Choosing Materials and Styles
Depending on the style of your home, there are plenty of materials and styles of fire surround to suit all properties. Wood is the material of choice for country-style homes, and options are available from a wide range of manufacturers.
“Wood, being a softer medium, offers many possibilities in terms of design,” says Matt Beckenham of Stovax Heating Group. “It can also be stained or painted to your specific taste. From ornately modelled rich cherry to a more simple design offering painted warm white, a wooden mantelpiece can offset a traditional period fireplace or a modern gas appliance with equal aplomb.”
Brick surrounds with a timber mantle work well in country-style homes too.
If you are looking to specify a contemporary-style fire then stones such as marble, as well as brick and wood, are the materials of choice. However, many people choose to specify built-in or double-sided fireplaces for ultra-modern schemes.
If you live in a period or period-style property, it is worth researching surrounds typical of the era in which the house was built (or aspires to). Both Regency and Georgian properties for instance favoured ornate marble as well as stone surrounds.
“Stone has been a traditional material since the medieval times, while marble has been used for more than 300 years and continues to be a well-respected choice with its classic appeal and longevity,” says Matt Beckenham.
Wooden surrounds however were commonplace in Victorian homes, as was brick, and cast iron with its ability to diffuse heat was common during the Edwardian era.
Sizing up Fire Surrounds
In order to work out the size of fire surround you require, you will need to know the size of the appliance you intend to install; this will depend on the heat output required to warm the room.
“Homeowners looking for an appliance to heat up a particular area of the house should measure the proposed room first in order to find out the size of the appliance required,” explains Matt Forrester, Senior Design Engineer at Stovax Heating Group.
As a guide for every 14m³ (cubic metres) of space, you will need approximately 1kW of heat output in order to achieve a room temperature of 21°C. Note that the opening should not exceed nine times the area of the smallest part of the chimney/flue. Fire surround manufacturers/suppliers will generally offer widths between 55.5-61 inches and heights of around 42-52 inches. There are, however, companies offering bespoke measurements.
Maintaining a Fire Surround
Like all aspects of the home, it is important to keep your fire surround clean, but the choice of material will determine how you maintain the look. If you have a marble surround for instance, washing the surface with soapy water and finishing with a wax polish will keep the marble in good condition.
Materials such as brick, slate and granite can be brushed to remove dirt, however if the surface is particularly marked, then a caustic cleaner can be used for brick and a liquid detergent for slate and granite.
Ceramic surrounds can be washed with hot water and diluted household cleaner, as can cast iron — you can update the finish of cast iron with a heatproof matt black paint too.
Sandstone and limestone are the most difficult to maintain as they absorb stains easily, so it is best to consult with the manufacturer for recommendation. There are also some pH-neutral stone cleaners on the market suitable for cleaning these tricky surfaces.
The material you choose will impact on the price.
- Wood is likely to be the cheapest with prices varying between £200-£800 depending on the size, detail of the surround, and manufacturer.
- Stone and marble surrounds retail from around £400 into the thousands.
- Cast iron is the most expensive material, costing between £450-£2,000. It is also possible to obtain original Victorian cast iron surrounds, however you can expect these to fall into the top end of the price bracket.
- If you are specifying tiles to create a surround, these will invariably be a cheaper option, costing in the low hundreds.
How to Fit a Fire Surround
- Firstly, you will need to ensure that there are no obstructive skirting boards as the hearth will need to touch the wall. You will then need to ensure there is a smooth, level layer of concrete to form the sub-base for a new hearth or floor covering — use a self-levelling compound if necessary.
- Mix a mortar and then lay the new hearth on the concrete sub-base central to the front of the fire opening. Check this is horizontal using a spirit level.
- Next, drill screw holes as recommended by the manufacturer’s guidelines and insert rawl plugs. Place the back panel to the surround centrally on the hearth and screw it to the wall with the fixings supplied.
- Note that marble back panels can’t be permanently fixed to the wall so you will need to stand it against the wall and hold it in place by fixing the mantel. Be aware that you will need an effective seal between the wall and the new fire surround — follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the right result.
- Finally, lift the mantel into place so it is central to the back panel and mark the screw positions, using a spirit level to ensure it is level. Fix the mantel to the wall with screws through keyhole angle plates. If your surround comes with a detachable mantel shelf then fix this according to the instructions provided. Be sure to leave a drying out time of around a week so the fireproof coating has time to dry properly.
Take your pick of the latest fire surrounds.