A wood stove hearth has the primary purpose of keeping the stove isolated from flammable surfaces, but can also be used to beautify and accent the stove and surrounding area. Building an attractive hearth that is smooth and easy to clean facilitates the maintenance of the stove, making the area both safer and more attractive.
Locate your wood stove hearth in a place that will allow the stove to circulate heat most easily throughout the house, while avoiding putting it somewhere that will disrupt the traffic flow in your home. The hearth should also be placed well away from windows, doors and areas that would increase the likelihood of someone accidentally bumping into the stove. The corner of a frequently used room such as the living room is ideal, because the hearth will be out of the way but available to make the most popular room into the warmest room in the winter.
A hearth can be made of anything that is not flammable. Popular materials include stone, slate, tile and brick. Choose a material that is suitable to the style of your home. If you live in a rustic cabin, raw field stone can make a hearth that will meld seamlessly with the rest of your home. In a minimalist modern home, ceramic tile might be more appropriate. Underlay the surface material with fireproof cement board for extra safety. Cover the walls behind the wood stove with the same material to isolate the stove from flammable walls and to create a visual continuity between floor and walls.
A hearth can be a simple and basic pad on the floor beneath the wood stove, or a comprehensive installation that includes stove pad, rear walls and a mantel over the rear of the stove. Some hearths are incorporated with an exposed chimney to create a monolithic centerpiece to the room. You can choose the materials and style of your hearth to match the character of your stove. Wood stoves vary widely in appearance, from antique Franklin stoves to bright, new enameled stoves with a modern appearance. Using materials that are similar to those of the stove itself helps to bring everything together in aesthetic harmony.
Whichever style you choose, be sure to follow all safety regulations. An improperly built or situated hearth can create a fire hazard. All wood stoves have minimum requirements for distance from combustibles. These can be reduced by covering combustible walls with non-flammable materials, and by attaching a heat guard to the back of the stove itself. If you have small children in your household, consider including a removable barrier that you can put around the edge of the hearth to keep them away from the dangers of the stove.
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