DIY Drop-in Tiled Hearth

DIY specialist and renovator Natasha Dickins from Little Red Industries shows how to tile a drop-in hearth to customise a fireplace with a bright, modern finish.

The installation of a new wood-burning heater gave me the opportunity personalise this fireplace area by handcrafting the hearth.

I swapped out traditional slate with modern subways to lighten up the surface under the heater to compliment the room all year round. In summer, a plant sits on top to green it up.

This is designed as a drop-in section of flooring. The same technique could be used in the kitchen or an entryway. It could also be positioned vertically as a wall feature. Just be sure to check for weight or waterproofing restrictions before installing.

If you’re planning a new heater install, check if you need to have it put in professionally, and inspected and approved by your council. To meet safety standards, it must be positioned a certain distance from walls, and the heat-retardant hearth suitably sized.

TIP To replace an old hearth under an existing freestanding heater, before moving the heater and knocking out the original hearth, have a qualified plumber disconnect the flue. Position the new hearth, then have the plumber reassemble the setup.

Tiling is super-simple when you don’t have to work up a wall or into corners. I started with a sheet of fire-retardant James Hardie 6mm-thick ceramic tile underlay, marking out the hearth size, and clamping timber offcuts around it as formwork.

I mixed up Dunlop Wall & Floor Tile Adhesive in a small bucket and used a small square-notched adhesive spreader to apply it in 5mm-thick sections.

TIP Use paper cups to measure, keeping one dry for the adhesive powder and using the other for water, mixing a cup of adhesive to about one-third water.

The first tile positions flush with the corner, then I used 3mm cross spacers to set the rest out evenly, applying the adhesive in rows for two tiles, mixing more as needed to prevent it drying out.

TIP I’d measured out my hearth to be 11 tiles wide by three tiles deep, laying them in a stack bond pattern to avoid making any cuts.

After laying the tiles, I removed all the spacers and wiped away excess adhesive with a damp cloth. I ran a 150mm grout squeegee over the surface to ensure the tiles are flat and even, leaving them to set.

TIP I used 33 Decor8 75mm x 300mm white Devonshire wall tiles with a matt, slightly textured finish.

To apply grout, I used an Irwin quick-grip clamp to squeeze the bottle while running the nozzle between the tiles. Then I smoothed it out with the squeegee, wiped away excess with a damp sponge and left it to cure over night.

TIP I used Dunlop ready-to-go coloured grout in Misty Grey, choosing a shade that wouldn’t discolour with ash and soot from from the fireplace.

After buffing the tiles with a dry cloth to remove the grout mist, I sealed it with Bondall Betta TileCare Tile & Grout Sealer, simply running the wheel applicator over the grout and wiping away excess with a dry cloth.

TIP This sealer is a lovely fast-dry formula that allows you to apply a couple of coats quickly. The finish is matt and clear and doesn’t dull the tiles.

I trimmed the 6mm ceramic tile underlay in line with the tiles, then cut another underlay of 9mm-thick fibre cement sheeting to adhere underneath, making the hearth thicker to protect the floor.

TIP Fibre cement cuts tend to have a rough edge, so smooth around the underlay using 80-grit abrasive paper with a sanding block.

To edge around the hearth I mitred lengths of Porta 22mm x 7mm Tasmanian oak shelf lipping to fit. These were sanded and sealed with three coats of fast-drying Monocel Waterbased Clear Wood Varnish and secured with Selleys Liquid Nails.

TIP Be generous with the Liquid Nails, use painter’s tape to hold the moulding in place while it dries, and don’t move the hearth until it’s completely dry.

When the plumber came to install, we moved the hearth into position and lifted the new Scandia Edge 50 radiant wood heater onto it. He checked the clearances from the wall met code, then installed the flue up through the roof. The combined weight of the heater and hearth ensures it won’t move.

TIP The Bondall Betta TileCare Tile & Grout Sealer protects the grout from discolouring. To keep the tiles clean, vacuum or sweep up soot, ash and wood chips, then simply wipe them with a warm damp cloth.

Have you done some tiling or regrouting? Be sure to post it on Facebook and Instagram, tagging, @monocel.timbercare and @littleredindustries. We love to see your projects!