Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
If you’re considering installing a fireplace in your home, you might wonder how high you should keep your hearth above floor level, if at all. The safety, effectiveness, and overall aesthetics of your fireplace are just some of the things you might be concerned about when it comes to flush hearths.
A fireplace hearth can be flush with the floor. There is no ideal height for a hearth; as long as it covers a large enough area around the fireplace and is made of non-combustible material, you may choose the height of your hearth based on how well it complements your home.
In the rest of this article, I will address various concerns regarding the ideal height of a fireplace hearth and what you should consider before opting for a flush hearth. Let’s get started!
How Much Should a Hearth Stick Out of the Floor?
Gas and wood fireplaces use actual fire to produce heat, which might make you wonder whether keeping a floor-level hearth could be a fire hazard. Generally, as long as you’ve installed a large enough hearth made of non-combustible material, it is safe to use gas or wood fireplaces at floor level.
Still, considering elevated hearths keep the fire a bit farther away from the floor than flush hearths, it’s slightly riskier to use the latter.
To clarify, this doesn’t mean having a flush hearth is unsafe, only that raised hearths are comparatively safer. But if this worries you, a quick way to improve the safety of a flush hearth would be to follow the USFA’s (The United States Fire Administration) recommendation of using a metal screen in front of your fireplace to stop ashes/embers from shooting out.
In the past, when fireplaces were used for cooking and heating, hearths were always kept above ground level. However, many modern fireplaces have hearths flush (on the same level) with the flooring.
If you own an electric fireplace, it really doesn’t matter much whether or not you opt for a flush or raised hearth — at least not from a safety standpoint. Since electric fireplaces don’t use actual fire, there’s no fire hazard to begin with.
So, in these cases, your decision between these two types of hearths can be entirely based on design preferences. For example, if your house/apartment’s interior has a vintage appearance, you might want to go for a raised hearth. On the other hand, if your home has a more modern theme, a flush hearth may be a more suitable choice.
From the discussion above, it’s safe to conclude that it doesn’t matter how much the hearth is leveled above the floor (if at all); as long as the hearth is made of non-combustible materials like brick, limestone, slate, etc., and as long as the hearth covers a large enough area beneath the fireplace, you should be fine.
Generally speaking, you have four main options when it comes to choosing the level of your hearth — any of these options is fine as long as you pick the right material and ensure that the hearth is large enough:
|Type of hearth||Description||Rough estimate of height from the floor|
|Flush hearth||The hearth is at the same level as the flooring||N/A|
|Padded hearth||The hearth is just above the level of the floor (almost as thick as an additional layer of tile)||1 – 2 centimeters (0.5 – 1 inch)|
|Stepped hearth||The hearth is a step above the floor||Around 15 centimeters (6 inches)|
|Raised or elevated hearth||The hearth is at least a foot above the floor||Above 30 centimeters (12 inches)|
What To Consider Before Opting for a Flush Hearth
From the previous section, it’s clear that from a safety standpoint, both flush and raised hearths are equally secure.
However, in terms of utility, pragmatics, and interior design, there are some considerations you must account for before getting a flush hearth.
To help inform your decision, I will now discuss some pros and cons of getting flush hearths for your fireplace. Keep in mind these points are in comparison to raised hearths, so it’s easier for you to compare the two options.
Let’s start with the benefits:
- Flush hearths make the room appear more spacious: Flush hearths share the same plane as your floor, so they don’t appear to occupy any space in your room.
- There’s a lower risk of tripping with flush hearths: When your hearth shares the same plane as your flooring, there’s less obstruction and, in turn, less hazard of stumbling over the fireplace.
- Lower fireplaces distribute heat better: If your hearth is, for example, one foot (30 centimeters) above the floor, the fire in your fireplace won’t be effective at keeping your feet warm. A floor-level hearth means a floor-level fireplace; this sort of positioning can help spread heat closer to the floor.
- Flush hearths cost less: Since raised hearths occupy more space, they require more materials to build. On the other hand, flush hearths only need a single layer of material. This translates into lower costs of material and labor.
- Flush hearths are more modern: Most modern house owners opt for flush hearths for their fireplaces as they are a great way to complement contemporary design themes.
Despite these benefits, there are some critical drawbacks of opting for flush hearths:
- Flush hearths aren’t safe for children and pets: Since flush hearths keep the fireplace at ground level, the fireplace becomes more accessible to pets and young kids, which puts them in danger of serious injury.
- Flush hearths heat the floor: Since the fire is much closer to the floor in a flush hearth setting, it tends to heat the surrounding floor area. This isn’t a problem with raised hearths.
- Flush hearths don’t have many practical utilities: You can use your raised hearth as an extra seat or a shelf for your plants while there’s no fire burning, but you don’t have this liberty with flush hearths.
In summary, it’s completely up to you to decide how high or low you want your fireplace hearth to be. Since both options are equally safe, your decision should be entirely based on design and utility preferences.
- Home Questions Answered: What is a raised hearth
- USFA: Electrical, and Appliance fire Safety
- EHow: Requirements for a raised fireplace hearth
- Studiodk: Raised or floor-level fireplace hearths: which is better
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