Sprucing Up The Fireplace

By Pat Logan

January 30, 2013 4 min read

Dear Pat: I was at a recent home show, and I saw a beautiful concrete fireplace surround. Is this something I could install on a new fireplace I am having added to my living room, and is it good? -- Debbie G.

Dear Debbie: A concrete surround can be installed on any fireplace. Concrete is one of the best materials to use for a fireplace surround. It is very durable, attractive and nonflammable. The design flexibility is virtually unlimited because it is poured into a handmade mold that can be any shape you desire.

People often think of concrete as the dull gray stuff used for sidewalks and driveways, but nothing could be further from the truth. Today concrete is also often used for kitchen countertops and other indoor surfaces in a home where durability is a consideration.

Concrete is made basically of cement, aggregate (stones, gravel, sand, etc.) and water. By using a relatively fine aggregate, instead of gravel, which is commonly used for outdoor sidewalks, the finished concrete surface can be very smooth and uniform.

Concrete can also be colored. The colorant is combined with the water when all of the concrete components are mixed together. By using this method, the color goes completely through the concrete. If its surface does get marred or damaged in some way, it will be less apparent.

Installing a concrete fireplace surround is not usually a do-it-yourself job, but if you design a simple one, give it a try. The materials are inexpensive, so if you end up having to call for professional help, you will not have spent much money.

Installing a concrete surround sounds as though it takes a lot of strength to handle and install the heavy materials. But a concrete surround is made in several smaller sections that are mounted separately against the wall around the fireplace opening. By installing it in several sections, each section can be made with a different colorant for a unique appearance.

The first step in making a concrete surround is to design it and make a full-scale template. A simple rectangular shape that is all on the same plain gives it a contemporary look. A mantel, made from a smoothly finished wood beam, can be placed between the upper two sections.

Once you have the template completed, place it against the fireplace to make sure it fits perfectly. The concrete used for the surround will be only about 3 inches thick. Note on the back of the template any protrusions from the wall that will interfere with the placement of the concrete sections.

The final forms, into which the concrete is poured, can be made from 3/4-inch-thick melamine. Melamine is strong enough to hold its shape when filled with concrete, and it has a very smooth surface. This should yield a similarly smooth surface to the finished concrete sections.

Use a dry concrete mixture to fill the molds. For larger pieces, install reinforcing steel rods or mesh in the mold so the concrete is forced through it. If you use mesh, make sure the holes are larger than the aggregate in the concrete. Steel ties, which attach the sections to the wall, should also be placed along the edge. Allow the concrete to set up for several days before attempting to hang the sections on the wall.

Pat Logan's weekly column, "Here's How," can be found at creators.com.

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