How to Install Fireplace Hearth Tiles and Create the Ultimate Cozy Space

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated December 28, 2021
Open concept house with white brick fireplace
Photo: Photographee.eu / Adobe Stock

Lay on the charm with this DIY project

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Your hearth contributes to the look of your fireplace and serves an important safety function. If it’s looking a little worn or outdated, consider giving it a makeover with new tile. Read on for step-by-step instructions to DIY this upgrade. 

Project difficulty score: 4/5

Time needed to complete the project: 1-3 days 

What You’ll Need:

Tools:

  • Plastic sheeting

  • Painter’s tape

  • Notched trowel

  • Heat-resistant thin-set mortar

  • Utility knife

  • Cement backer board

  • Metal lath

  • Wet tile saw

  • Tile spacers

  • Level

  • Grout sponge

  • Grout float

  • Caulk gun

  • Penetrating sealer (if necessary) 

Materials:

  • Tiles

  • Grout

5 Steps to Installing Fireplace Hearth Tiles

1. Check Local Building Codes

Because this area in front of your firebox protects the floor from ash and embers, you’ll want to make sure you comply with local building codes. The codes might require the hearth material to be a specific thickness, such as one-half-inch. They may also dictate the hearth dimensions, such as 16 inches deep and 8 inches from both sides of your firebox.

2. Prepare the Substrate

Place plastic sheeting and painter’s tape around the hearth’s perimeter to protect your floor. Then make sure your hearth has an even and level non-combustible substrate.

If your home has a concrete slab, you might need to level it out. With the unnotched edge of a trowel, apply a thin coat of thin-set mortar with latex additive to smooth the surface. Let it dry before moving on.

If you have a plywood subfloor, use a utility knife to cut two pieces of cement backer board to fit your hearth dimensions. Apply mortar to the subfloor, then embed one of the boards in it. Apply mortar and place metal lath on top of the embedded board. Apply mortar to one side of the other board. Lay the other board on the embedded board mortar side-down. Make sure the boards line up and let it set for 48 hours. 

3. Dry-Fit the Tiles

Decide on a pattern for your tile, such as grid or herringbone. Divide the hearth into quadrants. Beginning at the front of one, set down a line of tiles, working from the center to the edge. Leave room between tiles for grout and mark any edge tiles that you’ll need to cut. Fill in that quadrant. 

Repeat with the remaining quadrants until you fill in the entire hearth. Carefully move all the tiles in the correct order to a board. 

4. Cut and Set the Tiles

Using wet tile saw to cut ceramic tiles
Photo: Grispb / Adobe Stock

Cut tiles with a wet tile saw. Using the straight edge of a trowel, spread a mixture of thin-set with latex additive on one quadrant of the substrate. Working from the center outward, put tiles in place, using tile spacers to maintain space for grout. Complete one quadrant at a time and after finishing each one, check evenness with a level. Let the mortar dry, at least overnight. 

5. Grout and Seal

Closeup of a hand grouting tile
Photo: vladdeep / Adobe Stock

Using unsanded grout and a grout float and sponge, grout the joints, removing excess grout and haze. Let it dry for 24 hours. Caulk the joints and let everything set for two or three days. Then, if necessary, seal the tiles. 

DIY Hearth Tile Installation vs. Hiring a Pro 

Because the fireplace is usually the focal point of a room, the hearth is a very visible spot. For this reason, you might want to only take on this project if you have tiling experience and feel confident that you can lay tiles symmetrically. Whereas a local professional tile installer might be able to tackle this project in a day or two, it could take novices closer to three days.

Hiring a pro will cost between $13.50 and $83 per square foot. If you choose to DIY this project, you’ll only pay between $9.50 and $51 per square foot.

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