How to Set Tile Around a Fireplace

Written by samantha volz
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How to Set Tile Around a Fireplace
Tiles can cover old, unsightly brick on a fireplace. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

A fireplace is often the focal point of a living room or family room, inviting family members and friends to gather for celebrations and quiet get-togethers. That fireplace will lose some of its appeal, though if it looks less than its best, with faded brick, shabby-looking wood or even no surround at all. One way to ensure that your fireplace makes the right impression is to tile the surround with heat-resistant tiles.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Painter's tape
  • Thin-set mortar
  • Latex additive
  • Stirrer
  • Notched trowel
  • Pencil
  • 1-by-3-inch pieces of wood
  • Masonry screws
  • Spacers
  • Sponge
  • Saw
  • Ruler
  • Tile cutter or utility knife
  • Putty knife
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Caulk
  • Caulk gun
  • Clean, dry cloth

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  1. 1

    Remove the mantel from your fireplace to completely expose the surround. If you cannot remove the mantel, tape off the area with painter's tape to protect it while you work.

  2. 2

    Mix thin-set mortar and latex additive, following product instructions, until the thin set is the consistency of peanut butter. Use a stirring stick or electric drill mixing paddle to achieve the right thickness.

  3. 3

    Spread a 1/4- to ½-inch layer of thin set with a finishing trowel over the entire surround area. This will become the flat surface on which you can install your tile. This layer is particularly important if you are tiling over brick.

  4. 4

    Flatten the thin set with the trowel. Allow the thin set to dry overnight.

  5. 5

    Measure from one end of the firebox opening to the other, and mark the centre point. Draw a vertical line from the top centre of the firebox to the top of the surround. This is the centre point of your installation area.

  6. 6

    Cut a 1-by-3 piece of wood the length of the entire surround. Set it even with the top of the firebox. Attach the wood to the surround with 2-inch masonry screws or wood finishing nails, depending on what your surround is made of. This will create a thin shelf for your tile installation.

  7. 7

    Mix a new batch of thin set so that it's the same consistency as the first batch. Spread a thin layer horizontally just above your shelf, using the notched edge of the trowel.

  8. 8

    Set your first tile at the centre line you created, with the bottom resting on the shelf. Wiggle the tile a little as you install it to make sure the back of the tile is completely covered with thin set.

  9. 9

    Move back and forth above the shelf, installing tiles. Use spacers if necessary to keep a uniform gap between the tiles; the size of the gap will vary, based on your design. Wipe away excess thin set with a damp sponge if you spill any; do not let thin set dry on the tile, or it could stain.

  10. 10

    Work your way up the surround until you have covered the entire top of the surround. Allow the thin set to dry overnight before continuing.

  11. 11

    Unscrew the support ledge and remove the spacers from the set-in tiles. Cut the 1-by-3 board or another board to cover the bottom of each leg of the surround to create a bottom support shelf.

  12. 12

    Install tiles along the remainder of the surround, starting at the bottom of one leg and working your way up. Include spacers as necessary. Allow the tiles to set overnight.

  13. 13

    Remove the support shelves and spacers from the legs. Measure the space between the hearth and the first row of tiles. Subtract two of your spacer gaps. This is the size of tile you need to fill in the rest of the hearth.

  14. 14

    Cut tiles to fit the space at the bottom of the legs. Use a tile cutter or a sharp utility knife to trim the tiles. Spread adhesive over the back of each cut tile and push it firmly into place, evenly spaced between the hearth and the first row of tiles. Allow this thin set to dry overnight.

  15. 15

    Clear all thin set out of the tile joints with a putty knife. Mix water and grout according to the manufacturer's directions.

  16. 16

    Spread grout across the tile surface with a grout float held at a 45-degree angle to force the grout into the joints between tiles. Allow the grout to set for 30 minutes and then wipe away excess with a damp grout sponge. Allow the grout to dry overnight.

  17. 17

    Buff tile faces with a clean, dry cloth to remove any haze from the grout. Remove the tape from your mantle and reinstall the mantle, or proceed with a new mantle design if that's part of your particular project. If you reinstall the mantle, spread a bead of silicone caulk in the gap between the mantle and the tile to protect the area from heat. Allow the caulk, thin set and grout to cure for another 48 to 72 hours before building a fire.

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