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Remodeling Your Fireplace: How to Measure For a New Fireplace Mantle

Jul 16, 2008
You sit in your living room area, look around, and say to yourself, "I am tired of that fireplace. It is dated and boring; I want a change, but I don't know where to begin."

When deciding whether or not to remodel a fireplace, homeowners are faced with several challenging decisions. From choosing a new color for a simple paint job to selecting the look for a more complex fireplace mantle replacement, the options and steps to make a fireplace remodeling project successful can quickly become overwhelming.

Relax! You have options. You could change the mantle shelf decorations, hang a different picture or mirror above it or simply change some lighting in the room. You could also make cosmetic changes that are a little more work, like adding a new fireplace screen or painting the mantle a different color. But if you want more than just a few minor changes, you will need to understand how to properly measure the fireplace area--particularly if you plan to replace the fireplace mantle shelf or full surround and the facing material (facing material is the material that surrounds the fireplace opening and is typically brick, tile, marble, or granite.)

In this article, I will address the first step to changing the area--how to measure for a new fireplace mantle.

Once you have definitely decided that you would like to remodel a fireplace with a new fireplace mantle or new fireplace mantle shelf, the next step is to determine what size mantle you will need. Keep in mind the fireplace mantle actually frames the surrounding facing material you want to reveal--like putting a picture frame around a photo and a mat.

When you begin measuring your fireplace, you will want to figure out the width and height of the fireplace opening including the facing material. This will determine what the inside opening of your mantle surround will be. For example, if your fireplace opening is 36 inches wide, and you have six inches of tile on either side, then you would need a mantle with an inside opening of no greater than 48 inches. Similarly, if the height of your fireplace opening is 32 inches and you have eight inches of tile above that opening, then you would need an inside opening height of no greater than 40 inches. I say "no greater than" because it is quite common for the inside opening of the mantle to overlap the facing material by as much as an inch--depending on the area.

On most measuring diagrams, additional measurements are needed, especially if the facing material protrudes from the wall more than an inch. The depth of that facing material will determine how deep the "return depth" of the mantle will need to be. If the facing material is less than one inch, then a standard return depth (1 inches) will work. If you need it to be deeper, or need a specific total height, you can customize your mantle measurements.

If you have a hearth (the area directly in front of the fireplace), it may be flush with the floor, or raised by as much as a foot in height. This is very important when measuring for a fireplace mantle as it determines whether or not you can have the legs of the mantle "sit" on the hearth or whether those legs will sit on the outside. Sometimes those legs will "wrap" around the hearth.

Another important measurement that you might see on a measuring diagram is the one that shows how much clearance there is on each side of the fireplace. Sometimes a window or light switch might be too close to the fireplace area. This is where true customization is a real advantage, and you will definitely want some advice from people who are experts. There are companies that will customize your mantle to meet specific needs that are unique to you, and they usually have deeper shelves, wider legs, etc. to help fulfill your needs.

Some fireplace mantle companies have live chat areas where you can log in and ask specific questions about your fireplace area. Mantle customization experts will even encourage you to call them directly to discuss your specific needs. In many cases, they also will suggest that you email a digital photograph of the area to be sure that the custom mantle you are ordering will fit.

Follow these instructions and you'll be able to accurately measure for a fireplace mantle that will properly fit. Measuring only takes a little time and effort on your part, and the outcome is well worth it.
About the Author
Carol S. Agee is vice president of Agee Woodworks, Inc. Agee Woodworks, Inc. is a manufacturer of custom wood fireplace mantles, where all their products are built to order and shipped directly to you from their factory.
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