Fireplace Mantels and Hearths

Purpose of mantels and hearths

Fireplace mantels and hearths serve a similar purpose but in different areas. The mantel is the shelf above a fireplace, either connected to the surround or directly secured to the wall. The hearth is the area directly in front of the fireplace and constructed from noncombustible materials.

The hearth extension provides an important safety measure as it defines the potentially dangerous area in front of the fireplace, protects the nearby floor from the heat of the fireplace, and can safely come in contact with any logs, ashes or other burning material that might potentially roll out of a fireplace.

intricately designed fireplace mantel and surround

Design options are endless for fireplace mantels and surrounds. (Photo by Summer Galyan)

Materials for mantels and hearths

Because hearths and the surrounds they connect to must be noncombustible, the most common materials are stone, marble, tile, granite and limestone. A fireplace mantel shelf may be constructed of a combustible material such as wood, but a professional fireplace installer must take care to place it a safe distance from the fireplace itself if it’s a wood-burning or gas fireplace. This is less of a concern with an electric fireplace, which generates much less heat than gas or wood-burning fireplaces. 

Design ideas for mantels and hearths

A fireplace mantel provides a focal point for design ideas, and can help secure the fireplace as a central element in the room. Mantel shelves can be constructed from stone or brick for a very traditional look, wood for that holiday-stockings-on-the-mantel feel, or marble or metal for a sleeker, contemporary look. A sufficiently strong mantel can also serve as a fireplace TV stand or the anchor between built-in bookshelves. 

A creative home designer can use a mantel for a wide variety of options. Fireplace mantels give the opportunity for everything from a very rustic to a contemporary/modern design.

white mantel decorated with garland and candles

A nicely decorated mantel gives a boost to any holiday home display. (Photo ©Thinkstock)

Mantel and hearth safety

As with any other metal, stone or wood fixture in your home, especially if you have children, you should take care to make sure your mantel and hearth won’t hurt your family members. Big-box stores and childproofing outlets offer padding for the edges of mantels and hearth to prevent cuts, bruises or other injuries.

A good, professional fireplace installer will follow nationally accepted standards for hearth size and thickness, which varies depending on the size, type and height of your fireplace. You should also ask your installer if local or state codes dictate your mantel and hearth choices. 

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