Whether you are new to fireplaces or are just changing the type that you already have in your home there are many questions that you will need to know the answers to to ensure the safety of your fireplace, your home, and yourself.
You can find the answers to various questions throughout our site. However, in this particular article, we will be concentrating on the hearth (the floor of the fireplace), what its main purpose is, and if, in fact, you can safely and practically have a fireplace without one.
Yes, it is possible to have a fireplace without a hearth. However, not a period or original fireplace as these were designed for the fire to burn within the hearth itself. You will need a modern fireplace that is fueled by gas or electricity in order to forego the hearth.
- What is a Hearth?
- Why Do you Need a Hearth?
- Does a Fireplace Need a Hearth?
- How Thick Does a Fireplace Hearth Need to Be?
- Does a Hearth Have to be Raised?
- In Conclusion
- Related Questions
What is a Hearth?
Essentially the hearth is the bottom of the fireplace. Traditionally this is where the fire was built and where you would add your fuel, such as coal or wood, to keep it successfully burning.
It was constructed from stone, brick, or other noncombustible material and sat at the face of the fireplace opening, extending to both sides and reaching into the room for a short distance.
Unlike the days of yore when we depended on fire, and therefore the fireplace for survival, in the modern world the hearth is usually no more than a decorative addition to the fireplace itself.
Starting life as a protective measure for an indoor fire, the hearth soon became a pivotal point in the home where conversations would exchange, stories would be swapped and special times, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, would be captured as eternal memories on camera.
Why Do you Need a Hearth?
Historically the hearth will have been used for cooking and heating purposes whereas nowadays they have evolved to be more decorative.
Whilst they still serve basic safety functions, from preventing hot embers and soot from open fires from catching fire on any combustible materials in your home to keeping children and pets away from the direct heat by being able to place a fire surround on them, the hearth also has huge aesthetic properties.
Noncombustible materials such as stone, glass, slate, granite, ceramic, and steel are all used to make fireplace hearths. This means that no matter your style there will be one that complements the décor of the room.
While there is a clear crossover between functionality and safety, protecting your floor under the fireplace is not the only job of the hearth. Storage of companion sets, other tools, and fuel such as wood and coal for open fires or stoves is another purpose for which it is often used.
Does a Fireplace Need a Hearth?
Some do and some don’t. Even if a fireplace does not require a hearth for safety purposes many people choose to still have them for decorative and aesthetic reasons. It is important to ensure that you clearly research and check manufacturers’ directions and recommendations as to whether the type of fireplace you are going to install will require a hearth.
Typically, Electric fires do not require a hearth as they do not have real flames which pose a risk due to stray embers. An electric fire can be placed inside an existing fireplace that already has a hearth, or a hearth pad can be used.
Alternatively, it can be fitted directly into the wall, sometimes known as a built-in firebox.
Always check the manufacturer’s installation guide with reference to the requirement for a hearth.
Unlike the electric fire, the gas fire does have real flames. However, if not installed correctly they can be highly dangerous. A survey to check your home meets the necessary requirements for a gas fire will be needed and fitting must always be carried out by a regulated and qualified gas fitter.
Whilst a solid fuel is not used to provide the real flame that a gas fire offers, because they still do provide a real flame, they will most often require a noncombustible hearth.
That said, some gas fires, if they are direct vent or ventless versions may not require a hearth. Please always check manufacturers’ guidelines to determine whether your gas fire will require a hearth or not.
There are no ifs or buts with a wood stove. It is essential that there is a heath if this is your fire of choice.
Not only will the hearth protect from hot embers and any other potential debris but the wood stove is intended to create intense heat and the hearth will also act as a protective barrier between the stove and your floor.
Building regulations will differ depending on your locality but there will be a minimum distance that the hearth must extend from the stove. It is important that these regulations are adhered to when having both a stove and hearth installed.
A traditional open fireplace will characteristically already have a hearth. Located at its base the intention was to provide a protective barrier between the heat from the open fire and the floor of your home.
Any fire that burns a solid fuel, such as wood or coal, will always require a hearth. The size regulations for the hearth will be set by your local authority. Ensure that you check with either of them directly or with your installation technician.
How Thick Does a Fireplace Hearth Need to Be?
Regulations for hearth size will most often be location dependent so you must always check with your local authority for the correct building codes.
However, thickness is often a standard size. InterNACHI (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) recommends that hearths should be at least 4” (102mm) in thickness and always be made from a non-combustible material.
In the UK the thickness regulations pertaining to the hearth can be dependent on the estimated temperature that the fire can create.
If your stove can be verified to keep the upper surface of the hearth under 100°c (212°F) then the hearth must be at least 12mm thick (.5”).
Constructional hearths must be at least 125mm (5”) thick. The hearth itself must be made from a solid and non-combustible material (such as concrete) but the measurement does include both the floor and any other combustible decorative surface.
However, any combustible material should only be placed under constructional hearths where there is an additional air space of 50mm (2”) between itself and the underside of the hearth OR there is at least 250mm (9.8”) between said combustible material and the top of the hearth.
Does a Hearth Have to be Raised?
As with the thickness regulations, your local building code may dictate whether a hearth must be raised, what safety factors apply, and if so by what measurement. Before installing a new fireplace and hearth this will need to be checked out with your local authority.
However, in many localities, this is simply down to personal preference. A raised hearth can provide some extra safety benefits such as preventing sparks or embers from scorching your flooring.
Nevertheless, the height of the hearth, which on average is between 12” and 14”, is more often than not, down to decorative and aesthetic reasons. That said, a taller hearth can also provide the benefit of extra seating.
So, there we have it, your comprehensive guide as to whether your fireplace needs a hearth. The type of fireplace you have will determine the need for a hearth. If you are burning solid fuel then yes, most definitely a hearth is required.
For an electric fireplace, a hearth will be for decorative purposes. For gas, it will depend on how the fire itself is vented.
Always ensure that you check manufacturers’ guidance and recommendations and that you speak with your local authority to determine building regulations.
How Do You Remove a Fireplace Hearth?
Whilst not a particularly challenging exercise, removing your fireplace hearth can be a messy, dirty job requiring some level of strength.
Remember, the hearth will be made from a solid, non-combustible material. Materials such as granite or concrete are thick and heavy and as such a sledgehammer or rotary drill may be required to break it up. For brick or tiles, a hammer and chisel should be sufficient.
You will need to break the hearth into sections using the tools mentioned above and remove them individually due to the weight of the whole piece.
Ensure that you use safety equipment such as a dust mask and goggles for yourself and protect the walls and floors around the hearth by laying down plywood.
What Can I Use for a Hearth?
There are many materials that can be used for a fireplace hearth and essentially your choice will come down to personal preference.
The thickness and measurements will be specified by your local building code and the layout of your fireplace, but the material must always be non-combustible.
Popular materials used for a fireplace hearth are granite, marble, concrete, brick, glass, and tile.