How to Update an Outdoor Fireplace

From messy stone demolition to a spick-and-span final cleaning, here are 14 essential elements for a successful outdoor fireplace remodel.
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Thanks to an efficient demolition, smart use of spray paint and lightweight stacked stone veneer, what was a dated, contractor-grade outdoor fireplace is now a stunning, architectural focal point.

In its existing state, this contractor-grade outdoor fireplace surround stood 5 feet tall and was topped with a low-end pine mantel. In order to update it with high-end appeal, the stone was demolished, and replaced with stacked stone veneer.

Demolition of tile and stone, although messy, is a task which most homeowners with basic to medium do-it-yourself skills may be able to tackle with ease. After protecting the surrounding areas with drop cloths, use a mini crow bar to pull the stone and wire mesh backing directly away from the wall surface. As the stone surround starts to break away in sections, use wire snipers to remove any remnants of wire mesh. Due to the messiness, it's important to have wheel barrels and 5-gallon buckets nearby to help with the disposal of the stone.

A key element in the remodeling of a fireplace facade is the subsurface of its wall. When stone or tile are removed from sheetrock, it's likely to require extensive patching to ensure a smooth, even surface. If the subsurface of the wall is made from pressure-treated plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), the removal is unlikely to result in any major tears.

Outdoor fireplaces with ready-made fire boxes are likely to require new refractory panels. In addition to being an integral part of containing heat and fire, these panels also play a decorative role. To replace the panels, locate screws along the tops of the side and back panels, remove the screws, then loosen each panel from its clip. Depending on the interior dimensions of the fireplace, new panels may fit perfectly or require cuts with a circular saw. Once properly sized, install the back panel first by placing it on its clips, then securing in place with screws. Repeat the same process for the side panels.

Before tile is installed to vertical or horizontal surfaces, masons first put up cement backer board, a tiling material which doesn't warp or rot, resists mold and mildew, and won't deteriorate from frequent exposure to water. Once all dimensions are known for a fireplace surround, the cement backer board should be marked to size, and cut using a jigsaw or skill saw with a carbide blade. Next, the cement backer board is pieced together like a puzzle, and attached to the substructure with masonry screws.

Most pre-fabricated fire boxes are made of metal and feature matte black finishes. Due to years of wear and tear, the black finish is certain to become worn and discolored. To instantly update the metal, spray it with high heat black spray paint, keeping the can held at least eight inches from the surface of the metal, moving back and forth with slow, controlled spurts.

When a fire box is being updated with high heat spray paint after tile has been installed, it's important to tape of the edges of the tile with painter's tape to prevent overspray.

TV niches are made by framing out a fireplace surround with 2X4" lumber, creating a central box in which new wiring is placed and a TV mounting bracket will be installed. To ensure the interior of the niche remains hidden from view, consider painting the interior with matte black paint.

The key to a professional fireplace surround tile installation is the proper spacing between tiles, something easy to do with the use of plastic tile spacers. Available in a range of shapes and sizes, the spacers are pressed into place at the ends of each tile, instantly creating an even gap around the perimeter.

While wood and other building materials can be cut with a basic circular saw or table saw, ceramic and stone tiles require wet saws. As the tile is cut by the blade, water runs onto its surface, preventing the saw and the tile from overheating. Due to the extreme precision required, leave the use of a wet saw to a trained professional.

Mastic is the bonding material added to the ceramic backer board, which keeps the tile held in place. In order to apply mastic, a notched trowel is used, creating evenly spaced grooves in the surface of the mastic and ensuring proper adhesion.

Grout plays a large role in the overall look of a tiled fireplace surround. To make the lines of the tile more pronounced, a contrasting grout works best. To camouflage the tile lines, choose a grout nearly identical to the tones of the tile.

Similar to mastic, grout is applied using a trowel. And while mastic requires a notched trowel to create grooves, grout requires a smooth, flat trowel which helps push the grout deep down into the crevices between each tile.

One of the most time-consuming tasks of an outdoor fireplace remodel is a final deep cleaning to remove grout haze. To do this successfully, fill a 5-gallon bucket with hot water. Using an industrial strength sponge, wipe the haze from the surface of the tile, starting at the top, and slowly working all the way down to the bottom. A thorough cleaning will require 4 to 6 floor-to-ceiling wipe downs with the sponge. Completely empty and refill the bucket between each wipe down.

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