FIREPLACE SURROUNDS, MANTELS & HEARTHS BUYING GUIDE

No matter which type of fire you choose for your home, the right fire surround or mantelpiece, can enhance your fire and bring both warmth and style into your home.

Whether you want your fireplace to become a statement piece or prefer understated elegance that seamlessly blends into your decor, choosing the right fire surround is vital to complete your room.


There are a number of things to take into consideration before you begin shopping for your perfect fireplace surround including the type of heating appliance you already have or plan to buy, the existing style of your room, how large you want the surround and what material you prefer it to be made from.


You might decide to buy a fire that comes complete with a surround (a fireplace suite) which can take some of the stress out of decision making but if you prefer a more bespoke look then you can opt to purchase the surround, back panel and hearth separately. But take care about sizing - too small and it will look underwhelming, too large and it will dominate the room for all the wrong reasons. 


WHAT ARE MANTELS AND HEARTHS?


A fireplace surround is a decorative fascia that fits to the wall and around the actual fire. Traditionally, a mantel (or chimneypiece) was designed as a hood to catch the smoke from a fire - it is the shelf above the fireplace either connected to the surround or directly secured to the wall.


The hearth is the area directly in front of the fireplace and constructed of a noncombustible material - it serves as a safety feature to protect the floor from the heat of the fire and can safely come into connect with any ashes, logs or burning material that might roll out of the fireplace (should you have a real fire).


Most modern fireplaces will come with a hearth that is the correct depth and roughly the same width as the mantel. If you want a wall mounted gas fire or hole-in-the-wall gas fire without a hearth then you will have to install the fire at least 300 mm off of the floor, for safety reasons.


If you wish to install a gas insert fire or solid fuel fire your hearth will have to meet building regulations by doing the following:


  • Have at least 150 mm (6 inches) on either side of the fire.

  • Have a minimum thickness of 48 mm (2 inches).

  • Extend 300 mm (12 inches) in front of the appliance.


WHAT IS A FIREPLACE SURROUND MADE OF?


WOOD


Wood is the most economical option for a fireplace surround - they are versatile, easy to fit and don't necessarily need a specialist for installation. Wooden fireplace surrounds come in a wide range of colours and finishes, from oak to pine to dark mahogany. You might even want to buy one in white or unfinished and paint it with a colour of your choosing.


MDF is a common choice as it is cheap, durable and can be used with a number of veneers to get a more authentic real wood look at an affordable price. If you prefer the real thing and your budget stretches to it, nothing beats real wood with its beautiful grain - since it is a natural material no two fireplaces will be the same.


Be mindful that the cheaper options can look quite basic and might not have the wow factor you are looking for. Care also needs to be taken with a wooden surround if you have a multi-fuel or wood burning stove as if there isn't a large enough gap left between the stove and the surround, scorching and burning can occur.


STONE & MARBLE


Stone and marble surrounds are a more expensive option but they are worth the money for that authentic, luxury look.


Marble has historically been a sign of wealth and decadence, common in grand homes. Marble can be perfect for those who prefer bolder and dramatic designs. Each piece of marble will be unique, whether you opt for classic plain white or cream Carrara, or grains in shades of brown, green or blue. It is worth noting that marble will need sealing for longevity and its rarity, compared to limestone, means that it is a more expensive option.


Limestone is great for those who prefer understated beauty as it is more subtle in style than marble. The pale colour of limestone means that it can be placed in both traditional and more contemporary rooms and not look out of place. Limestone will be more susceptible to damage from moisture and stains unless it is sealed - this will need to be redone about once a year.

Please note that most stone and marble surrounds cannot be used with solid fuel fires as the intense heat they give off can cause them to crack. The only exceptions to this is limestone although you need to pair the surround with an appropriate back panel and slabbed hearth for it to be suitable.


It is also important to remember that fireplaces made from natural properties such as limestone, marble and wood will need regular cleaning. Care must be taken as they are sensitive to acids (citrus juice, vinegar and cleaning chemicals) and can stain easily. 


CAST IRON


Mostly associated with period properties, cast iron surrounds can be costly but are very hard wearing and create an amazing, dramatic impact.. More commonly, people tend to opt for cast iron inserts as opposed to an entire surround which can be a little too imposing in modern rooms. It is possible, however, to update the heavy black surround with white, pastel or metallic metal paint. You can also replace the tiles to coordinate with your decor. One downside to cast iron is that it is very susceptible to moisture and even a drop of water can cause rust.


FIREPLACE BEAMS


If you don't have the space for a proper fireplace surround or you prefer a more rustic look then a floating beam might be a good solution.


Beams can be used as shelves making them not just aesthetically pleasing but also practical, although if you wish to use a beam as a shelf it is better to opt for a greater depth for safety.



REBATES


A rebate is the distance from the wall to where the front of the back panel will sit once the mantelpiece is fitted - the space allows the back panel, slips or cast inserts to fit behind the fireplace.


You will need to work out the depth needed to fully recess your fire in your chimney recess or flat against your wall. If the fireplace is being fitted flat against your wall then the full depth of the fire needs to be recessed within the surround so the rebate needs to be deeper than if you were fitting the surround against a chimney with a wall cavity the fire could be recessed into.


To work out your rebate you need to look at the legs of the fireplace surround. By measuring the inside rebate (from the leg face to the back panel) and subtracting the amount form the outside rebate (from the face of the leg to the wall behind) you will have the size of your rebate. E.g. if your outside return is 110 mm and your inside return is 80 mm your rebate would be 30 mm.


Rebates are usually between 25 - 75 mm but occasionally can be increased to allow a deeper fire to be installed against a flat wall.

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