if there’s no surround.
The image below shows our kitchen fireplace when we removed the surround for renovation, and even when we had touched it up with some paint it wouldn’t have looked great without the surround being put back.
Are Fireplace Surrounds/Mantels Hollow?
Certain models of fireplace surrounds will be hollow, while some won’t be. It’s typical for lower cost fireplace surrounds constructed of wood to be hollow while more upmarket and higher priced surrounds can be solid throughout.
Not all fireplace surround and mantels will be hollow.
Whether a surround is hollow can be down to the materials used and whether the surround is part of the original construction of the fireplace or not.
Wooden surrounds that are used with fireplaces that don’t already have a surround are more likely to be hollow than other brick, stone or concrete surrounds that were constructed alongside the fireplace.
Whether a fireplace surround is hollow or not can also be reflected in the price. You can expect lower cost wooden surrounds to have a hollow center, while more expensive surrounds or standalone mantels that use higher quality materials to not be hollow.
As an example, the wooden surround for our old gas fireplace that was in the kitchen before we renovated it is hollow.
When this surround was installed you couldn’t tell by looking at whether it was hollow or not.
Whether a fireplace surround is hollow or not doesn’t detract from its functionality or looks, but using a hollow fireplace surround can be a cheaper option when the insides of the surround wouldn’t be seen anyway.
On the other hand, the concrete surround (painted black) for our living room fireplace is completely solid, and you can only tell by the sound it makes when knocking on it. The stone surround for another fireplace we have (with a multi fuel stove installed) also isn’t hollow.
How Are Fireplace Surrounds Attached?
Many fireplace surrounds can be part of the construction of the whole fireplace and will be built in, but surrounds that have been added onto a fireplace will usually be attached to the wall with brackets and screws.
Surrounds that aren’t part of the construction of a fireplace, in particular wooden surrounds, are typically attached to a wall with a number of brackets/lugs and screws located around the surround.
These brackets can either be found on the inner or outer side of the surround and may be located under plaster so that they can’t be seen.
The number of brackets and their locations will differ between each surround, but as an example the location of the brackets for our old wooden gas fireplace surround is shown below.
The brackets were screwed onto the back of the surround and into the wall. The brackets themselves were covered in plaster and the wall was originally covered with wallpaper and so the brackets or plaster covering them couldn’t be seen.
Some surrounds, particularly those that are made from masonry, may be more built in and won’t necessary only be connected to the fireplace with brackets.
However, our concrete living fireplace surround is attached to the wall around the fireplace using both cement and with brackets.
For more information on how fireplaces surrounds are attached see our in-depth guide on how to remove a fireplace surround.
What Are Fireplace Surround Made Of?
To help suit different home decors and personal preferences, fireplace surrounds can be found made from a range of different materials.
Common materials that can be used for a fireplace surround include:
- Cast iron
- Granite & Marble
Other materials that can be used for fireplace surrounds include quartz and slate.
Wooden Fireplace Surrounds
One of the most common materials used for fireplace surrounds can be wood.
Wooden fireplace surrounds are common because of their ease of installation and affordability.
Wooden surrounds can be lighter, and cheaper to construct and transport and so they can be less expensive compared to masonry surrounds.
Many wooden surrounds are also hollow, which also helps to reduce purchase costs even further. Their relative lightness in terms of weight also helps to make the installation and removal of wood fireplace surrounds a lot simpler.
Our old kitchen surround for a gas fireplace was a traditional wooden surround, and was attached to the wall using brackets with screws.
If you’re looking for a traditional wooden surround then you’ll typically find them constructed of a hardwood (like our old gas fireplace surround above).
Many wood surrounds also come painted, with white being a popular color, and while these painted surrounds are made from wood beneath, they will most likely be constructed from manufactured wood as it can’t be seen.
For more information on wood fireplace surrounds see our article on what’s behind a wood fireplace surround.
Concrete Fireplace Surrounds
Many existing open fireplaces can be constructed of a concrete mantel, legs and even hearth.
Concrete fireplace surrounds can be found with a natural concrete finish or some can come painted. Our own living room concrete fireplace surround is painted black to match the black hearth and black brick firebox.
For this particular fireplace we simply used a heat resistant black spray paint to touch up the concrete surround when we bought the house.
Concrete surrounds can be found as either a traditional surround and mantel constructed as part of the fireplace (like ours) or can be part of a feature wall that may extend up to the ceiling to help provide more of a prominent and modern look.
Brick Fireplace Surrounds
Brick is another common material for fireplace surrounds.
Brick is commonly used for the back and sides of fireboxes (the area inside the fireplace where the fire is started) but can also be used to create a surround for a fireplace around the outside of the fireplace opening.
One of our open fireplaces is built out into the room with a brick surround.
Unlike many wooden fireplace surrounds that can be bought as one unit and fitted directly onto the outer wall of a fireplace, brick surrounds will usually need to be constructed around the fireplace in-situ.
As all fireplace openings are of different sizes, each brick fireplace surround will typically have to be a bespoke build.
Cast Iron Fireplace Surrounds
Although cast iron isn’t such a popular material to be used for fireplace surrounds compared to the likes for wood or masonry, cast iron can be more commonly found in the form of a back panel that separates the opening of a fireplace with a surround made of a combustible material.
As wood is a combustible material, wooden surrounds must be located a certain distance away from the opening of a fireplace for safety reasons.
This distance will be influenced by the code or regulations for your area of residence.
We’ve discussed clearance requirements for combustible fireplace surrounds further in this article.
As an example, our old kitchen gas fireplace has a traditional wooden surround but between the surround and opening was a cast iron back panel.
