How to Remodel a Brick Fireplace

The brick fireplace has been a popular feature in homes for many years. Brick is functional, holds the heat, protects other surfaces from combustion and has a pleasant, warm appearance. But sometimes a brick fireplace gets blackened with soot or doesn't fit more modern décor. The fireplace remains in good working order but it's time to remodel the appearance to create a new feeling.

Starting to chisel the brick.
  1. Spread the drop cloth across the hearth and over adjacent floor. Remove the existing mantel using pry bar or screwdriver. Remove fireplace screens, fittings and ashes.

  2. Scrub brick and mortar surfaces with wire brush to remove loose mortar. Start high and work down to the hearth.

  3. Scrub sooty bricks with the nylon brush and mixture of one part vinegar to one part water in spray bottle. Sponge up the mess and rinse with clear water frequently. Allow a day to dry well.

  4. Wear protective eyewear and gloves. Knock off any protruding mortar or jutting bricks with chisels or jackhammers, depending on the texture surface of the brick. Use a scrap piece of lumber to check for flatness. You want the prominent surface of the brick to be even. Treat the hearth as well if it will be tiled or replaced.

  5. Vacuum the surface and remove any new loose chunks with wire brush.

  6. Spread white, latex-modified thinset cement across the clean brick, filling all the gaps and producing a smooth even surface. If there are depressions after the thinset dries, apply a second coat. Let each coat dry for 24 hours.

  7. Nail a piece of 1-by board level at the top edge of the firebox. (Use masonry nails and nail into mortar, not bricks. Pre-drill holes in the wood before nailing if necessary.) This board will support the top row of tile.

  8. Spread thinset cement across the hearth with a notched trowel and cut and fit your new hearth or tiles.

  9. Use the 1-by board as a support ledge. Spread thinset cement with a notched trowel across the top of the board area and cut and fit the tiles starting at the center and moving outward. The center and top part of the firebox is the most visible section and should be done carefully.

  10. Cut narrow tiles and spread thinset along the inner sides of the firebox. These tiles should be flush with the edge. The side of the tile will be covered by the face tile. Tile from the hearth upward with any orphan cuts at the bottom of the firebox.

  11. Remove the 1-by board after the thinset supporting the tile is dry (24 hours). Spread thinset with a grooved trowel and set the face tiles. When the thinset is dry, grout and clean up the finish.


  • Mortars, cements and grouts are skin irritants and should be kept off the skin and out of the eyes.