How do I update this fireplace cheaply?

by Rachel

Our wood burning fireplace desperately needs an update as its size and color overwhelms our living room in our small house (1040 sq ft). We received an estimate for converting it into a gas fireplace and updating the surround and mantel. The quote came out to $7-10,000! We don't have that kind of money right now, but I want so desperately to try to improve the fireplace cosmetically for now. My husband and I are beginners when it comes to DIY projects. Thanks for your input!

  20 answers
  • Sharon Sharon on Jul 24, 2020

    Is that real stone or one of those 70s lava rock stone faces? it looks like the lava veneer cause there is no grouting between the stones.

    You could paint it, whitewash, and I would grout it first.

    German Schmear.... use joint compound or portland cement with water.

    if its lava you can remove it....

    • See 1 previous
    • Sharon Sharon on Jul 25, 2020

      No telling, if you're going to keep the stone face, you might as well keep the hearth. My 1st husband was a stone mason and he did fireplaces mainly. Those hearths can be hollow boxes made from 2x4 framing covered in concrete backer board.

      Some of the old old fireplaces they are solid brick which you can remove with a stone mason's chisel or a hammer drill with a spade bit (rent from equipment place or Home Depot).

  • I would give it a nice coat of white wash over the rocks to lighten them up and make them not look like they take up as much space.

    • See 1 previous
    • You could try a small area that isn't as much in site at first. I wouldn't white wash the stone slabs on top, I'd maybe do something else with those... maybe a matte color or stone color. It is def. a big project!

    • See 1 previous
    • Unexpected Elegance Unexpected Elegance on Jul 30, 2020

      Yes, I think a whitewash would look great!

  • Robyn Garner Robyn Garner on Jul 24, 2020

    Take a look in the basement and up at your roof - is this rock part of the chimney structure? If not, it just a facade over the interior bricks meaning you can safely pry them off. For absolute knowledge, call back the companies that provided the estimates and ask them if they think the stones are in the entire structure or only the facade in the l.r.

    If just the facade I would attempt to remove them. You can always paint/smear over them if it fails.

    • See 2 previous
    • Robyn Garner Robyn Garner on Jul 26, 2020

      My condolences on you not having a basement lol! I grew up in the northeast and always had one. Here in FLaDuh, I do not.

      Re the hearth:

      Go back to Old School lol! Seriously, start with a large chisel and heavy hammer. Use the chisel to break the grout line between the block at the corner and the next block. Pry it up, heave it out. Repeat. 😎

      Just realize that the flooring may not continue under the area where the "gigantic hearth" is. If it doesn't go underneath and you want to keep the rest of the flooring, you can put down new tile flush with the floor.

      If it were me, I'd call the company that gave you the estimate and act all innocent. Make a list of questions: You mostly want/need to know if they think there is a solid brick fireplace and full chimney with the rock later put on as a facade. You could also ask them things such as would they have to remove brick from the chimney in order to inset a new firebox? Do they have any idea what color/type of brick the facade and chimney are?

      The more you can pick their brains, the safer your DIY can be. Good luck! 😉

  • Mogie Mogie on Jul 24, 2020

    This looks almost exactly like my dad's stone surround.

    How to Paint A Stone Fireplace-Techniques For Updating Your Stone Fireplace

    • See 2 previous
    • Mogie Mogie on Jul 25, 2020

      I have seen a video where the stones themselves were painted one color while the grout was painted another so highlight both.

      Here is a link that goes into detail regarding painting the stone. I hope this is helpful for you.

      Also if you white wash this as compared to painting it you can vary the intensity of the white wash from stone to stone by adding more water to the mix. A variety of shades looks more natural. White wash also allows some of the stone colors to show thru looking more natural also.

  • Nan W. Nan W. on Jul 24, 2020

    Rachel: This is my project! I love it!

    • See 1 previous
    • Nan W. Nan W. on Jul 25, 2020

      Hmm... I would probably paint the deep grout. It will take a while because you'll also have to get the deep sides of the rocks. I think the dramatic texture would be FANTASTIC!

      You can always go back and regrout... if you do not like the drama. ...But much easier to do that than to try to chip out re-grouting.

      By the way... my grout was not a thing of beauty... and there were many patch jobs done by previous owners... of varying quality. I simply embraced that... and since the overall color of the fireplace was the same.

      Enjoy the process! ...and post the results here!!!



  • Janice Janice on Jul 24, 2020

    You could totally change the look by applying light colored paint to the entire surround OR you could mix water with paint and do a white wash effect on it. Either way it will lighten the room a lot.

    • Rachel Rachel on Jul 25, 2020

      Thank you, Janice. My concern with just painting it is the horribly deep grout lines and big gaps between the stones. Do you think it would accentuate poor grout job to just paint it? It may be worth it to just lighten it up?

  • Patty Patty on Jul 24, 2020

    If you can remove the rock facade, stucco over it. I saw Tarek & Christina do this on a flip.

    • Rachel Rachel on Jul 25, 2020

      Thank you, Patty! I am sure I could find a tutorial online for how to stucco a fireplace!

  • Rachel Rachel on Jul 24, 2020

    Thank you for all the tips...any thoughts on the gigantic hearth? Especially how to manage the slab of stone on top?

  • You can box it in with plywood and paint it to cover it with a modern wall paper.

  • Holly Lengner - Lost Mom Holly Lengner - Lost Mom on Jul 25, 2020

    If you painted the rocks white, it would really brighten up the room. I've seen lots of fireplace makeovers where a simple paint job made all the difference in the world.

  • on Jul 25, 2020

    I LOVE the stones! Its gorgeous. I think if you added more grout between them and did a grout wash over it it will look more elegant.

  • 49341123 49341123 on Jul 25, 2020

    Hello, you may try a decorative fireplace screen in front of it to set a new decor theme in the room.

  • William William on Jul 26, 2020


  • D D on Jul 28, 2020

    i agree with the painted screen i would be afraid to paint it you could give it a good scrubbing with white vinegar it might lighten the color

  • Agnes Chrzanowska Agnes Chrzanowska on Jul 31, 2020

    What about white wash ?

  • J Brown J Brown on Feb 13, 2021

    WHITE WASH is the easiest, quickest and cheapest for making a change.

  • Agnes Chrzanowska Agnes Chrzanowska on Dec 31, 2021

    Just because your mantel is white I would add a gentle whitewash or add some accents to surrounds