This cast iron back panel was screwed into the wall at the top corners, much like how the wooden surround was attached to the wall.
Stone Fireplace Surrounds
Popular stone fireplace surrounds include natural stone surrounds with a smooth finish and surrounds that are finished with a stone veneer.
We had a multi fuel stove installed in one of our living room fireplaces, and before that we had a stone surround and hearth built around this existing fireplace.
Expect to have to pay more for a stone fireplace surround compared to a wooden surround but you’ll get a quality finish that can really make the difference with a fireplace, and our stone surround has cemented the fireplace as the focal point for this living room.
Marble And Granite Fireplace Surrounds
Like stone, marble is a higher end surround material, but can really transform a fireplace into something special.
Granite is a popular material for hearths (read more about hearths and their materials here), and so granite can also be used as a material for surrounds with a number of different variations of colours and patterns available.
Tile Fireplace Surrounds
Much like cast iron, tiles can be great for using within the gap between the surround and the fireplace opening.
What Is The Best Material For A Fireplace Surround?
Wood is the best material for fireplace surrounds for affordability and ease of installation.
Stone is the best fireplace surround material when looking to provide a more authentic and classier looking surround compared to wooden ones.
Marble is the best material for fireplace surrounds when high end looks and sophistication outweigh the cost.
What is Code For Fireplace Surrounds? (Fireplace Surround Regulations)
For safety purposes surrounds made from combustible materials must not be located too close to the opening of a fireplace firebox.
How far the surround sticks out away from the face of the fireplace will also impact on the clearances needed to combustible materials. Surrounds that project more than certain distances will require additional clearances.
In the US, the two following national codes should be considered when looking to install a fireplace surround:
- National Fire Codes
- National Standard Building Code
You can find the NFPA 211 document ‘Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances’ here.
The NFPA 211 code states that in relation to fireplace surrounds:
‘Woodwork, such as wood trim, mantels, and other combustible materials, shall not be placed within 6 in. (152mm) of a fireplace opening.’NFPA
The regulations or code for fireplace surrounds will depend on your area of residence and national and/or local guidance. Speak to a certified installer or professional to confirm the code and regulations for fireplace surrounds in your location.
What Size Should A Fireplace Surround Be?
A fireplace surround should be sized so that is takes into account:
- Clearances required to any combustible materials used within the surround.
- The size of the fireplace opening.
- The size and depth of the hearth (if one is already part of the existing fireplace)
- The size of the room.
- The size of the chimney breast (if there is one)
Depending on the materials used for the construction of the new fireplace surround, sufficient clearances may be required from the opening of the fireplace firebox to the surround.
Surrounds made from combustible materials such as wood will need to be located at least 6 inches away from the firebox opening (depending on where you live) and potentially more if the surround sticks out a certain distance away from the face of the fireplace (in line with the National Fire Codes and the National Standard Building Codes).
This is for wood burning fireplaces and the clearance distances may be different for other types of fireplaces such as gas. Speak with a local installer or professional to confirm clearance distances for your particular area of residence.
The size of the fireplace opening (the edge of the wall around the firebox) will dictate the size of fireplace surround required along with any clearances to combustibles.
If your fireplace already has a hearth then you’ll need to also consider its size and depth.
A surround should sit on top of the hearth and so the depth of the hearth should be taken into account when sizing up a surround. The width and length of the hearth should also be considered to help ensure that the legs of a surround don’t protrude over the sides or front of the hearth (which wouldn’t look good).
You may also want to consider the size of a fireplace surround in relation to the room. A large surround may dominate a small room, or a small surround may look underwhelming in a larger room.
If a surround is to be placed up against a fireplace with a chimney breast then the width of this breast should be taken into account to ensure that the surround and mantel isn’t wider (which also wouldn’t look good).
As an example, our old kitchen gas fireplace had a wooden surround that:
- Was larger than the fireplace opening.
- Sat on the existing granite hearth and wasn’t out of proportion to the size of the hearth.
- Being a combustible material, was a sufficient distance away from the opening of the fireplace, with a cast iron back panel making up the space between.
- Was adequately sized for the room and didn’t look out of place.
- Wasn’t too wide for the chimney breast behind it.
If you’re looking to install a ceiling high fireplace surround then you’ll also need to consider the height of the room when sizing up a surround.
How Hot Does A Fireplace Surround Get?
How hot a fireplace surround gets can depend on:
- The type of fireplace such as wood burning, gas or wood stove.
- Clearance distances to the surround from the fireplace.
- The surround material.
Modern wood burning stoves can put out a lot more heat than inefficient open wood burning fireplaces.
The clearance distances to surrounds will also differ between countries and states due to local and national codes and building regulations.
A surround made of metal can also get hotter than a surround made from stone.
As a result it can be hard to say how hot a fireplace surround gets, and from our personal experience the stone surround for our multi fuel stove is warmer to the touch (but not too hot to touch) compared to the concrete surround for our open fireplace, most likely due to the fact that our stove radiates out much more heat compared to an open fire.
Can You Paint A Fireplace Surround?
Many types of fireplace surrounds are paintable. The type of paint needed to paint a fireplace surround will depend on the materials used for the construction of the surround.
When we bought our house, the surround for our living room fireplace was already painted black.
We’ve since touched up this surround with more black paint to make the black color further stand out. The image below shows the below and after for painting our open fireplace surround.
As this is a concrete surround and had an existing paint of coat, we simply masked around the surround and sprayed it with a heat resistant black paint can.
We’re also looking to paint the wooden surround we took out of our kitchen fireplace when renovating. We think that painting this surround white will help it fit in with the modern new look of our kitchen.