Anytime you’re checking out Craigslist, cleaning the basement, or patrolling the springtime garage sales, you’ll encounter opportunities to collect and reclaim usable building materials. If you exercise good judgment and know a few salvage tricks, you can take advantage of these chances to obtain free (or nearly free) project supplies and put them to work in your house. Building with Secondhand Stuff (Creative Publishing International, 2011) is about making good decisions and learning specific techniques for getting unusable material into useful condition. Learn how to build a fireplace surround with stone pavers in this excerpt from Chapter 4, “Reclaiming Stone Materials.”
The trick in using stone pavers to their best advantage is to make use of the combined power of form, texture, and color. A stacked surface such as this creates interesting and regular lines in the courses, as well as an undulating surface texture that invites touching. Paver colors range from grey to red to cream and beyond and add an understated touch to any room. The chances are, if you’ve purchased or reclaimed the pavers as a complete lot, coloring is going to be uniform throughout. You should check anyway just to be sure, and if there is significant color variation between stones, spend some time deciding on what stones will go where for the best visual impression.
In any case, this style of fireplace surround is a fairly traditional look, and one that works every bit as well in a contemporary home as it would in a cabin or A-frame ski lodge. Add to that adaptability the fact that the surface is actually fairly easy and quick to install. It should take you less than a day. This particular project was just a bit more involved because we installed a new electric fireplace in the wall. These types of fireplaces can go right into a drywall cavity; there is no real fire and the fireplace needs no special venting or complicated insulation.
The project here was done against a sheetrocked wall, making the installation straightforward, and the surround was built to half height. The look serves as a perfect foil for the aftermarket fireplace, and the combination transforms the wall and the room. For a more dramatic appearance, stack a stone or paved surround up to the ceiling. We’ve added two stone mantels. But many people choose to use a weathered, reclaimed timber. It’s a matter of taste, but if you’re going to stack the surround any higher, it’s wise to sandwich the mantel in the middle of the structure regardless of whether you’re bolting it to the wall or mortaring it to the stone. Although this paver construction will be stable in and of itself using the methods described, mounting anything on the front of the stone could stress and compromise the structure.
The stone pavers used for this project are new masonry units left over from a patio installation. You could also salvage old sand-set or dry-set pavers, but if you have pavers that were set in mortar they’re probably not worth using in an indoor installation.
How to Build a Fireplace Surround
(Visit the Image Gallery for a photo of each step.)
- Measure the area for the surround and the fireplace dimensions. Determine the exact top of the fireplace, because you’ll be setting a support slab across both sides of the surround to complete it. Dry stack the pavers to ensure that you have enough of them to cover the area entirely. Mask off the floor to protect it.
- After you’ve dry laid the stone up to the support slab, check the fit of the electric fireplace by sliding it into the hole in the surround and holding it up against the wall. Once you’re satisfied, mark the wall for the fireplace opening.
- Use a drywall or a keyhole saw to cut the opening for the fireplace unit. Install the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions; different fireplaces use different mounting methods. Most electric fireplaces have a power cord and plug. This unit was hard wired into the wall. Note: In many instances you will need to cut wall studs to complete this project. Do not cut studs in load-bearing walls, however, and be sure to consult an engineer or building inspector for instructions on providing temporary or permanent support.
- Re-lay the first row of pavers and check for level. Usually, stone pavers are fairly uniform, although you may encounter one or more that are odd sizes. Adjust the courses as necessary to accommodate for any unusual pavers (or replace the paver). Mark wall stud locations.
- Use a caulk gun to lay a generous bed of construction adhesive labeled for use on masonry. Keep the bead of adhesive at least an inch from the front of the pavers so that you maintain a dry-laid look.
- Every few courses, screw L brackets into the studs on either side of the fireplace and bed the legs of the brackets in the construction adhesive between courses.
- Check level for each course as you work and adjust as necessary. When you get to the top of the fireplace, check level from side to side and use different pavers if necessary to create a perfectly level mounting surface for the support mantel.
- Dry lay the top support slab and check for level. Once you’re satisfied with the fit and look, remove the slab, cover the top course of pavers in adhesive, and re-set the slab in place. Let the adhesive set before continuing.
- Lay paver courses on top of the support slab. For the project here, we laid a roughly equal height of pavers above and below the fireplace, although you can adjust the location
of the fireplace and courses for a more asymmetrical look if desired.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Building with Secondhand Stuff, published by Creative Publishing International, 2011.