How to tile over a brick fireplace: An inexpensive DIY job with dramatic results

DIY influencer Jo Lemos shares his method for how to tile a fireplace wall, plus tips and advice he learned along the way

tiling a fireplace surround - Jo Lemos
(Image credit: Jo Lemos)

Tile fireplace surrounds and chimney breasts are picking up major trend momentum in interior design. Tiling offers an alternative to the standard brick or smooth plaster fireplaces we are used to seeing. As with any tiled surface the sizes and patterns are endless. Giant slabs of marble and small mosaics alike can be used to create your desired look.

When we moved into our 1930s semi-detached house in 2019 there was a brick chimney breast around our fireplace that was not in the best condition. It had been extended over the years and the bricks were not well matched. If I’m honest, it looked like an absolute travesty! The façade of the fireplace had to change and after briefly exploring and ruling out total demolition of the chimney due to cost, I decided to take on a DIY project and tile over the brick fireplace instead.

I have been using white square tiles throughout my houses for a while now in my designs. I love the simplicity and it will always be a classic in my view. The room the fireplace is in is at the centre of the house, which also became the kitchen. As I was using square tiles as the kitchen backsplash I decided that the tiling on the fireplace surround had to match.

If you're thinking about adding tile over a brick fireplace in your home, here's a step-by-step overview of how I did it. 

How to tile a fireplace 

In a few straightforward steps, I completely transformed our old fireplace. 

brick chimney painted white

Our brick fireplace before we added tile

(Image credit: Jo Lemos)

Step 1 – Create a structure to cover the brick 

tiling a fireplace surround - jo Lemos

(Image credit: Jo Lemos)

The bricks that made up our chimney breast has been built in a way that they were not flush with each other, and although structurally sound, the pattern was all over the place. I knew I would not be able to tile directly onto this so decided to built a structure with a flat surface attached to the fireplace surround. If you are looking to do this yourself and the original chimney breast is flat or already plastered you shouldn’t have to do this step.

However there was one benefit to building a smooth structure around the brick. The white square tiles I used were placed in a grid like format and I was able to build the structure so that I was able to use full tiles around the opening. This was much more visually appealing as it meant there were no cut tiles along the edges. Based on the original opening of the chimney I was able to figure out that I create a structure that would be 5 tiles wide and 5 tiles tall for a new opening.

To build the new structure I first attached wooden beams to bricks. I drilled holes in bricks and, using wall plugs, screwed the beams to the breast. I made sure the wooden structure was the correct size so I could have full tiles across the opening. I also made sure to take into account the width of the plasterboard that I would tile onto when building the structure.

Once happy with the structure I attached plasterboard to the wood beams using plasterboard screws. The gas fireplace that was in the chimney had been disconnected but I decided to use fire resistance plasterboard on inside the opening in case a future owner tried to light a fire in the chimney.

Step 2 – Tiling the fireplace surround

As the opening with full tiles was a main feature for me, I decided to start tiling the opening sections first. A great way to do this is to first attach and level a wood beam that your tiles can sit on top of. When tiling, it is worth taking your time with the first row, as any imperfection at the start will be exaggerated the more tiles are placed on top.

tiling a fireplace surround - Jo Lemos

(Image credit: Jo Lemos)

I used a premixed adhesive and tiled directly onto the plasterboard. The tiles were positioned using 3mm spacers which can be left in until the adhesive dries. Once the opening was finished and I tiled the rest of the breast and the inside of the opening regularly stepping back and making sure my lines were straight. For the corners I decided to add an edging for greater protection. There is a whole host of edging types to chose from but I decided to go with a simple white pvc edging which I fell disappears against the white tiles.

To finish off I used a beige grout from Unibond which is a lovely sandy colour. It makes the grid tiles pop without being a harsh contrast due to its light colour. I have continued the use of this colour grout in the rest of the kitchen and utility room for cohesion

white tile fireplace surround - Jo Lemos

(Image credit: Jo Lemos)

DIY chimney tiling cost

dining room with white tiled fireplace - Jo Lemos

(Image credit: Jo Lemos)

One of the things I love about white square tiles is as they are considered as a basic tile they are very affordable. I purchased my 150mm square tiles from B&Q at £6 per square metre at a total cost of £36 for the tiles and edging strips for £12. I used 3 plasterboard sheets at the cost of £30 and wooden batons at the cost of £25. Overall, the cost for the tiled chimney breast is £103.

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