Minnesotans know how brutal the winters can be. If you've gone without a fireplace and you've finally decided to have one put in, but you're concerned about damage to your wood floors, rest assured the two can co-exist quite peacefully, so long as you take the proper precautions. Here are some simple ways to protect your hardwood floors around a hearth.
The whole purpose of a hearth extension is to protect the floor around the fireplace and prevent a fire from starting if burning logs or embers were to fall out.
Hearth extensions are typically made of tile, brick, slate, or stone. And unless you're confident with residential DIY projects, it's best to let a contractor handle this.
The floor of a hearth extension should be at least 2" deep (unless the bottom of the firebox opening is 8" above the extension), and it's best if the sub-floor is concrete for maximum protection. For example, if thin tiles are placed on top of wood floors, heat and sparks could cause the tiles to loosen and the wood to become charred.
How far out should the hearth extension reach? It depends on the width of the firebox opening. If it's on the small side (less than 6 square feet), the hearth should come out from the front at least 16" and 8" on each side. If the opening exceeds six square feet, a 20" x 12" hearth extension is required. These numbers are based on Minnesota residential building codes, so they are important to adhere to for both safety and compliance.
Some homeowners enjoy the look of a raised hearth. And fortunately, doing so can go a long way towards protecting your wood floors. It also adds a more "architectural" look and feel to your space.
Placing a screen in front of your fireplace is a must, and there are two types to choose from: flat guard screens and screens with doors. The main difference between the two is that flat guard screens must be moved completely to access the fire whereas screens with doors can simply be opened when you need to stoke the fire or add wood.
Which one you choose will depend on your stylistic preference. Just be sure the edges of the screen completely encompass the firebox opening and that there aren't any gaps. When placed correctly, both work equally well to protect your floors from sparks and embers.
You may wish to throw some rugs around your fireplace, too. And that's fine as long as they're fire retardant. Rugs that are placed just beyond the hearth extension can further protect your wood floors from scratches, soot damage, and floating embers.
Wool rugs are the best to use because they have a low flame-spread rate, and if a spark were to land on the rug, only the fibers directly beneath that spark would burn before the fibers would self-extinguish. Also, when wool burns, it puts out less toxic fumes and smoke than other fabrics.
Another huge benefit to wool rugs on hardwood floors is the fact that they repel water. So drinks that spill tend to float on top rather than soak through to the floor below.
Responsible Fireplace Usage
Most Minnesotans have a great deal of respect for fire and understand the importance of responsible fireplace usage. But the good news is when it comes to protecting your wood floors, there's one simple rule you can follow, and that's to make sure you only burn firewood.
Tossing unwanted items in your fireplace like paper, plants, and other trash you deem "burnable" can actually raise the temperature of the fire and cause embers to waft out. So, be sure your trash goes in the bin where it belongs.