Remember the old brick fireplace?

Well look at it now!

I've actually been post-poning this BITTER/SWEET fireplace update for a few weeks... read about why below.


For the first time on this DIY house, we decided to hire a contractor to complete a project for us. Unfortunately, in addition to spending a lot of money unnecessarily (turns out we could have done it ourselves), the end product was so questionable that there was a possibility that the whole project would have to ripped out and redone.

Why did we hire a contractor in the first place? When we did the demolition, you may remember the big crack that fissured through our over-sized hearth.

Since it is an active wood burning fireplace, we were concerned about structural and safety issues. We assumed that a "professional" would have more knowledge of fireplace code regulations and how to support and level the hearth so it wouldn't crack again.

There were many issues with communication and workmanship along the way and we should have listened to our guts and pulled the plug, but we had all the materials ready to go and were so excited to be able to check this project off the list.

After the contractors left we found a chip in our wood floors, grout stains on the carpet, and dried concrete that had dripped down the wall and floor into our basement.  Since the project was left incomplete, we had to do the final coats of grout and tile sealant and we'll also do the wood trim work around the hearth tile.

But the most critical problem was that in the end, the hearth was not properly LEVELED. You can see just how far off level it is on the far right side of the photo, where the metal fireplace face meets the tile - 5/8 inch off, to be exact.

However, we are currently working with fireplace technicians, who have advised that they will be able to make up for the off-level hearth when they install our custom fireplace insert, which means we won't have to rip out and redo the current tile job. Whew!

Lesson learned: If you want it done right; do it yourself.  If you can't do it yourself; do your homework - meet with more than one contractor; get everything in writing regarding the scope of work; don't hire based on a single recommendation or because they are likable; withhold final payment until you are satisfied.

Zillow actually has a good article on Hiring a Contractor

Now on to the HAPPY, SWEET BITS:

We are thrilled with the Shanxi Black Flamed Granite tile that we selected for the hearth.  We had it laid on a diagonal to draw the eye to the fireplace. 

This special granite has a non-traditional finish, in that, it is not shiny, instead, it is torched with fire until the shiny-bits burn off. What is left behind is a textured, matte, stone finish, with a hint of metallic shimmer. This flamed granite works perfectly with our rustic contemporary design aesthetic.

Aside from looking a million times better, the ultimate purpose of our fireplace reno is to be able use it more - without losing heat from the rest of the house, that is. We currently heat with oil, so it can get expensive to reheat this two story house after burning a fire in the winter. We love having fires and would love to be able to actually add to our home's heat efficiency while burning one. 

Over the past year, we have been looking into wood burning fireplace "Heatilator" units that insert into your fireplace and have an electric blower to circulate the warm air produced by the fire around your home. Anybody have one of these? The fireplace doors, made from ceramic glass, are insulated and left closed as the fire burns. The fire is concentrated in a smaller interior firebox. On the outside of the unit, there is an intake fan and at least two blowers to distribute the hot air around the house (I can just see the kitties curled up right in front of the blowers in the winter).

Albus says, "Who me?"
1) Finish designing our custom Heatilator unit (yep, our fireplace is way oversized, so it is all custom, baby), order it and pay for it (gulp).  Custom = expensive. 

2)While the Heatilator is being built, I am hoping the hubby will have some time to start constructing our built-in bookshelves that will line the entire wall to the left of the fireplace, and run from floor to ceiling.

3)After the built-ins are complete, we will decide what to do for our fireplace mantel-piece. We are leaning toward a rustic slab of wood - perhaps milled from one of the trees that fell on our property last year.  Like THIS or THIS.  Other ideas include a Stone Slab or a simple Mantel Painted White to match the ultimate color of the built-ins and crown molding that we will install.

Which do you like best?

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