Our Guide to Refreshing Your Brick Fireplace in 2023
Fireplaces come in many styles, from natural stone fireplaces to brick fireplaces and even concrete fireplaces. The bricks you use can come in different colors, including red brick fireplaces, yellow brick fireplaces, white brick fireplaces, and many other styles. If you have a brick fireplace in your home, however, you know how much of a hassle it can be, from keeping the aesthetics fresh to the maintenance required to keep it structurally sound and safe to use.
The fireplace is the focal point, highlight, and centerpiece of your living space. It’s the heart and soul and the source of the term “hearth and home.” Updating it is a popular home improvement project to bring a new look to an existing home or for updating a new home to the style you want. Naturally, you want it to look amazing.
Continue reading for some fireplace ideas to accomplish your brick fireplace makeover. If you need bricks to help in this or any other home project, Batchelder & Collins is ready to help.
How Long Does It Take to Refresh Your Brick Fireplace?
Every fireplace is unique, and the time frame to refresh yours can vary based on a great many factors, including how much work needs to be done, what specific effect you are trying to achieve, and, of course, how much free time you have.
Estimated DIY projects to refresh or refinish a fireplace could take anywhere from an hour to days or weeks. Are you simply looking to clean the brick? Are you repairing loose or spalled bricks? Are you adding a fresh coat of paint? Are you completely changing the style? All of these factors will vastly affect the time it takes to get the project done.
What if I Am Looking to Restore My Brick Fireplace?
Sometimes, a refresh or simple repair is not what you had in mind. Sometimes your brick fireplace may be in truly rough shape, possibly even unsafe to use. In such cases, you want to completely restore the brick fireplace so that it can once again be a stunning centerpiece that sets the look of your living room. Complete the following process.
Cleaning the Brick
The brick structure of your fireplace, both outside and inside, can get dirty and dark from the smoke and soot. This dirt can also wear away at the structural integrity of the brick. Keeping it clean is important. The good news is that often, cleaning the brick can be accomplished with soap, water, and a natural stiff-bristled brush. We always recommend using a brush with natural bristles rather than a wire- or metal-bristled brush, as these types of brushes can damage the brick.
For cleaning, use a gentle soap or possibly even a vinegar-water solution. The right soap and brush, and a bit of good old-fashioned elbow grease, will remove most of the soot. Sometimes, scorching and soot require a more powerful solution such as trisodium phosphate (TSP), but if you use this, be sure to have plenty of ventilation and always wear gloves and eye protection. A mask is also recommended.
If you have tile around your fireplace, you may also need to clean the grout. If your brush and soap or vinegar solution does not work, a variety of grout-cleaning solutions can be found. Always, however, read the instructions carefully and take the right safety precautions. In the worst-case scenarios, you may need to remove, re-grout, and reseal the grout to achieve the best result.
While you clean and restore your fireplace, you may come across spalling, cracks, bad mortar joints, loose bricks, or even missing bricks. When this happens, you may need to replace the damaged brickwork. We recommend that you take a look at our guide to repairing brick wall damage to walk you through these processes. Remember, if you need replacement bricks, we have them for you!
What Materials Are Needed to Refurbish a Brick Fireplace?
The materials and tools you will need depend entirely on what you want to do with your fireplace. If you plan to hide your exposed bricks entirely behind a concrete face, for example, you will require several more materials. If you just want to give it a fresh coat of paint, you will need considerably fewer materials. Here are just a few of the starting materials you may need to refurbish your brick fireplace:
- Cleaning brush
- Soap and water
- Brick cleaner
For replacing or repairing broken brick, you may also need:
- Pointing trowel
- Brick trowel
- Cold chisel
- Grout saw
- Engineer’s hammer (brick hammer)
For painting your fireplace, some of the materials you will need include:
- Natural brush
- Soap and water
- Paintbrush and roller for textured surfaces
- Masonry paint
- Drop cloths
- Painter’s tape
How Expensive Is It to Refresh My Fireplace?
Once again, the answer to this question depends on a wide range of factors involving the depth of your refurbishing project. A quick layer of paint is the least expensive DIY fireplace makeover, requiring only the expense of cleaning, masking, primer, and paint. If you need to replace cracked or loose bricks, the cost goes up. If you are changing your mantel for a different feel, the cost may go up further, and of course, if you need to rebuild your fireplace entirely, the cost will be significantly higher.
All of these projects will carry a different price tag. It is vital that you know the scale of your project prior to starting so that you can plan according to whether you just need a can of paint or all the tools and equipment for a complete rebuild.
What Is the Best Way to Clean Brick?
As stated above, cleaning brick can be simple or complex, depending on the type or depth of soiling involved. Start by removing any clear dust or debris from the brick. You may be able to accomplish this with a soft towel, a masonry sponge, or a stiff-bristled brush. Next, wet the brick with your cleaner, which should consist of soap and water or vinegar and water. It is not a good idea to mix vinegar and soap, and never mix chemicals unless you are absolutely certain they are safe to mix. The wrong mix of chemicals can produce noxious or even deadly gases.
