Hot Topics: Removing and Replacing a Hearth

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Original Post: Best way to remove and level this hearth

garimh - Member

Newbie here taking on a what I was hoping would not be too big a project. My plan is to remove hearth and then tile over it and the brick fireplace.

hearth removal project

Removing the hearth is going to be harder then I thought. Pounding away with a four pound hammer and chisel is not getting me very far and and I can see by the way the pieces are breaking off that it's going to be tough to get this level again.

Tiling over the existing tile was not really an option because I want the new tile to be flush with floor as it is now. Is pounding away the best way to continue or is there something I can rent at HD (rotary hammer, demo hammer?) that will make this job easier?

For fireplace, the white paint is chipping so I assume my options are either to get the paint off before putting on thinset or leave the paint and put cement board on top of it.

Any thoughts on which is better? I'd prefer to go straight to thinset but chipping away at this paint is also slow going. Is there something I can put on it to make it peel off easier? I know it's not lead paint as I'm the idiot who painted it.


ShortyLong - Former Member

Forget the hammer & chisel. Rent a chipping gun. You can buy paint remover to remove the paint. Just be careful when you use it. Wear gloves and safety glasses and make sure that there are no children in the room. Open the windows.

garimh - Thread Starter

Thanks for the reply. Is a chipping gun the same as a demolition hammer? When I search for chipping hammers on my local rental site, it's bringing up demo hammers and rotary hammers.

Marq1 - Member

Floor tile will be easy once you get under the tiles they should just pop up.

Are you attempting to take the brick out?

garimh - Thread Starter

I'm attempting to take the brick tiles out of the hearth. But I'm not removing any brick from the fireplace. Just putting up some tile and then a surround.

czizzi - Member

Demo hammer and a tile bit will be the way to go. You can rent them but probably will have to buy the tile bit. Be warned, this creates a TON of dust so, wear a mask, and take precautions with furniture in the room.

If you can plastic off a portion of the room to include a window, set a box fan in the window blowing out, then crack another window somewhere in the house for make up air. Then cut a slit in your plastic. Most of the dust will be directed out the window.

Other precautions are leather gloves as tile shards are very sharp.

Once the main tiles are up, you can pick at any high spots by hand with a hammer and chisel of stiff putty knife.

For the brick, just get the loose material off, choose a good modified thinset that is sticky (Mapei - Ultraflex II) and you should be good to go provided that the brick face is relatively smooth without high or low spots.

garimh - Thread Starter

Thanks for the input. Unfortunately no window in close proximity to fireplace so I'm going to try to tent the fireplace area with plastic and open the flue. Hopefully it won't be too bad. Will post pictures on progress for those interested.

garimh - Thread Starter

I think I'm in a bit of a dilemma here. I rented demo hammer and started and now see that this is not tile after all but thick brick.

hearth bricks under construction

I've been doing this for an hour and haven't made much progress at all. I also can't really figure out how deep these bricks go (could they have been put in vertical rather than horizontal??) and am nervous that I might have gone a bit deep already.

What I should I be doing here? Keep going until I hit concrete? Even with the demo hammer this is really slow and hard work.


ShortyLong - Former Member

Exchange the demo hammer for a jack hammer.

garimh - Thread Starter

Ok, I kept going and the brick is coming out a bit easier. I think I might have gone into the concrete a bit as some areas seem deeper than others but I guess there's no turning back now. Voices of my wife saying last week "you should hire a pro" are ringing through my head.

breaking hearth bricks

I guess I'll remove all the brick and then figure out to fill this back in again.

czizzi - Member

Looks like tile set in a mud bed. If you continue digging, do you eventually hit wire lath and tar paper under that? If so, it all comes out.

That is not a tile bit on the demo hammer.

garimh - Thread Starter

Ok, here is where I am..

area in front of hearth under construction

As you can see, there is sort of a hump shape running the length of the hearth that I thought might be some kind of pipe. I went down to my basement and this is what it looks like underneath.

hearth project

It looks like some sort of upward sloping concrete or something and I guess that's the hump shape I hit up top. However, if I was to break through that, there is nothing underneath so I would have a straight hole into the basement. In the hearth, it looks like I cracked that hump a bit so I hope I haven't damaged whatever structure that is.

Here's another view of underneath:

hearth insulation

Am I reading this right? Is it normal to not have a wood sub floor under a hearth? And if so, is there a reason why I couldn't simply poor new concrete into the hearth now to create a new level base?

ShortyLong - Former Member

I certainly wouldn't dig anymore & I wouldn't try to fill it with concrete. It looks like it would take a lot of bags plus I wouldn't trust the weight.

Even though I read your original post a few times, I still don't understand why you started that project. I know that it's too late to ask that question. It's rhetorical now.

garimh - Thread Starter

Essentially, the goal was to replace the red brick tiles with a different tile and update the look of the fireplace with tile and a new surround. I obviously didn't foresee the hearth being this difficult.

Can anyone give some advice about what my options are at this point?


ShortyLong - Former Member

I would probably frame it & try to match the surrounding floor. However, if the fire place will still be used, that may not work. If you wanted to fill it with concrete, it would have been better to leave the broken rock there. Less concrete would have been needed. What are the measurements of the hole?

czizzi - Member

Yes, I would just pour a slab as thick as needed. Clean out all the dust with a shop vac, figure a way to screed it so it is at the level you desire and move forward.

garimh - Thread Starter

The hearth itself is 62 long by 17 wide. At it's deepest, the hole is seven inches but closer to the firebox, it's about four inches deep.

I've never poured cement before so a few questions:

ShortlyLong says I should have left the broken rock in there. I still have it. Should I put a bunch of the broken rocks back in and just pour concrete over the top of that?

Do I need to pour enough on the first go to bring it up to level I want or can I do a second pour on top of first pour if needed?

Because I have to account for the thickness of new tile, thinset, etc so finished tile ends up flush with the floor, I'm not feeling very confident that I'm going to get this to the exact height and perfectly level. Would it make sense to put down cement board on top of poured concrete? I figure this way I could put the board down to make sure it's level and if not, I could build up one side a bit until I get it perfect.

Sorry if I'm overthinking this. Feels like I have one shot to get this right.


garimh - Thread Starter

To update this thread, I finally got around to pouring the concrete this weekend.

almost complete new hearth

It looks like I need to make up just a bit under 1/4" in order to have my tiles flush with wood. I tried dropping in a 1/4" cement board and when I lay a tile on there, it's perfectly flush so I'm assuming that a layer of thinset on top of the cement board might put me a bit over.

If I remove the cement board, can I make up that 1/4" with another layer or two of thinset?


garimh - Thread Starter

Almost done! Hearth came out pretty well. I thought the tiling did as well but I screwed up by not making sure tiling was perfectly flush all the way down (I eyeballed it but I guess not very well). Now building a surround and there's going to be a very noticeable gap on one side where surround meets the tile. Hopefully I can fill that in with something.

I also painted my old brass fireplace doors black using Rustoleum high heat spray paint. That also came out well. Will post finished pictures once surround is done.

finished hearth refurbished