Mantel Photos

Starting at the end and working backward.  I finished building the majority of our mantel the other day.  I used Google’s free application, SketchUp, to crystallize the final design.  The original mantel looked like this:

Kelly came up with the idea to replace our old oil furnace with a highly efficient Mantis gas fireplace.  When we decided it was the right thing to do, we also rearranged the whole living room.

Once we improved the living room layout, part of which involved purchasing a flat screen, I proceeded to build a structure around the old brick chimney/fireplace. I didn’t mention it when I posted about building the structure how I tied into the wall framing and the mantle top.  I basically screwed 2x4 legs into the wall framing.  The legs each incorporated two 2x4s tied together in an L-shape with some 1/2” plywood to give me enough room to run 2x4 horizontals across the front of the chimney.  Then I built a couple of rectangles out of 2x2s so that any plywood facade could be tied into framing.  Here’s what I started with the other day:

Next, I used 18 gauge 1” nails (as I recall) to attach bead board and some finish grade plywood to the sides and top center of the mantle.  I had a good supply of bead board I had purchased during the summer for prototyping the exterior soffit (but then abandoned using bead board thus leaving me with a surplus of 1 1/2 4x8’ sheets) so I decided it would help distinguish the columns I was envisioning on the right and left.  Here are some links to the soffit project (my post; Kelly’s post) and looking back I see that we need to post the final caulked and painted photos because the finished version looks really good.

Taking down the mounted TV was a definitely a 2-3 person task but I managed to not throw out my back or make a $900 mistake when I brought it back down off the wall.  Ever since I had mounted the TV I had been a bit nervous about it not crashing off the wall so getting it down and knowing I was going to build a much stronger backing was a real motivation for getting this project underway.  Once the TV was down there was no going back because God knows we couldn’t survive another day without watching The Closer :-).

Here I have the 3/4” cabinet grade plywood fastened to the wall with screws and 12 gauge nails.  I’ve started nailing in the MDF 1x6” across the top of the mantle and on the base, 1x4” and 1x3” legs on the left column.

Before I attached the legs, I had to build out from the 2x2 and 2x4 structure at the edges around the fireplace flange so that I would have a single plane to attach the MDF.  When I previously fastened the plywood, I left a buffer of about 1/2” so that I wouldn’t have to cut the plywood perfectly so that it would be flush with the outside of the mantle and the inside (near the flange).  I ripped down (using my table saw setup) some MDF 3/8” strips to get me close to the plane I wanted.  This helped me get flush in three dimensions (with the plywood and into the fireplace opening with the plane of the 2x2s).  It’s hard to see but when your strips are very small, MDF splits pretty easy when you hit it with a nail so I switched over to staples.  One split I had to rip out and put in a small piece (Robert had a name for this practice/piece but I can’t remember it at the moment).  While my work wasn’t perfect, I decided it was good enough and pushed on.

Before remounting the TV I put 1/4” bead board across the breadth of the plywood backer.  I needed to cut one sheet into two 42” tall sections so that the beads would line up vertically and so that I could use the lap edging that adorns the long sides of bead board (the lap edging allows you to butt the long side of the sheets together so that the joint just looks like another bead).

If you made it this far… thanks!  Now go back to the beginning and hopefully you’ll appreciate the final (almost) product.  After I re-attached the TV mount, Kelly helped me get the TV back on the mounting arm.  Fortunately for me, she came home at the perfect time—all of the construction was done and I was starting to sweat bullets that I couldn’t get the weighty TV back on the the mount by myself.

To finish the project I need to run some more MDF vertically toward the ceiling from the top of the mantel.  In my mind this will carry the outside lines of the two columns up toward the ceiling and emphasize the chimney.  We also need to finalize how these legs will someday tie into crown molding: so there is a horizontal detail at the very top of the bead board (where it meets the ceiling) that still needs to be worked out.

Thanks for reading!


Fireplace installed! Mostly!

