Building a Fireplace Mantel
November 1, 2008
Q: For some reason the fireplace at the family cabin doesn’t have a mantel. We would like to add one — how difficult is that? Are there different clearance heights (from the firebox) for a carved wood mantel versus a stone or granite mantel? — Victor Pearlman, Austin, Texas
A: The difficulty of mantel installation depends on the materials you use. Wood mantels aren’t terribly tricky, especially if you’re the do-it-yourself type. Granite or cast stone mantels are more involved, however, and you’re better off hiring a mason.
Required clearance to combustibles — the distance a mantel is from the actual firebox — depends on a number of factors: your local fire code, what type of fireplace you have (gas, wood or pellet), of what material your mantel is made, and the depth of your mantel. How variable can this be? One area’s fire code that we reviewed requires that a wood mantel 10 inches deep should be a minimum of 19 inches above the top of your fireplace combustion chamber, while a 6-inch deep mantel should have at least a 15-inch clearance. Most manufacturers include specs on clearance to combustibles, and often, local building officials will go by those recommendations. But that’s not always the case. To be on the safe side, read the manufacturer’s information first before phoning your local building board to verify.