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How to Install a Ceramic or Porcelain Tile Fireplace Surround

A fireplace can make for a stunning focal point in an attractive, well-designed room. A dingy or dated fireplace surround, however, can be an eyesore. Fortunately, creating a stylish new fireplace surround is a DIY project for anyone with a little patience, a little planning, and the right tools. Want to transform that boring fireplace into the eye-catching star of the room? Here’s how to make your own ceramic tile fireplace surround.


Plan Your Design

The best way to start is by making a cardboard template of your existing fireplace surround. This way, you can play with your layout and more easily find the starting point for installing your tile. Start with the row above the firebox, and adjust until you don’t have to cut any slivers at either edge. From there, work down the legs and save any cuts for the tiles that rest on the floor.

Prep the Surround

Cabot Porcelain Tile Creation Stone Series in Grey Limestone / SKU: 15270972

You can tile over an existing brick or stone surround, but you need to do a little prep work first. Mix a batch of thin-set mortar to a frosting consistency, and spread an even layer over the bricks, making sure to fill grout lines completely. Use a finishing trowel to smooth it out and let it dry overnight. Remove the mantel, if possible, or tape it off where it meets the surround. Use masonry screws to attach a 3-inch-wide wooden strip at the top edge of the firebox as a temporary support for the tiles.

Install the Center Field Tiles

Salerno Ceramic Tile – Harbor Wood Series in Dark Oak / SKU: 15076927

Mix another batch of thin-set mortar and, using a notched trowel, spread a thin layer above the support board you attached to the firebox. Starting with the center tile, place the tiles into the mortar, alternating left to right. If you are using art tiles with irregular edges in your design, use folded cardboard for spacers. Finish the center field working your way up. Make sure you check the tiles periodically to make sure they are level and flush. Let them dry overnight.

Tile the Legs

Cabot Porcelain Tile – Redwood Series in Natural / SKU: 10083319

Remove your temporary support board, make new ones the same height as the piece of tile that will go at the bottom of the legs, and anchor them in place with masonry screws. Starting at the bottom above your support board, install the leg tile as you did the center field tiles, working your way up. Remember to wipe up any excess thin-set periodically with a damp cloth before it hardens. Let the tiles set for a few hours, and then remove the support board and cut and install the bottom tiles.

Grout and Finish

high humidity flooring
Salerno Porcelain Tile – Moderna Collection in Coconut / SKU: 10081259

Mix the grout according to manufacturer instructions, and apply it to the tile using a rubber float at a 45-degree angle. After 30 minutes or so, use a grout sponge to wipe away any excess grout. Let the tile cure for at least a week before lighting a fire in your freshly tiled fireplace.

Tackling a ceramic or porcelain tile fireplace surround is an approachable project for many DIYers. While it takes a little more planning and prep work than a tile wall or floor, the process is straightforward, and you’ll love the results. If this sounds a bit intimidating though, consider hiring a professional installer to help you achieve the results you’re after.

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