Top Tips on How to Build a Fireplace

Josh Miller

Josh is a contributing writer to the site and former HVAC specialist.

Last Updated on June 9, 2021

A fireplace is one of the essential elements in a home. Fireplaces provide the necessary heat during the autumn and winter months and give a room a cozy and romantic atmosphere.

Whether you choose a gas or wood-burning fireplace, it can add character to your home. Building a fireplace is a project that requires some thorough research and planning, and you should consider costs, design, and the fuel you want to use.

If you don’t want to change the inside of your home, an outdoor fireplace is an excellent option. The construction costs are lower, and you have a lot more freedom in terms of design.

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Table of Contents

1. Deciding What Type of Fireplace You Want

When building a fireplace for your home, it’s essential to know about the main types of fireplaces. The three main types of fireplaces are masonry, zero-clearance, and gas fireplaces. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, and before you start planning and buying materials, you should have a clear idea of the fireplace you want.

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Masonry Fireplaces

When people think of a traditional fireplace, they are usually thinking of a masonry fireplace. Wood-burning masonry fireplaces are usually the most expensive. They have a traditional look and are typically made from stone or brick.

Masonry fireplaces are usually built during the construction of the house, and they are part of its structural design. A masonry fireplace can still be added to an already built home, but there can be a lot of challenges in the process.

If you are thinking about adding a masonry fireplace to your home, the first thing you should do is check that the floor can support the weight. Both stone and brick are heavy materials, and you might have to reinforce the floor so it can support the fireplace and chimney.

Zero-Clearance Fireplace

The term zero-clearance refers to the distance between the fireplace and combustible material. Usually, a traditional fireplace needs to have a buffer zone around it to protect objects such as carpets or sofas. However, zero-clearance fireplaces have very good insulation, and the buffer zone isn’t necessary.

Compared to masonry fireplaces, zero-clearance fireplaces are less expensive and much easier to install. The firebox is designed so that the enclosure stays cool. Because of this, you can set a zero-clearance fireplace right over hardwood floors or in the middle of the living room. It’s a lot lighter than a masonry fireplace, so you don’t have to worry about the floor’s resistance. Zero-clearance fireplaces can run on wood, gas, or electricity.

Gas vs. Wood-burning Fireplace

Even though gas fireplaces don’t offer the sounds and aroma of a wood-burning fireplace, it’s a convenient and efficient alternative. First of all, gas fireplaces are very easy to start, and you don’t need to tend the fire. Also, you don’t need to chop and store wood.

Most people that have a gas fireplace in their home connect it to their natural gas line. Natural gas burns more cleanly than wood and produces a lot less pollution. It will keep your chimney cleaner, and you won’t have to do as much maintenance. Also, using a natural gas fireplace is a lot cheaper than a wood-burning fireplace. 

Outdoor vs. Indoor Fireplace

You should also consider whether you want an indoor or outdoor fireplace when researching and learning about how to build a fireplace. Outdoor fireplaces tend to be less expensive because the installation is usually easier to carry out.

Depending on your specific location and climate, an outdoor fireplace could be a great addition to your backyard. An indoor fireplace is undoubtedly the best option for colder climates, warming the inside of a house during cold winter months. However, families in warmer climates can enjoy an outdoor fireplace year-round.

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2. Create a Budget

When learning how to build a fireplace, one of the first things you should do is pick a budget for your fireplace. There are many different types of fireplaces with different designs. With so many options out there, a budget can provide a good starting point for choosing the right kind of fireplace for your home.

One of the cheapest models available is a simple outdoor stone fireplace, and you can build it yourself in a few days. Other indoor masonry or zero-clearance fireplaces can be a lot more expensive, and you might need to hire an expert for the installation.

3. Create a Design

Once you have a specific budget for your fireplace, you can start thinking about the design you want. The possibilities are almost endless, and you can get very creative. Picking the right location for your fireplace can help you decide what type of design you prefer. Also, knowing the type of fuel is important since you’ll have to install gas lines and wires for zero-clearance and gas fireplaces, while wood-burning fireplaces need easy access to your home’s exterior to build a flue. 

4. Check the Building Codes In Your Area

As with many wood-burning appliances, there are regulations around chimneys and fireplaces. Depending on where you live, the regulations for fireplaces might be different. Make sure you are aware of all the current regulations in your area or state regarding fireplaces. An excellent place to start is the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Asking for the help of a professional is always a good idea to get an expert’s advice.

5. Steps For Building Your Own Fireplace

Building an outdoor or indoor fireplace is a project that requires some experience with construction projects. You’ll have to plan the dimensions of the fireplace, prepare the footing, mix concrete, and lay the bricks. Although it might seem fairly straightforward, it’s important to get all the small details right, and hiring a professional mason for the project can be a great help. However, if you want to tackle the project on your own, follow these simple steps:

  • Mark the Dimensions of the Fireplace

First, you should have a clear idea of the dimensions of the fireplace. You should decide the size of the firebox and the chimney. Make a complete list of the materials you need and the total costs. Before buying any materials, check if you need a permit for the project in your specific area.

  • Prepare the Base

Both with an outdoor and indoor fireplace, you’ll need to make a hole for the footing. For an outdoor fireplace, make sure no utility lines are running underneath. Inside the hole, you’ll have to place the concrete for the base of the fireplace. The thickness of the base can vary, but it should be at least between 12” and 18” thick.

Mix the concrete following the instructions on the bag. Spread the concrete evenly in the footing. Once it’s completely spread out, add the steel rebars on the surface for reinforcement. Tap them slightly with a shovel, so they stay beneath the surface and smooth out the surface again, covering the rebars completely.

As the concrete starts to settle, trowel notches on the surface for better bonding with the next layer. Finally, leave the slab to dry overnight.

  • Placing the Bricks

Use a standard type S mortar for bonding the bricks to the slab. For the first row of bricks, use a spirit or laser level to make sure you place every brick perfectly before moving on to the next level. You can place bricks on mortar by tapping slightly with a mason’s hammer. You should build a base layer for the whole fireplace before placing the walls.

Between bricks, switch to a fire-resistant mortar because those bricks will be exposed to very high heat and combustion. Mix the fire-resistant mortar in 5-gallon buckets to keep the batches manageable. Mix the mortar until there are no lumps and it has a smooth but thick consistency.

Enjoy Warmth and Ambience in Your Home With a DIY Fireplace

Once the brick chimney is complete, you can insert the firebox and enjoy crackling logs and flickering flames all winter long.

Creating a fireplace takes a lot of planning, and in some cases, it may not be feasible to build a fireplace in your home. If this is the case, an electric fireplace or TV stand with a fireplace insert can provide a suitable alternative if you want to improve the ambiance in your home.

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