Renovating Your Fireplace: A Complete Guide

Does your living room have an old, not-your-style fireplace? While fireplaces remain one of the most wanted features in a home, they can often look dated, bringing a room’s aesthetic down. Remodeling your home gives you the perfect opportunity to take your fireplace from an outmoded eyesore to a gorgeous living room focal point.


Fireplace renovations can range from adding some paint to installing a new mantle to completely changing the size and shape of the firebox. What remodel is right for your home? Do you want an electric, gas, or traditional fireplace? What style should you consider? Read on for answers to these–and more–questions, and make your fireplace a cozy feature you love.

What Are the Parts of a Fireplace?

It’s easier to talk about fireplaces when you know all the basic parts. 

  • The firebox is the area that holds the fire. It’s box-shaped, generally, and open on one or two sides (depending on if your fireplace is one-sided (the most common) or two-sided where it divides two rooms and is open to both). 

  • The hearth is the flat area in front of the firebox. It’s made of noncombustible material and provides a transitional area between your fireplace and the rest of the room, protecting you, your family, and your home from stray sparks. It can be flush with the floor or raised.

  • The mantle is the shelf or ledge above the fireplace. It’s sometimes supported by legs or pillars and rests on top of the header, or under-mantle. In the past, it used to serve as a kind of hood to help catch the smoke from the fireplace. Now the mantle is decorative and gives your fireplace a finished look.

  • The fireplace surround is another name given to the legs/pillars, mantle, and header/under mantle. The surround refers to the entire area around the firebox, excluding the hearth.

Is Wood-Burning, Gas, or Electric Right For Me?

Wood Burning

Wood-burning fireplaces give you the ambiance of crackling wood and dancing flames. They are cost-effective and they will keep you warm in case of a power outage in the winter months. Wood-burning fireplaces also need more tending than other types–care needs to be taken to keep them going and to make sure they’re completely out when you want them to be. They require more clean-up and it’s important to keep the chimney clean.


Gas fireplaces run on natural gas, so they don’t pop and crackle the way wood-burning fires do. But thanks to improvements in how they’re made, the ceramic logs and real flames do give your home a cheery feel. Gas fireplaces heat your home more efficiently than wood-burning ones do. They’re easy to turn on and off and require no clean-up. It’s important to have the gas lines inspected regularly for safety.


Electric fireplaces are very different in that they have no real flames. An electric fireplace system can be inserted into an existing fireplace or installed just about anywhere–it doesn’t need to be vented. LED lights, mirrors, and sometimes water vapors are used to create the illusion of flames while heat is produced via electric coils and fans. An electric fireplace is a safe and efficient way to heat your home, but it does lack the charm of real flames.

Can I Convert My Fireplace?

Before you start thinking about design and aesthetics, you need to be sure that the type of fireplace you have is the one you want. You can usually convert your fireplace from gas to wood burning by having a new firebox installed. If you don’t already have a functioning chimney, you’ll need to have one added to your home. If you already have a wood-burning fireplace, you can convert it to gas by having a gas line run and having the chimney lined with stainless steel. You may also need a new firebox. Converting either type of fireplace to electric is a fairly easy and inexpensive process.

What Style Do I Want?

When you’re renovating your home, you want a consistent feel throughout. Your fireplace can be the centerpiece of your living room with a little thought and TLC. Do you love a more traditional aesthetic, with stone or brick surrounding the fireplace and extending up the wall? You could go with a visually weighty mantle with ornate scrolling, or a clean-lined board-and-batten surround. Traditional fireplaces look more formal and use the fireplace wall as an anchor for the room.


A modern fireplace would have sleek lines and a simple mantle, or no mantle at all. Often using white marble, painted brick, or white wood surrounds, modern fireplaces draw the eye to the fire itself, making it the star of the show.


Rustic modern fireplaces lean more farmhouse-style, using natural materials: distressed wood, natural stone, and exposed brick. Texture is important for this style so using plaster over rocks or bricks, or visually interesting tile, are some good options.


Minimalist fireplaces are smooth and feature clean lines. Often with no mantle, these unique fireplaces are eye-catching. They often use marble surrounds or even concrete and are sometimes painted a striking color like matte black. This style lends itself well to two-sided or asymmetrical fireplaces.

What Can I Do to Change My Fireplace?

There are so many options available to change the look, style, or design of your fireplace, ranging from basic cosmetic upgrades to more work-intensive structural changes. Some options include

  • painting it. You can paint the fireplace surround, the mantle, or the whole fireplace wall. It’s popular to whitewash brick or stones, or to paint the brick a dramatic black. If your fireplace surround is wooden, you could paint it to match the rest of the room or an eye-catching accent color that you love. Using a special heat-resistant paint, you can update gold or brass fireplace doors or trim by painting them a more on-trend black.

  • changing the mantle. Make your mantle fit in with your style by removing the builder-grade one your house might have come with and replacing it with a reclaimed beam, a floating mantle, an ornate wooden mantle/header combo, or a sleek and simple white mantle.

  • refacing the fireplace. Keep the same firebox shape but rebuild the rest of your fireplace, making it exactly what you want it to be. Put whatever type of surface you want on it, including cement, plaster, stone, brick, wood, metal, or tile.

  • tearing the fireplace out and starting over. This allows you to change everything–even the firebox size and shape–into something completely new.

  • adding built-ins on one or both sides. Fireplace walls are perfect for built-ins. You can use shelves, cabinets, or a combination. You can even put bookshelves on one side of the fireplace and a bench on the other–perfect for reading on a cozy day.

What if I Don’t Have a Fireplace?

You can absolutely add a fireplace to your home! Installing a gas or electric fireplace costs less in terms of time and money than you might think. You can add a wood-burning fireplace too, but the construction of the chimney makes it a bigger project. Call us and let’s talk about whether your home is a good fit for a new fireplace!

Should I Install an Outdoor Fireplace?

Outdoor fireplaces, installed on porches or decks, or as part of an outdoor kitchen, are a wonderful addition to your space (see this North Ridge home or this Villamay neighborhood home for examples). An outdoor space with a fireplace is the perfect place to entertain, eat, or relax. They raise your home’s resolve value, and they increase your enjoyment of your backyard. An outdoor fireplace is a win-win.

We Are Here for You

If you’re ready to renovate your Virginia, DC, or Maryland home, remodel your fireplace, add a new one, or create an outdoor oasis with a fireplace as the focal point, we’re here to help you. Our attention to detail, quality craftsmanship, and excellent customer service are well-known, and we‘d love to make your home perfect for you. Contact us today.