Fireplace Surrounds

A beautiful fireplace becomes the center of attention in a living space – especially when entertaining on cold days during the holiday season. Fireplaces can be updated to blend with your personal decorating taste or they can be drastically transformed to make a bold design statement. Either way, putting new tile on the walls surrounding the fireplace is a simple way to update the look of your fireplace. Below are steps to help guide you in your fireplace surround project.

Calculate Materials and Supplies

Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1 Inspect substrate (or existing fireplace wall).

  1. Determine if it is an acceptable type of substrate to receive a tile installation. It must be structurally sound, solid and stable.
  2. When applicable, replace it with an appropriate substrate material such as cement board or drywall.
  3. Clean the substrate (or existing fireplace wall). All substrates should be clean, dry and free of dust, dirt, oil, grease, paint, wax, soap, loosely bonded toppings, any primers that are not MAPEI brand, old adhesive residues (unless otherwise recommended by MAPEI), and any other substance that may prevent, reduce or affect adhesion or performance.

Step 2 Prepare the substrate to receive tile.

  1. If you are installing over existing brickwork or stone with mortar joints, fill recessed joints and create a smooth surface using MAPEI Rapid Setting Tile Mortar.
  2. For clean drywall and drywall patching compounds (wall mud), apply MAPEI Primer T™ primer.
  3. For cement board substrates, tape and fill joints per the cement board manufacturer’s written instructions.
  4. Clean the substrate (or existing tile). All substrates should be clean, dry and free of dust, dirt, oil, grease, paint, wax, soap, loosely bonded toppings, any primers that are not MAPEI brand, old adhesive residues (unless otherwise recommended by MAPEI), and any other substance that may prevent, reduce or affect adhesion or performance.

Step 3 Plan the fireplace wall layout and make cuts.

  1. Measure and mark the center points of the left and right wall edges in the area between the lower end of the mantle and above the fireplace opening. Use a chalk line tool, china marker or pencil to create a line, connecting the two points.
  2. Measure and mark the center points of the lower end of the mantle and the top edge of the fireplace opening. Create a line connecting these points. The intersection of the two lines marks the center of the focal point of the fireplace.
  3. Using a carpenter’s level, verify that the horizontal line marking the vertical center on the focal point is level and adjust as needed.
  4. Take time to carefully plan the layout. It is best to have the cut tiles at the top of the wall, just underneath the mantle and have whole tiles on the row adjacent to the top of the fireplace opening. You will probably also have the cut tiles at the bottom of the left and right walls, adjacent to the floor or hearth.
  5. It may be helpful to plan the tile placement by creating a “story pole.” To make a story pole, first lay out the tile with spacers in between each tile on a flat surface, which will represent your tiled wall (left to right = bottom to top). Then mark all tile and grout joint measurements on a long wooden dowel rod. Include decorative inserts and accent tile. Transfer the markings onto the wall surface and review the placement.
  6. If you are using border tiles to frame the opening of the fireplace or are using decorative accent tiles, measure and mark lines to indicate these areas.
  7. Dry-fit a row of tiles (or mosaic tile sheets) by placing the tile (or sheets) in position with spacers along reference lines to check for accuracy and determine tile cuts. Adjust reference lines as needed.
  8. Pre-cut all tiles, with the exception of the bottom row (first row) of tile on the left and right walls surrounding the fireplace.
  9. On the left and right walls, mark a line where the second row of tile will start.
  10. Attach 3 wood ledger strips to the substrate using screws. The ledger strips will function as temporary supports for the tile until the mortar dries.

A very long ledger strip should be positioned just below the top edge of the fireplace opening. It will need to span the entire length of the tile row from the left wall edge to the right wall edge. Ledger strips should be used to support the second row of tile at the bottom of each of the left and right walls. The top of each ledger board will mark where the second row of tile will start.

Step 4 Mix and apply the tile mortar.

  1. Measure water amounts carefully. Mix the mortar according to the instructions on the package. Refer to current Technical Data Sheets at www.mapei.com for detailed instructions.
  2. Select a notched trowel size that is appropriate for the size of the tile. Contact MAPEI’s Technical Services Department for guidance if needed.
  3. Using a notched trowel, spread mortar while holding the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the wall.
  4. First, using the straight (flat) side of the trowel, apply a thin and even coat to the surface. Fol