Installing Hardwood Flooring Around a Fireplace Hearth

Installing Hardwood Flooring Around a Fireplace Hearth

A fireplace is almost a sacred place in the homes that have them. It’s where everyone gathers on cold nights. It’s usually the focal point of any room, no matter what time of year it is. The area where the hardwood floor meets the hearth must be handled with care. Not just for safety but the overall beauty of the room. 

Surrounding the fireplace with a floating hardwood floor is not hard to do. However, there are some safety and installation tips you need to know before beginning. This article provides you with the details of how to install wood planks around a fireplace hearth.

I think people who come into my home feel comfortable and welcome, and loved. And the biggest thing in my living room, the fireplace, is in and of itself an expression of love.
- Author: Julia Roberts

Can You Have a Wood Floor Near the Fireplace?

Any wood floor close to a fireplace has the potential to get burned from sparks and embers. Typically, a wood-burning fireplace has more potential to have sparks than a gas-log fireplace. To minimize the hazard, always use a metal screen to prevent popping embers from flying out and landing on the floor. We will get into more safety tips in a moment.

Metal screen over fireplace

The primary protection for wood floors from fire damage is distance, and that’s the purpose of a hearth extension. It’s the flat area that extends out from the front of the fireplace and meets the floor. It’s always a non-combustible material such as concrete, tile, or stone.

What About Gas Fireplaces?

Building codes consider a vented gas fireplace as an appliance, not a real fireplace. You can install a wood floor right up to the base. However, follow the manufacturer’s installation requirements.

This building inspection article, “Fireplace hearth extension rules,” shows proper and improper hearth extensions.

What Is a Fireplace Hearth and Why Do You Need It?

Just to be clear on some definitions, a hearth is the fireplace floor. It’s where you build a fire. The firebox surrounds it with fireproof bricks, and the smoke rises out of the chimney. The tile or stone you see in front of fireplaces is the hearth extension. We use the generic term fireplace to describe the entire unit.

The UBC (Uniform Building Code) states that a hearth extension must extend at least 16 inches in the front and 8 inches beyond each side of the fireplace opening. For oversized fireplaces with openings of 6 sq. ft. or more, the extension must be a minimum of 20 inches in front and 12 inches beyond each side.

How to Install Floating Hardwood Flooring Around a Fireplace Hearth

Easiklip floors are solid ¾-inch white oak that clips together. There are no screws, glue, or nails required, making it the most effortless solid hardwood floor to install. It floats on top of the subfloor. If you have a fireplace, there are a few ways to install the floor around it for a seamless, professional look. 

Laying an Easiklip floor is simple. Layout the boards on the subfloor and fit them together using the aluminum clips provided. When it comes to fitting the wood planks around the fireplace, you can use a few techniques. Plan well before you cut anything, especially brick or stone.

Pro Tip: Start laying the hardwood flooring from the fireplace and work outward from there.

Typically, there are four popular methods for installing hardwood flooring around a fireplace. They are undercutting, using a contour, molding, and the picture frame method.

How to Undercut a Fireplace for Wood Flooring

How to undercut stone fireplace

If you are retrofitting a new floor to an existing fireplace, you may need to undercut the brick or stone and slide the flooring underneath. You don’t want to butt the wood up against the hearth and leave an ugly gap. 

If it’s new construction, just communicate the flooring thickness to the fireplace builder, so they can leave a gap large enough for the flooring to slide underneath. Before you start, gather these tools:

  • Undercut or door jamb saw
  • Diamond tip blade
  • A shop vacuum cleaner
  • Gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask
  • Hammer and chisel
  • Circular or table saw

You may also need a jigsaw or a miter saw, depending on the type of installation method

Hardwood Flooring Around a Stone Fireplace

Undercutting the stone is more effort, but it will give you a seamless look without caulk or molding. 

Rent an undercut saw and purchase a diamond-tipped masonry blade. Floor installers use an undercut saw to cut the bottom of door jambs to install hardwood floors. It’s the same procedure except you are cutting stone.

Set the height of the blade to match the planks and start cutting. You should wear a mask and have someone hold a shop vacuum hose close to the blade to mitigate the stone dust. When finished, sweep out any chips, and the boards should slide right in.

To see a demonstration of how to undercut a stone fireplace for wood flooring, watch this video.

