This post has been a long time coming – it seems like whenever I undertake a daunting DIY project, I need to let my brain “forget” it for awhile before I can talk about it again. I guess it’s kind of like childbirth in that regard. Redoing our fireplace took several twists and turns, but I’m exceedingly happy with the finished product,
now that my house isn’t a dust-filled mess.
Some qualifiers before we get started:
- I am not a stone mason (nor do I plan on becoming one). I’m an avid DIYer, who read, researched and studied everything I could get my hands on before undertaking this project.
- This project was probably my biggest DIY undertaking to date. More anxiety-producing than painting my kitchen cabinets. That said, I’m really proud to declare that I did it myself.
- We went through several iterations of this fireplace redo before arriving at the end result, which is probably why this project felt more difficult than it actually was. If we had eliminated the trial and error, we would have finished a lot sooner. But, sometimes that’s part of the process, and perhaps you will learn from my mistakes.
- Do I want a full stone fireplace, or a combination of wood and stone?
- Do I want a stacked stone look? How much grout do I want to see?
- Do I want my mantel to be stained or painted?
- Is this fireplace in keeping with the style and era of my home?
- Do you want to use real stone, stone veneer or newer, DIY-friendly stone products like Airstone?
Here is a basic overview of the different stone veneer options out there.
This option is appealing since there is no grouting that needs to be done, which means less time dealing with mortar. However, you can see that the dry stack requires more precision in keeping your stone work level.
Limestone is another great option, and one that was in the running when we were looking at stone. There are grout lines with limestone, but the finished product is very beautiful and versatile – working well in different styles of homes.
A fieldstone fireplace provides a variety of different sizes and shapes of stone, with a more free form look, and is another one that will require grouting.
But you definitely get a beautiful end result.
This is what we ultimately chose for our fireplace, and I love it because it offers a variety of colors and shapes with the stone (and it doesn’t have to be absolutely precise like some types of stone). Grouting is required.
This is the stone that we chose for our fireplace. It’s a stone veneer product called Heritage Stone made by Provia. I purchased it through a local company that supplies a great variety of stone and paver options. Landscaping businesses are also great sources for stone products, so check those out as well. It has a great mix of cream and brown with a touch of gray as well. It’s a great combination of colors that we have incorporated in the great room, and it’s also in keeping with the style of our home.
Once you’ve decided on the style and design of your fireplace, you can get to work.
After initially planning on trying to keep the existing tile on the fireplace, we ended up removing it from the bottom portion of the fireplace, framing top part of the fireplace (over the tile) and installing backer board over the entire area.
Let me say again, that corner fireplaces are a great idea in theory, but are a pain in the butt in real life.
We also framed out the area that was going to be the mantel once the stone work was complete. Once the backer board is in place, we installed a metal lath over the entire area that is used to give the mortar something to hold on to when you apply it to the backer board for your scratch coat. Make sure the metal lath is installed flat, as you don’t want to worry about any bubbles or bumps when you apply the scratch coat.
Apply the Scratch Coat
Next, you apply the scratch coat, which was one of my least favorite parts of this process. I can’t emphasize enough that your mortar needs to be the proper consistency. Even though I followed the mortar mixing directions, I needed to add more water than instructed to get it right. If it’s too thick, it will fall off and make
you yell and curse a mess. Keep a jug of water on hand to continually add it to your mortar mix as you work, as it will dry up and harden otherwise.
Your mortar should look something like this:
Once the scratch coat is applied, you need to go over it horizontally with the notched side of your trowel, creating lines across the mortar.
Install Your Stone
Once you have completed the scratch coat and allowed it to dry overnight, it’s time to install the stone. I’ll admit, I felt a bit paralyzed in getting started with this next step. Mainly because I was afraid that I was going to screw it up. And if I screwed it up, it would be a lot harder to “undo” my mistake.
So, to help ease my anxiety, I measured out the fireplace dimensions and taped it out on the floor. This allowed me to pull out different sizes and shapes of stone and lay them out so I could better visualize the end result. Did I put them up exactly as I laid them out? No. But, it helped me get the ball rolling and not be so paralyzed about getting started.
When you’re applying the stone to the wall, again, the consistency of your mortar is key. You want to be sure that it stays wet enough to where it doesn’t dry out, otherwise your stone won’t “stick”. You want it to be a consistency to where you can wiggle the stone a bit to get it in place when you’re applying it, but not so thin that it’s runny.
Using a pointed trowel, you then “butter” the back of the stone with the mortar and press it into place, wiggling it a bit in the process to give you the best bond. This video gives you an idea of what it should look like.
A big bonus was having a sick kid at home when I was working on the top portion of the fireplace. I could hold up different pieces of stone and have him eyeball it for me as to whether or not it looked good and if it was straight. The nice part about this ledgestone product is that it’s not an exact science and is somewhat forgiving in the installation. Whereas a stacked stone requires more precision in keeping the stones level across the board.
Working on the upper portion of the fireplace was a good way to get my feet wet since it was a flat wall. It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle – finding pieces of stone that “fit” into the space as you go along. I didn’t have to make that many cuts either, which was great. I started at the bottom and worked my way up, but before making it all the way to the top, I filled in the pieces near the ceiling to make sure it looked finished.
Working around the fireplace insert and corners was a bit trickier and required some cuts and a little more planning.
If I had a normal square cornered fireplace, I could have bought some corner stone pieces to make the process much simpler. Again, the corner fireplace is a pain in the rear with its funky corners. You can see that I had to improvise and pull different sizes and shapes of stone for the corners. But in the end, it worked out just fine.
Once the stone is in place, you get to grout, and deal with mortar. Again. The videos online make it look so easy – that was not my experience, but maybe it’s just me. I’m fairly sure I developed “man hands” while trying to
unsuccessfully squeeze the mortar out of the grout bag.
After grouting, use a wooden tool to push the grout into the joints and smooth it out.
Once the grouting is complete and allowed to dry, you can sweep away the excess mortar with a small broom.
Here is a refresh of how our fireplace (and great room, for that matter) have evolved since we’ve lived here:
A wider view of the room before:
I may be revisiting a similar project this summer, if the snow finally melts and we get started on our outdoor plans. We shall see.
Best DIY Project of 2015 Contest