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DIY Tips for Replacing Outdated or Worn Fireplace Tiles

Increase Home Equity and Give Your Living Room a New Look

© 2012 by Sarah Harris; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.

Open fireplace with icon; photo courtesy Klaus Mueller

If your fireplace is looking not-so-hot these days, it may be time for a little home improvement project. Replacing your old fireplace tiles not only gives your hearth a fresh new look, it can bring a whole room together when done right.

The techniques in this tutorial can also be used if you are tiling over a brick (or some other material) fireplace.

Don’t let your fireplace fall into disrepair—it may not be the modern standard, but fireplaces give a kind of warmth that you just can’t get from the thermostat. And for setting the mood...

Tool and Material List

  • Utility knife
  • Sanding block
  • Knotched trowel
  • Hammer and cold chisel
  • New tiles
  • 4’ level
  • Large sponge and bucket
  • Cheesecloth
  • Wet saw
  • Thin-set mortar
  • Grout

Follow these simple tips for giving your fireplace a new face.

  1. Plan for the Remodeling Project

    Set aside a few days for reworking your fireplace, because this isn’t going to be just an afternoon project.

    Rushing through the process will only hurt you in the end, leaving you with shoddy looking tile that’s worse than before. Get all of your tools in one place before you begin, in order to avoid any unnecessary trips to the hardware store.

  2. Strip the Fireplace Bare.

    You will want to completely and thoroughly remove all of the old tile from your fireplace before you begin installing anything new.

    Use your utility knife to break up the old grout between tiles, and start chiseling from the back of the tiles at a 45 degree angle to loosen and remove them. After all the old tile is off, spend some time sanding to make sure the whole surface is smooth and ready for fresh tiles.

  3. Surface Prep and Measure.

    If any horizontal surfaces have any dips or cracks, use a self-leveling compound to bring it smooth and level. You can use a 4’ level or some other straightedge to check.

    Before you start installing your new tiles, you’ll want to prep the surface and measure carefully. Use a piece of plywood to create a ledge for your first row of tiles to rest on, and measure to find the center-point of your fireplace.

    Mark this point on your plywood ledge and apply a coat of thin-set to the entire surface of your fireplace with your trowel. Set the first tile in the center and work your way to the edges, using spacers to make sure everything is straight.

    Wait until the thin-set has cured—overnight should be plenty of time. This is a good time to clean up your tools.

  4. Grout Once, the Right Way.

    Misusing grout is one of the most common problems in a botched tiling job. If your joints are 1/8” or less, use unsanded grout; if wider than that, use sanded.

    Mix your grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions and start applying it using a grout float held at a 60 degree angle to the tile surface. Work sections diagonally across the tile lines to ensure a smooth application.

    After each section has been filled, use a large sponge to wipe away any excess grout on your tiles. Keep rinsing you sponge as you go. Two things to focus on—you want to leave a slight concave between tiles and remove as much grout from the tile surface as possible.

  5. Hurry Up and Wait.

    Once the grout has dried, you will notice a grout haze on the tile surface. The easiest way to clean this up is to buff it with cheesecloth.

    Your new tiles are going to need 5 days to set before you can light another fire, so spend some time thinking about tile, stone or marble fireplaces for your other rooms in the meantime. Crack open a good book, do whatever you want—just be patient. If you don’t allow your new tile to set before using your fireplace again, the whole project could go up in smoke.

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