Our new Mantis fireplace insert is mostly installed (by pros -see why here) and has passed the mechanical inspection.  They’ll finish it up when they come back to install the tankless water heater.  Next week we’ll have our DIY electrical work for the fireplace and water heater inspected.  Once our water heater is installed, we’ll have to have the plumbing and gas piping inspected (for some reason this is at the county level, while electrical and mechanical are at the city level) and then have the gas company unlock our meter so we can start using our new appliances.  Exciting!

Matt has already given some info on the plumbing updates he’s doing

I will fill in some more info about the electrical work later, but here’s a little preview of the process to put in an electrical outlet in the fireplace:

See that generic tile hearth that so common in houses of the 1950’s?  I really do not care for it.  It’s so blah.  We were planning to replace the hearth someday.  Like, not right now, because there’s a ton of other stuff we’re trying to get done.  Apparently due to our fireplace’s geometry and the shape of the insert, it has to stick out somewhat and sit on the hearth (as seen in the top photo).  That means we either need to replace the hearth now (i.e., before the fireplace installation is finalized), or wait and do it later but pull out the insert which would mean disconnecting the gas and vent pipes and then having to reconnect them (ourselves or bring our installers back?), which would be kind of a pain and just not ideal.  So we need to think about that.  I’ve already mostly settled on using slate tile, but color/pattern/sizing would still need to be picked out not to mention doing the work.  Ack.  These projects are like dominoes.  We start one, and that one forces us to do three related projects… 


p.s. See previous posts in the fireplace saga: I first floated the idea of replacing our furnace with a fireplace almost a year ago, convinced others the idea could work, discovered we’d have to wait out the winter, and finally took the plunge.

Support garnered for the fireplace idea

I can hardly believe it.  When I first came up with the idea to forgo a furnace in favor of a natural gas fireplace to heat our house, I thought no one would let me do it. 

Truthfully, if I hadn’t found this one specific fireplace insert that is much more efficient than all the others, I would have dropped the whole idea by now and we’d be choosing which furnace to have installed in the crawl space under our house. That would have been a pain; when a furnace installer-turned-salesman came to give an estimate on the job, he realized that getting the furnace into the crawl space would require cutting out a piece of the opening to the crawl space and then repairing it afterward.  And that was the better option between that and cutting a hole in the floor somewhere and having to repair joists. 

In general, vented natural gas fireplaces are considered fairly efficient at over 70% AFUE, but this means you’re wasting up to 30% of your fuel!  There are unvented ones that can be almost 100% efficient, but you cannot use them as a primary heat source because they can deplete oxygen in the room and create problems with condensation.  Not many heating companies in our area carry the Mantis, but I found one.  No reports on Angie’s List, but AL customer service looked up their BBB rating - A.  The company says they can install it or they can sell it to us and we install it.  We’ll get estimates and decide how to proceed.  I’ve seen Richard install one on Ask This Old House, and I’ve already read the installation manual for the Mantis, so I think we probably could do it ourselves if we want to.  Some online suppliers are selling it too, but I’d want to make sure it’s all legit with warranties and whatnot.

My confidence is growing: now Matt, Robert, our real estate agent, our home inspector, the furnace salesman (who will be losing some business if we go ahead), and of course the fireplace salesman all think it’s a good idea! 

We have to make sure the heat is distributed evenly throughout the house (a friend mentioned this as a problem, and our real estate agent was also concerned about that).  Not to fear; we have a plan for that too.  The fireplace is located near the center of the house, and the existing furnace is right next to it.  This is excellent because it means we can use the existing ductwork.  When the furnace guy was here, he said if we got a furnace we should put the air intake right next to the fireplace and leave the furnace blower on 24-7 so that the heat from the fireplace would be distributed to every room through the ducts even when the furnace is not firing.  Well, that’s essentially what we’re going to do, but the blower will be stand-alone, not part of a furnace that is rarely used.  We would also like to integrate the air intake into either the hearth or the mantle/surround, instead of just being on the floor near the fireplace.  We need to talk to some HVAC people and see what options we have to do this.