A fireplace is often the focal point of a room, and the mantel, or shelf above the firebox opening, is a feature that is both functional (protecting the room from flames and smoke) and decorative (providing a ledge to display items, such as framed photos). While the average mantel height is typically 54 inches above the hearth, or floor of the fireplace, several factors should be considered to determine the proper fireplace mantel height, including the size of the fireplace and the room in which it is located, the architectural style, and local fire codes.
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Consider the Mantel Style
When considering an upgrade to your current fireplace, look for mantel ideas that match the aesthetic of your space. Some mantels consist only of the shelf above the firebox, and others completely frame the surround (the area surrounding the firebox). Like other millwork in the home, a fireplace mantel is a prominent and defining element. With styles ranging from rustic and unembellished to ornate and extravagant, wood is the most common material used for mantels, but stone, brick, and other composites are used as well.
Some mantels, especially those from the Georgian era, are elaborate, with detailed molding, legs framing the entire surround, and an overmantel above the standard mantelshelf finished with a broken pediment (the cornice at its apex). Others, such as modern and minimalistic mantels, are simple shelves with little detail. There are plenty of categories that fall between the two, including traditional, Colonial Revival, and Victorian-era mantels, which offer detailed woodwork and sustaining appeal.
Measuring for a Mantel
The size and height of the fireplace mantel should correspond with its style, but there are some standard measurements and proportions that need to be considered.
- Height: Most mantel shelves sit between 52 inches and 58 inches above the floor, with the standard being 54 inches from the floor of the hearth. The style and size as well as the room size will determine final measurements, but a mantel should not be shorter than the width of the fireplace and hearth combined, and for safety purposes, the bottom of the mantel must be at least 12 inches from the top of the firebox opening.
- Width: The mantel should be wider than the firebox and surround if any. Again, standards will depend on the style, but typically, the mantel should extend 3 to 6 inches on either side.
- Depth: Generally, the overhang of a mantelshelf is 6 to 7 inches, allowing enough room for decorative items to be placed on the ledge but not extending so far that the mantel could be damaged by the heat from the firebox.
Mantels and Fire Safety
It is extremely important that mantels are installed to meet fire safety standards. Otherwise, they pose a fire hazard. In order to comply with code 211 of the National Fire Protection Agency, any combustible material must be at least 6 inches away from the opening of the firebox, and for every 1/8 inch protruding from the face of the wall, an additional inch of clearance is added. Furthermore, anything extending more than 1 1/2 inches must be at least 12 inches above the fireplace opening, and you should then add an inch to that distance for each inch further that the mantel protrudes.