If you’re looking to add a DIY electric fireplace to an empty wall that is traditional and beautiful- this tutorial if for you! It is a also an affordable project too. Learn how to frame and finish a fireplace with this detailed tutorial.
We’ve started working on my 7 year old son’s room. It’s big so I decided to take up some of the square footage with a DIY electric fireplace flanked by built-ins. In the winter, his room is cold so I thought this would be a great cozy edition! I’ll show you how we framed out and built the mantel for our electric fireplace.
This is our third fireplace build so we are experts at this point! You can see the first fireplace tutorial from my kitchen here and the second DIY fireplace from the main bedroom here.
diy electric fireplace
Let’s start with the video tutorial so you get an overview on what I did. Then, I’ll dive in with more details below:
If the video doesn’t work here, you can watch it on YouTube here. It’d mean so much if you’d watch the video! I’m trying to get better at my video skills so I can grow my YouTube channel. If you have a few minutes to watch this and/or subscribe, I’d so appreciate it.
before and the plan
Here is the before of the wall in my son’s room before building the fireplace.
For this project I wanted a traditional fireplace that doesn’t flare out at the edges since it needs to sit between two bookcases. When planning out a fireplace, I like to use the book The Fireplace Book by Miranda Innes that is full of different mantel images. I found my favorite inspiration from the book- I like how there’s two corbels holding up the ledge.
From there, I was able to sketch out my idea for the fireplace mantel.
- Electric Fireplace
- 2x4x8 – I used 3 for framing
- 2x6x4– I used 1 for framing
- 1 Plywood sheet
- 1″x10″x6′ Common Board
- Trim for side of the fireplace
- Shield Onlay
- Mussel Bound
- Bullnose Schulter (outer tile edge)
- L-Shaped Schulter (inner tile edge)
- Sublimation Tile
- Pencil Tile (similar to what I used)
- White Grout
- Frosted Sage Paint
step 1- build a frame
Since our fireplace is going between built-ins, we built those first. We’re using IKEA Billy Bookcases for the bookshelves and those come in limited sizes, so the bookcases need to be put in place first. The great thing about doing a DIY electric fireplace is that the dimensions can be tweaked to the spacing you have.
Note, I’ll have a separate tutorial for the bookcases when they’re complete.
One of the most important criteria when choosing the location of a fireplace is having an electrical outlet on a dedicated circuit close to where the fireplace will be. We had a double outlet rewired to be two separate outlets with one above the fireplace. That’s where the fireplace will be plugged in.
Now that the power is figured out, it’s time to frame the fireplace. We started out by putting the fireplace on the 6″ high base we built for the bookcases.
The beginning of framing is super easy because it’s putting one 2×4 on either side of the fireplace (23-2/4″ tall) and one on top (21″ wide). Place a 2×6 below the fireplace for stabilization (18″ wide). Screw those together.
Next, build the outside of the framing. This dimension will depend on the height and width of the desired finished fireplace. Our side 2×4’s are 37 1/4″ high and the top piece is 26″ wide. Screw those pieces together.
At this point of assembling the insert frame, we removed the small piece of framing across the top of the fireplace and replaced it with a 26″ wide piece that will help keep the shape of the frame square. This will also keep the opening square.
Here’s a view of the frame.
We also ended up adding a second 2×4 between the top two pieces of framing to support the tile and the top board.
Note, we also used a router to create a groove in the front of the inside 2×4. The fireplace has metal edges that fold in so this gives them a place to sit flush with the frame. Screw the fireplace into the front of the frame when it is complete.
On either side of the fireplace on the bookcase, we added in venting for the fireplace. This is to give it extra air to keep it cool in the back.
step 2- add the facing to the frame
Next, begin adding the facing to the frame. First, we glued the two corbels to either side of the top of the fireplace. They are also attached with a few nails from the nail gun for extra hold. These corbels will visually hold up the mantel ledge.
Once those are in, cut a piece of the common board to measure 8″ high by 21 3/4″ wide. This is the height of the corbels and the width of the opening between the corbels. Nail that in place.
Cut plywood facing for the front of the fireplace. The first piece is 18″ wide and 5 1/2″ tall.
Continue cutting plywood facing for the sides of the fireplace. The side pieces are 5 1/2″ wide and 25 1/4″ tall.
