How to Build a Fireplace

Building a fireplace is a complex project that requires proper planning, preparation, and execution. With the right materials, tools, and know-how, you can create a beautiful and functional fireplace to enjoy for years to come. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the key steps involved.

Selecting a Fireplace Design and Location

The first step is deciding on the right fireplace design and location for your needs and space. Here are some key factors to consider:

Fireplace Styles

There are several main fireplace styles to choose from:

  • Masonry fireplaces – Built with bricks or stones and mortar. Very durable but more complex to construct.
  • Prefabricated fireplaces – Factory-built units made of metal and other materials. Easier to install but less customizable.
  • Electric fireplaces – Mimic the look of real fireplaces. Run on electricity and require no venting.
  • Gas fireplaces – Burn natural or propane gas. Require venting but are easy to use.
  • Wood-burning fireplaces – Burn wood and produce authentic looking flames. Require venting and more maintenance.

Consider the pros and cons of each when deciding on a style.

Fireplace Placement

Carefully evaluate where to build the fireplace. Ideally it should:

  • Be on an interior wall, not an exterior wall.
  • Have adequate clearance from walls and ceiling.
  • Allow proper venting to the outside.
  • Avoid removing any structural components.
  • Enable flexible furniture arrangement around it.
  • Align with your lifestyle and how you plan to use the space.

Obtaining Permits and Inspections

Before starting construction, be sure to:

  • Check with your local building department on what fireplace permits and inspections are required.
  • Hire a contractor if needed to ensure proper permitting.
  • Have the necessary gas, electric, ventilation, and other system inspections completed.
  • Failure to obtain proper permits can result in fines, needing to redo work, or even fire hazards.

Preparing the Installation Site

Once you’ve selected the fireplace design and location, start preparing the site:

  • Demolish or build any walls needed for the new fireplace.
  • Frame the necessary wall openings and structures.
  • Run any required gas, electric, or ventilation lines.
  • Build the hearth foundation according to code requirements.
  • Install fireproof wall, ceiling, and floor materials.
  • Add proper framing around the fireplace, like a mantle.

Thorough planning and preparation of the site will make installing the fireplace much simpler.

Installing the Fireplace Unit

With the site fully prepped, it’s time to install the main fireplace unit itself:

Masonry Fireplaces

  • Lay fire bricks or other masonry materials. Use heat-resistant mortar rated for fireplaces.
  • Build the smoke chamber and smoke shelf to proper specifications.
  • Install the damper throat at the appropriate angle.
  • Ensure joints are sealed properly.

Prefab Fireplaces

  • Assemble the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Securely attach the fireplace insert to the framing.
  • Connect any gas, electric, or ventilation lines.
  • Seal gaps between the unit and wall with non-combustible materials.
  • Install decorative facings like brick or stone veneers if desired.

Follow all safety procedures when installing the fireplace unit. Get help lifting heavy prefab units.

Adding Fireplace Doors and Screens

Fireplace doors and screens help control airflow and contain sparks. Options include:

  • Mesh screens – Made of woven wire mesh. Allow some airflow.
  • Glass doors – Tempered glass. Restrict airflow when closed.
  • Metal doors – Heavy-duty steel. Provides most airflow control.

Measure the fireplace opening carefully and buy doors or screens specifically fitted for the size. Attach them securely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Installing the Chimney and Venting

Proper chimney and venting systems are critical for safety and performance. Key steps include:

  • Determine the needed chimney height based on fireplace type and roof details.
  • Use chimney pipes and flues made from high-heat materials like stainless steel.
  • Maintain the proper clearances to combustible materials.
  • Install rain caps and chimney tops to prevent water intrusion.
  • Hire a CSIA certified chimney sweep if needed to assess venting requirements.
  • Always run any tests required by local codes to ensure proper venting before using.

Improper venting can lead to dangerous smoke and carbon monoxide buildup.

Adding the Finishing Touches

The final details complete your fireplace and make it look stunning:

  • Install fire-rated sheetrock and wall materials around the fireplace.
  • Apply tile, stone, brick or other decorative facings as desired.
  • Mantels, hearths and overhangs should be made from noncombustible materials.
  • Add accent features like built-in shelving, artwork, mirrors or wall sconces.
  • Sealing gaps and painting provides a polished, finished look.
  • Install glass fireplace doors or screens to complete the project.

Taking time with the fine details like trims and facings creates an eye-catching fireplace focal point.

Using Precautions and Performing Maintenance

Once construction is complete, keep your new fireplace looking and working great:

  • Always use a fireplace screen to prevent flying embers and logs.
  • Have the chimney inspected and cleaned annually by a professional.
  • Check for creosote buildup in chimneys from wood burning.
  • Replace any cracked or damaged firebricks or mortar.
  • Use a fireplace plug when not in use to prevent airflow loss.
  • Avoid burning trash or other hazardous materials.
  • Store firewood, starters and tools away from the fireplace when not in use.

With some simple precautions and regular maintenance, your fireplace will provide enjoyment for many years.

Frequently Asked Questions About Building Fireplaces

Here are answers to some common questions about constructing fireplaces:

How long does it take to build a fireplace?

On average most simple masonry or prefab fireplaces can be installed in 2-5 days by an experienced DIYer or contractor. More complex masonry fireplaces with detailed brickwork or stonework may take 2-3 weeks.

What are fireplaces made of?

Fireplaces are constructed from heat-resistant materials like firebrick, mortar, stone, metal, glass and steel. Prefab units incorporate multiple materials. Masonry fireplaces rely on shaped bricks or natural stone.

How much does it cost to build a fireplace?

The average cost to install a basic prefabricated fireplace is $2,000-$4,000. More elaborate masonry fireplaces start at $5,000 and can go up to $15,000 or more depending on details like chimneys, stonework and custom designs.

Should you cover a fireplace when not in use?

Yes, it’s recommended to cover a fireplace opening with dampers or doors when not using it. This prevents heated or cooled air in the home from escaping up the chimney. It also keeps out pests, debris and animals.

What is the clearance for combustible materials around a fireplace?

The recommended clearance between a fireplace and any combustible materials like wood framing or furniture is at least 36″. Some codes require up to 48″. Always check the manufacturer’s specifications.

How far should a wood burning fireplace be from a gas appliance?

It’s recommended to allow a clearance of at least 48 inches between any wood burning fireplace and a gas appliance like a water heater. The greater the distance, the better to prevent any combustion issues.


Constructing a stunning and functional fireplace requires careful planning, proper techniques and adherence to building codes and safety standards. With the right approach you can enjoy your dream fireplace for many years to come. Be sure to obtain any needed permits, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for prefab units, allow adequate ventilation and chimney systems, and use fireproof materials properly. With this comprehensive guide, you now have all the information needed to complete your own fireplace project from start to finish.