Our house has an old brick fireplace which is in disrepair. We don't use it ever, but we would like it to look better. What tools are needed to reface a brick fireplace? Could it be redone in natural rock or does the surround have to stay brick?
Marc ~ Bradenton, FL
Hi Marc. There are numerous options available for refacing your brick fireplace. You mention that the fireplace is currently in a state of disrepair. If that is the case, the first step would be stabilizing the existing veneer so it can provide a good base for your new material. Basically this just means securing any loose brick or mortar joints that might exist. This can often be done by just performing a little touch-up with standard masonry mortar available at any home improvement store.
Many brick manufacturers offer a product called thin brick that is just like conventional brick units except it's much thinner. This causes it to weigh less and not need the support that traditional brick must have to remain in place. Thin brick is applied with mortar and you also mortar the joints just as would be done with regular brick. The only tools that would be needed are a masonry trowel and a mortar pointing tool that should be available at the same retailer where you found the mortar. The mortar can usually be mixed in a large bucket with a garden hoe or shovel.
Thin brick is available in many, many styles and colors and because it's an actual masonry product, it's usually safe to use around fireplaces. Ask your salesperson just to double check that that's the case with your selection. Faux-brick might be another option, but I would be concerned that it might affect the future sale of your home. Not all faux-brick can be installed on a working fireplace and while you don't use it, a potential purchaser might enjoy an evening fire.
There are also stone products that are very similar to thin brick. They are available in different styles such as river rock and field stone and their narrow profile allows them to be attached to a wall or existing masonry veneer without the need for additional support.
If your fireplace looks so good after the face-lift that you think building a fire might be a good idea, make sure that a masonry contractor from around Bradenton gives it a thorough inspection first. They should make any flue repairs that might be needed that could be potential house fire hazards. Depending on the age of your home, the fireplace flue may even need a new liner installed before it can be used safely.