Note, this plywood facing is what will be tiled. So this is a good time to look at the tile and the edging you want to use as that needs to work exactly on this size.
We looked at this sizing when choosing where the bookcases will go. The mantel needs to be the width of the electric fireplace plus the width of the tile and edging times two. This needs to be precise to get a seamless look.
Glue and nail the onlay onto the center of the wood between the corbels.
For the last part of the facing, cut a piece of the common board to be 6″ high by 18″ wide. Nail that into place at the bottom center of the fireplace.
step 3- tile
And now, it’s time to tile! For the project, I’m using a product called Mussel Bound instead of using cement board and mud. This is a cleaner way to tile and easier for a beginner DIYer. First, use cut pieces of mussel bound and use those to attach the Schulter (tile edge).
Then, cut more of the Mussel Bound and add that to the open spacing between the metal edging. To cut the mussel bound, I just measured the width I needed and cut it with scissors.
Use a tile float to push the mussel bound against the backer board to ensure it’s stuck on well.
make a tile plan
Plan out the tile layout. Because I’m tiling on a sticky surface, it’s important to get the placement perfect the first time.
Cut any tiles that need to be cut. We only had a few cuts. Because the tile saw is wet, it’s important to let the tiles throughly dry before putting on the mussel bound. Wet tiles will not adhere (even slightly wet). To speed up the drying process, I used a heat gun on the back of the tile (a blow dryer would work too).
Next, peel back the protective paper on the mussel bound to reveal the sticky surface where you’re ready to tile.
Place the tile on the mussel bound exactly where you want them. If needed, use the tile spacers they provide. Because the tiles stay where they’re placed, you can add a spacer, put the next tile in, and then pull out that spacer and use it in a new spot. Tile one section at a time to keep the adhesive clean.
Continue tiling all across the fireplace surround.
One of the best benefits of using the mussel bound tile adhesive is you can immediately grout! When using mud, that needs to typically set for 24 hours. After everything was tiled, I mixed up some white grout and added that in all the gaps and spaces.
step 4- finish work
Finally, it’s time to finish up the DIY electric fireplace! To do that, begin by cutting a piece of the common board for the ledge across the top of the mantel. This piece measures 32″ long by 7 1/2″ wide. Use a nail gun to attach this board to the top of the mantel.
Add trim to each side of the fireplace. Without this, you can see the side of a piece of plywood so the trim finishes it off nicely. The trim is 37 1/4″ tall.
Next, fill all nail holes with wood filler. Use caulk on any seams.
And then paint all of the wood. I went with the color Frosted Sage by Behr. It took two coats of paint to cover up the wood. I used painter’s tape to make sure I didn’t get paint on the floor or the tile.
I am SO thrilled with how the fireplace turned out! Its really sweet and I think it’ll be really nice to have for this room as my son grows up in it!
This whole wall with the built-ins is not done yet (stay tuned for next week’s post), but I want to show you the fireplace portion because that is complete and looks so nice!
It was really fun to use the tile I made last week! It looks so sweet in place and is definitely the whimsical soft touch I had in mind.
When I was painting the fireplace I was tempted to go white because that’d tie in nicely with the tile. But I stuck with my initial vision and stuck with the mint (which is Frosted Sage by Behr). The only spot I might reconsider is the spot at the bottom. What do you think- should I re-paint that white?
The cat art above the fireplace was selected by my son- the animal lover. It actually hides some secret storage! I’ll share more next week. I do think the art makes the fireplace look very serious. But with the accessories I think it’s still playful and fun.
I really love how this came together! And having this section done makes me really excited to finish the whole thing so I can fill it with books!
How much does it cost to build an electric fireplace? That will depend on the style of the fireplace and the materials used. This fireplace project cost me $313 to complete.
I spent $182 on the electric fireplace, $38 on the corbels, $4 on the onlay. We needed schulter for the edges of the tile and that cost $48. We bought 2 of the 2×4’s for $7 to frame the fireplace. Mussel Bound cost $34. I had the paint, plywood, grout, tile and other wood on hand.
So that’s how to make a DIY electric fireplace! Do you have any questions about this process? I included my measurements in the hopes to be helpful, though I know each space will need a bit of a tweak to work. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think!
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Wow you rock, guys! Always lovely
Ashley Wilson says
Thank you Sara! That’s so kind of you!