 

 

Hardwood Flooring Around a Brick Fireplace

Undercutting a brick hearth is the same technique as cutting stone above. Here is a video, “undercut brick for wood flooring,” demonstrating the undercut saw and shop vac combination. He uses a chisel to break out the remaining brick then tests the cut all along the entire perimeter using a scrap piece of flooring to check that it fits.

Use a Contour Guide 

Much easier than undercutting stone, the contour method leaves a gap that you must fill with caulk. This video demonstrates the technique. If you are not a perfectionist and don’t mind a caulk line around the stone, it’s a less messy and easier way to solve the problem. 

 

 

Place a new floorboard next to the stone, then press the contour guide into the rock and trace the outline onto the plank. Work your way down until you have scribed one board. Cut and fit the board.  Repeat this process until you have cut all the boards to fit around the hearth.

scribe hardwood around a fireplace hearth

Alternatively, you can use a compass to trace the contour of the stones onto the plank. Use either a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut along the scribe mark. Install the boards, then fill the gap with flexible sanded grout or caulk. Try to match the filler to the color of the grout or stone.

Boards typically expand and contract width-wise rather than lengthwise. At Easiklip, we recommend orienting the flooring so the butt ends of the boards touch the hearth rather than the long edge. It also simplifies the scribing method.

Shoe Molding to Hide the Expansion Gap

Molding is the easiest solution to hide the expansion gaps, adopted mainly by inexperienced installers, but it’s not a professional look. It should be the last choice for finishing a wood floor in front of a fireplace. Use 1/4-round shoe molding and glue or staple it into place. 

The Picture Frame Method

Picture frame method

If the fireplace has a hearth extension or rectangular slab at floor level, the framing method will look great. It creates a clean, finished look. Depending on the type of hearth material, you may need to use either the undercutting or contour methods described above to make a seamless transition. 

Build a picture frame around the hearth using two widths of floorboards in front and along the sides. Measure and miter tight 90° corners. You must saw off the tongue on the left side of the frame. You can glue and face nail the frame to the subfloor, then run the rest of the floor up against it.

This video shows the steps of installing hardwood flooring around a stone fireplace. Unfortunately, the man in the video didn’t take our advice of starting at the fireplace and working outwards. As you’ll see, he needed a second cut.

 

 

Tips To Protect Hardwood Flooring Near a Fireplace

Now that you’ve installed beautiful hardwood flooring around a fireplace, here are some easy tips to prevent sparks or heat from damaging the floor.

  1. Install a Hearth Extension

If for some reason, the existing fireplace does not have a hearth extension, you can purchase or build one relatively quickly. It must be a minimum of 2 inches thick and made from non-combustible material like concrete. Most building codes require a hearth extension as a buffer between the fireplace and the combustible floor.

  • Fireplace Grate or Cover
  • There are limitless varieties of fireplace covers, from glass doors to wire mesh curtains. Always have them in place whenever you are not tending to the fire. 

  • Burn Only Wood, Avoid Pine
  • Sometimes people like to burn up loads of paper like Christmas wrapping. Prolonged paper burning can make the fireplace or woodstove too hot and can damage nearby wood flooring. 

    Avoid burning softwoods like pine. It tends to pop and throw sparks a long way. 

  • Don’t Build Big Fires
  • Fireplaces and wood stoves can withstand heat, but building roaring fires for long periods can weaken the structure, and the excess heat can damage the floors. Burn only what you need to add warmth or ambiance to your home. 

  • Buy a Hearth Pad or Fireplace Rug
  • A fire-resistant hearth pad or fireplace rug protects the floor directly in front of the hearth from burning embers. Never use an ordinary carpet because an ember can ignite it, and you’ll immediately have a dangerous problem on your hands. Be sure the rug is flame resistant.

    Follow these precautions, and your wood floor in front of a fireplace will stay safe and burn mark-free. 

    Hearths and Hardwood Accent Each Other

    Hardwood flooring around a stone fireplace makes the room look classy. For hearths that sit above the floor, use the technique of undercutting stone or brick. It provides the best look and will fit in seamlessly. For hearth extensions that are almost flush, the picture frame method gives a classical appearance for any wood floor in front of a fireplace. If time and cost are more important than the finished look, you can use shoe molding to hide the opening between the floor and the hearthstones, but only as a last resort.

     

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