Use your sponge or brush to scrub the soiled areas until they are clean. If necessary, use the more powerful cleaning solution discussed above, but only after you clean off the existing solution. Periodically rinse off the brick and repeat the process until it is clean, then rinse the brickwork and let it dry completely before moving on to your next stage of refurbishment.
Got Your Materials? Now Let’s Refresh That Fireplace!
The next steps are dependent upon what you want the end result of refreshing a fireplace to look like. The steps below serve as a quick tutorial for one common and budget-friendly way to refresh a painted brick fireplace and can be used as a starting point for establishing your own step-by-step guide for a beautiful DIY fireplace.
The first step is to completely clean your fireplace using the steps above. Be sure, again, to allow the fireplace and brickwork to dry entirely before moving to the second step. This can take a few days as brick is a porous material.
If you plan to paint the brick fireplace, you will need to protect those areas where you do not want paint. This requires a tarp and painter’s tape. Cover the floor in front of the fireplace, and use your painter’s tape to carefully mask off all around the edges. This will protect against splashing and overpainting to the fireplace’s surrounding areas, like the paneling, while also ensuring that you get clean lines where you want them.
Too many people skip the priming stage of painting, but doing so is a critical error. Always put primer down. Primer strengthens the final coat and helps to ensure that the paint sticks. It will make your paint job last longer and make it look better and more finished in the end. Use a proper latex primer designed for brick. Always remember to use the right tool for the right job, and that includes the type of primer you use.
As with painting, put on several thin coats of primer, allowing it to dry between coats. Painting is a marathon, not a sprint. If you try to hurry the process, you will end up with runs and a poor-looking final project, exactly the opposite of what you set out to accomplish.
Lastly, it’s time to add the final paint. The rules for painting are similar to those for priming. Choose the right paint that is designed for brick. The paint color is up to you, but white paint is very popular for use over red brick fireplaces. Some people prefer to contrast with white walls using a darker color like brown, black, or gray paint. Chalk paint is another popular option for covering an old brick fireplace, but it requires a separate topcoat.
You can even choose different types of paint, including German Schmear for a unique brick look. In the end, it comes down to your sense of style and what you want for your home decor.
Use a brush or roller designed for uneven, porous surfaces. Put on several thin coats, allowing the prior coat to dry completely before applying another. This helps you avoid unsightly runs or an uneven final project. The process of painting or whitewash brick can take several days to accomplish completely, and the process should not be rushed.
How Do You Make an Old Fireplace Look Modern and New?
Fireplaces can be considered “older” in two ways. First, they may literally be old, and the passage of time always leaves its mark. Even fireplaces that are relatively recent, however, can be referred to as “older” if they were built using outdated materials.
A farmhouse-style existing fireplace, for example, that a prior homeowner installed based on their personal aesthetics but is not currently in vogue or doesn’t match the rest of your decor could be considered old. Either way, an old fireplace can be an eyesore instead of an integral part of your interior design.
Updating a fireplace that has an outdated look or is physically old to give it a more modern look can be accomplished, however. Here are some strategies and fixes to give your fireplace a fresh look.
Paint the Bricks
Painting or a whitewashing is perhaps the quickest and easiest fix for an outdated fireplace. It can also be an easy way to turn exposed brick that you don’t want into a finished, modern look. The process is outlined above and requires a quick cleaning and a few days of work with relatively inexpensive materials.
Change the Mantel
Your fireplace mantel makes a huge difference in the way your fireplace looks. The right mantel can add charm and warmth. It is also a place to display your photos, hang stockings during the holidays, and display your personal sense of style.
To replace a wood mantel, first, use a flat pry bar behind the mantel trim and tap it with a hammer to loosen the trim moldings, which you can then pry loose. Remove the mounting screws that affix the mantel to the wall, which should allow you to pull it away.
Next, center the mounting hardware for your new mantel. If it is going to be mounted into masonry, mark holes corresponding to the mortar joints, and drill pilot holes with a masonry bit, then tap anchors into the holes. If installing over drywall, use a stud finder and screw wood screws into the wall studs.
Finally, position the new mantel over the mounting hardware and secure it to the wall.
If the mantel is concrete or cement and is a built-in part of the fireplace, the process can get much more complex. This may require help from experienced masons to alter or replace, but the team at Batchelder & Collins is ready to help with advice and services.
Reface the Fireplace
This option is far more expansive and expensive than the other two options. It will require significantly more work and possibly may require a contractor and experienced mason to complete. It involves removing the brick facing on your fireplace entirely and replacing it with a totally new face.
Refacing allows you to change the pattern, color, style, and brick type of your fireplace, essentially removing the old hearth and replacing it with a completely new one that will change the entire look and feel of your room. The team at Batchelder & Collins is ready to help you if you need to perform this major home renovation and remodeling project.
Bring Your Home’s Hearth Back to Life
Refacing a fireplace can range from a simple paint job to major masonry work. It can also, however, bring new light and life to your space and restore the spirit of home and hearth. When you need new bricks or help and advice to take your fireplace restoration project to the next level, Batchelder & Collins is ready to help. Get in touch with us today at 757-625-2506, or use our contact form for more information or to place your order.