When Ben and I bought our house, we really liked the fireplace in the bedroom. Or, maybe I should say that we liked the idea of it. What we didn’t like was the outdated, beat-up unit that was currently in the wall. We also weren’t too thrilled that the model was a direct vent gas fireplace, which isn’t just unsafe, as everyone rushed to tell us – it’s also against building code, even here in New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state. So I decided I’d swap it out with an electric model.
First, let me say, I don’t think I had a firm grasp on what the project would entail before I started. This wouldn’t be a quick out with the old, in with the new swap, but a multi-faceted job that would require several skills which I did not yet have. So the first logical step would be doing some research – self-education and planning, right? Yes. Yes it would. Is that what I did? No, it was not. Because I am me, and in my world (ie. when I’m working on a project by myself that makes me emperor by default) I make the rules.
Step 1: Demo – Demolition is the first step for several reasons, all of which make perfect sense to me. For one, starting a project by having some fun gets things started right. For two, once you demo, you can’t change your mind. There’s no going back. Once there’s a hole in your wall, something has to be done about it. So, with Ben’s help, I pulled the old unit out, which meant pulling the stone strips that framed the old fireplace off the wall. FYI – the stone had been stuck to the wall using some extraterrestrial glue which was crazy strong and tore chunks out of the drywall. I’d love to get my hands on a tube of that stuff, so Alf, if you’re listening . . .
Step 2: This is the ‘reality strikes’ phase and it just might be the scariest step of all. It involves staring at the big hole you just made in the wall, and realizing that you’re the one who has to do something about it. So I put in the new electric model, which was quite a bit smaller than the original unit, and stared at the empty space around it. Then I turned the fireplace off and on a bunch of times for inspiration, so I could imagine how nice it would (hopefully) look when I was done. When it became apparent that the blank space wasn’t going to magically fill itself in for me, I reluctantly moved on.
Step 3: I bought some drywall, joint compound and drywall tape (which isn’t really tape at all – it’s paper with no sticky side – who knew?). I also bought a brand new utility knife. This one had never tasted blood before, and I’m happy to say it still hasn’t. My last one was like that bloodthirsty plant in Little Shop of Horrors. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to use a knife without hearing it say, “Feed me, Shannon.”
I’m not one of those people who watch YouTubes to see how to do something. I like to read how, and see step by step pictures. I used this LINK to learn how to drywall. I even cut it out in one piece with little rectangular ears on it to fix the drywall that was ripped off by the glue. It was perfect. Until I bent down to get the drywall tape and it fell on my head and broke. Go figure. I used the broken pieces and it turned out just fine. (NOTE – I knew I was going to tile over the area, so I did not have to be concerned with doing the neatest job, as you can see.)
Step 4: After I admired my drywall job for a week, reveling in all my drywall handyman glory, it was time to learn how to tile. I used this LINK for the basics. Then I went to my local hardware store and found the perfect tile. Or, at least, the tile I really wanted to use. The catch – it was backsplash tile, and had interlocking edges. It was also made of stone. The interlocking ends meant that I would have to cut the ends off the tiles for my edges. The stone meant that it would have to be cut with a saw. The saw meant either buying or renting a piece of equipment that I wasn’t willing to spend money on. So I settled. I found square sheets of mosaic stone tile that would not need cutting.
Tiling wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It was actually pretty easy until I got to the grouting part. For some reason the grout was flinging around the room like I was a monkey with a pitcher’s arm. This being a bedroom and not a shower, I really wanted to keep the clean-up to a minimum, so I used my hand to apply it. Maybe not the best idea, but it kept the fling radius to a minimum. My last remark about tiling is that scrubbing the grout off of the tops of stone tiles, with all their porous little clefts and crevices, was not the most enjoyable hour of my life. I imagine that it’s much easier to clean porcelain or ceramic tiles.
Step 5: The last thing that remains to be done is to capture anybody with eyes that you can get your hands on and make them admire your handy work. This step would be easier if my emperor status and power extended beyond the realms of my own imagination, but they don’t. Just for the record, my dogs think I did a fantastic job, but prefer my kitchen adventures. I’d love to hear about any DIY adventures of your own!