We’re thinking about redoing our fireplace and we were wondering if it needed a hearth. We looked online, but we couldn’t find a good answer, so we did more research. Here’s what we found.
Most wood-burning fireplaces, some gas fireplaces, and little to no electric fireplaces require a hearth. The main reason is wood-burning fireplaces and chimneys can reach up to 2000ºF, and gas fireplaces can reach around 1000ºF. Electric fireplaces generate heat similar to a space heater, so hearths aren’t as common.
Let’s take a look at more specifics as to why hearths are required for some fireplaces (and which materials are recommended).
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What Fireplace Hearths Do
The main purpose of a fireplace hearth is to protect the floor in front and to the side of your fireplace from heat and combusting materials that ultimately keep your house safe. In short, the hearth acts as a barrier between the flame, embers, and heat of the fire and your home.
The extended area of the hearth that comes out from the fireplace is used to prevent ash, soot, and embers from landing on your floor and provide a safe distance between household members and the open flame.
A hearth also is an important feature and safe space for holding essential fireplace accessories and tools, meeting building and fire codes, and adding an interior design touch to your living space.
For a hearth to live up to its purpose, it must be made out of non-combustible materials.
The most common materials for hearths are granite, slate, marble, brick, soapstone, limestone, and concrete. Each material comes with its pros and cons to consider when deciding on how you want to build or buy your hearth.
Before purchasing the material you should consider its fire resistance, heat threshold, durability, aesthetic, price, and if it cracks or chips due to temperature changes.
For example, brick tends to be the most traditional material used for all fireplaces due to its high heat resistance, easy installation, and cheap cost, but it may not fit everyone’s aesthetic.
Another great option is granite if you want a variety of colors, textures, or patterns to pick from but it can expand and shrink depending on heat and how many slab layers you laid. The general rule of thumb with granite is to avoid high heat from solid fuels like wood due to its likelihood of chipping and cracking if you have only laid one layer.
Which Types of Fireplaces Need a Hearth?
- Wood – The majority of wood-burning fireplaces require a hearth as fireplace and chimney temperatures can get up to 2000ºF. So, it’s a good idea to have a barrier between this and the rest of your home.
- Gas – Many gas fireplaces require a hearth as their fires can still burn to around 1000ºF. However, some types don’t need a hearth.
- Electric – Electric fireplaces typically don’t require a hearth as they burn at lower temperatures. As a best practice, check if your specific fireplace model and manufacturer recommends a hearth.
Wood-burning fireplaces are the most common fireplaces with hearths as they generate the most heat (again, up to 2000ºF).
Because the wood is a solid fuel with a higher temperature and combustion area (along with crackling and popping), hearths are almost always required for wood-burning fireplaces.
Materials such as brick, marble, and concrete work well for wood-burning fireplaces due to their heat absorption and durability. Stone and slate should not be used due to being more fragile, but they can work for an electric or gas fireplace.
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A natural vent gas fireplace will require a hearth, while a direct vent and ventless fireplace will have varying requirements.
Hearths are recommended for natural vent fireplaces due to having an open front system that uses the room’s air to flow through the chimney.
Direct vent and ventless fireplaces usually have a glass front blocking the home’s airflow from entering or exiting the firebox making them less likely to need a hearth, depending on the manufacturer’s requirements.
Overall, gas fireplace requirements for a hearth vary based on the manufacturing requirements and the model. While gas doesn’t use a solid fuel source, it’s still burning a spreadable fire and producing heat.
When determining if your gas fireplace needs a hearth, refer to your fireplace’s instruction manual to determine the type of fireplace you have and the manufacturer’s requirements and recommendations.
Electric fireplaces are the exception to requiring hearths as they depend on electricity for their fuel source and do not produce a real flame. Their flames are produced with lights and rotating mirrors, while their heat is produced by a heater system, making the fireplace cooler to the touch.
Generally, an electric fireplace’s heat is comparable to a home space heater and can generally only be felt directly in front of the heater system.
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Pros and Cons of Fireplace Hearths
The pros of a hearth come down to the safety of your home and belongings as well as an added feature to your interior design. Having a hearth in front of your fireplace will benefit you and your home by providing a safety net between the open flame and heat and your floor, while still providing ample heat in your living space to enjoy.
Other than safety, a big pro is having the ability to design or choose what material you would like to use for your hearth. Some fireplaces may have come with a hearth, but it’s generally possible to switch it out for a different material that better matches your decorations.
Depending on the type of material you use, you may have the option to choose the color, design, or style of your hearth and add a personal touch.
There are a variety of ways to decorate a hearth and make it homey as well, including hearth rugs, wood storage, or fire maintenance tools.
The cons of a hearth are the varying size, price, and maintenance. Depending on how big your fireplace is, you may be required to have a large hearth which can take up a good amount of space in a room.
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This may not be ideal for some people, or in rooms with less space. If your fireplace requires a bigger hearth and is not already installed, it often costs more to build depending on the material you use and the type of fireplace you own.
One very important but sometimes tedious task to complete is cleaning your fireplace’s hearth. Over time and usage, soot and creosote build-up along the walls of the hearth, causing a safety issue if not cleaned regularly.
It is best to do a light ash cleaning after every use once your fireplace has cooled down, and an annual deep cleaning.
What Are the Requirements for Building a Hearth?
Hearths are required to be made out of non-combustible materials and at least four inches thick while being able to hold their own weight. They must extend at least 16 to 20 inches beyond your fireplace, and at least eight inches on both sides of the firebox.
Double-check the dimensions by measuring a minimum of 36 inches from the back of your firebox to the end of the hearth to ensure proper safety precautions are being met.
The first step in determining your fireplaces requirements for a hearth is to read the manufacturer’s manual and then review and research the correct materials you will need to use. A solid-fuel burning fireplace will require a material with a higher temperature threshold, while an electric or gas stove may not.
When building or installing a hearth in your home, check your state’s building codes to make sure you meet the requirements, as well as your local fire code.
Some states also require an application and license to build your own hearth, followed up by a professional examination to confirm every safety requirement has been met.