Home Renovation – How to build a Hearth
September- October 2006
NOTE: Thank you everyone who has commented on this article! However, please note the following:
1) This is not a step by step “how to”. They are just a series of pictures and I didn’t annotate many/any details at all; but hopefully it gives you ideas and inspiration.
2) The type of stove you plan to install will change fire code requirements. This sealed natural gas stove could actually have been placed 2 inches from drywall. However, a real wood burning stove requires much more, including an air space between the tile and actual wall. Please consult your local codes.
September was half gone and I could see all of the Fall house maintenance coming up like, extra lawn mowing, fertilizing, raking leaves, draining water lines, tuning the snow blower… all that stuff and I didn’t have a plan, materials, or even a clue on working with stone.
I needed help, and, if there is anyone out there more happy and willing to take on a project that they also have no idea how to do, it’s my wife. We split up the tasks. I worked on figuring out where the stove had to be placed and vented, what was needed to support it, and the detailed dimensions.
My wife worked on picking out the materials, the layout, the techniques, tools and supplies we would need to install it.
We knew we would use some kind of stone (natural or manufactured), even though the specs for this direct vent, natural gas, “wood” burning stove allowed for placement next to drywall and could sit on hardwood floors. Most of the ceramic tile we looked at looked too neat and perfect and we were looking for something more natural. We looked at natural stone and found some to be too expensive (flamed granite) and some to be too rough/irregular. My wife kept pushing slate, despite my initial distaste for slate. However, she found some Brazilian and Indian slate that had all sorts of great colors and textures. We bought different lots from several different stores and chose the best ones.
I came up with a plan that didn’t call for too many cuts and consulted with the contractors who were going to install the stove to make sure it was all going to work, and I was right on with my plan. My wife arranged all the pieces for the best mix in colors and pattern and then sealed them. (natural stone needs to be sealed)
I built a strong support for the hearth, even though no one was going to be walking on it.
With the backer board in place, it was time to install the tiles.
We learned as we went along that perfect spacing was never going to happen with natural slate as all of the pieces were not cut perfectly. Just following close to my guidelines was good enough; grout will fill it all in and it will look great.
Do I even have time for Octoberfest??? Somewhere right around this point I had to skip a weekend of work for the most important weekend of the year. (other than my anniversary; but I worked on the hearth that weekend)
Time to cut some slate… Don’t bother trying to dry cut with a masonary blade. Get (or borrow) a wet saw and cutting is like a hot knife through butter.
Looking good! Time to grout and finish up.
I was even able to find and pull my thermostat wire I had left in the wall. (good thing I marked it on the plans)
In the end, getting to this point didn’t seem so hard, but I didn’t like how the grouting went. The slate is very rough and the grout didn’t wipe off like it would on a polished slab of marble. (you can see it in the pictures above… all the little white streaks in the slate) I wanted to remove the remains, which was dry at this point, but, oh-boy, is removing the grout from slate a very painful story to tell…