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What Is a Hearth?

A slate hearth may be a good match for a rustic wood cabin.
A fireplace with a brown hearth.
Hearths are use to catch stray ash from a wood stove or fireplace.
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  • Written By: Darlene Goodman
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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In most instances, the term hearth refers to the masonry work surrounding a fireplace or wood-burning stove, and often specifically indicates the brick or tile flooring in or around it. This masonry typically serves the purpose of catching stray ash from the fire, instead of allowing it to land on flammable materials such as wooden floors or walls. The word hearth may also, in many contexts, indicate the fireplace as a whole, and is sometimes extended to mean the general concept of home or family, as in the phrase hearth and home.

Hearths are usually made from stone, brick, cement, or tile. It may cover part or all of the wall around a fireplace, as well as the floor in front of it. It can also include a mantel, which is a shelf above a fireplace that is typically made of wood or stone. For wood stoves, the hearth is often simply a ceramic or stone slab that the stove sits on.

Traditionally, most homes contained a hearth because most people did their cooking over a fire in a fireplace. Also, many buildings derived their warmth in the winter from such fireplaces and wood stoves, and some buildings had two or more of them. There is historical evidence that some governments placed a tax on each hearth in a building.

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Hearths come in many shapes and sizes, and are made using a variety of building materials. Often, cooking fireplaces are large fixtures, taking up an entire kitchen wall. Many decorative hearths that are not used for cooking also extend over an entire wall, but this is usually more for visual effect than for functionality. Many others are not large at all, but consist of only the fireplace cavity and the masonry work on the floor to catch the ash.

Hearths may be considered a key interior design element in a room. The visual impact of a fireplace can change with the style of hearth that surrounds it. Even sealed, natural gas-powered fireplaces usually have one, even though there is little chance of ash or sparks spilling on the floor.

Hearth materials may come in a variety of colors and styles. Rustic-looking fireplaces may use hewn rock. Contemporary fireplace design may incorporate limestone, marble, sandstone, or even synthetic composite products. Each has a different level of heat resistance, and some materials are better than others, depending on the intended use of a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

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Discuss this Article

JaneAir
Post 9

@indemnifyme - I don't think there is anything wrong with a marble hearth. I think it really depends on the style of the home.

In my opinion, a more "traditional" hearth would just look silly in some of the more modern homes. I personally think in that kind of situation, marble would be fine. But if you have a more rustic style home, go with the brick, by all means!

indemnifyme
Post 8

My grandma has a fireplace in her house. It's a gas fireplace, and I know she uses it pretty frequently during the winter time.

Her hearth is made of marble, and it's green to match the carpet. I'm sad to say, I kind of don't like the way it looks. I feel like a fireplace should have a hearth made out of brick or stone or something more "traditional" like that. I suppose the marble hearth does it's job, but I don't find it very aesthetically pleasing.

Speechie
Post 7

I have always loved the look of hearths that take up most of the wall or the entire wall. To me it just makes a place feel more rustic and cozy just to have a hearth, especially a large one.

I did not grow up with a hearth, therefore we did not a have a fireplace. I always loved going to friend's houses on cold winter days, after being outside for a while, and warming up by their fireplace and hearth.

I was always thankful and appreciative of the fact we had central heat in the winter, but there is just nothing better than warming up by a real fire in the comfort of your home. Outside fires are great too, but you can never get as comfy and feel as safe as you can indoors by a fireplace and hearth.

lovealot
Post 6

@B707 - I also have fond childhood memories of the fireplace hearth. In our living room we had a traditional red brick hearth surrounding the fireplace cave. But the floor in front was small, so when the chain fence was open, sparks would fly out onto the carpet. So we always put an old blanket on the carpet.

Sometimes on Saturday nights, we would have a meal, like a picnic, with all our favorite food. We'd eat and sit around the fire, maybe playing some games. It was cool as kids, but when we got to be teenagers, we thought it was a little lame.

B707
Post 5

I have many childhood memories of time spent around the fireplace hearth. The first house I lived in as a child was very small and had hardly any insulation in it. One winter it was so cold and the bedrooms were too cold to sleep in.

So my mom brought me and my brother out to the fireplace and that's where we slept until the nights got warmer. I don't remember the details, but I just have a feeling of warmth and coziness about the experience.

manykitties2
Post 4

@lonelygod - My cousin has one of those McMansions that you see popping up in suburbs all over the country and they went with a really majestic hearth. I loved the look, as I felt it created a real focal point for their home that really complimented the design.

If your wife is worried about the big hearth being a problem, you could always compromise on color or materials. I think that hearth fireplaces are gorgeous and would hate to see you miss out on a marble facade just because it was a bit too much.

I think you could even go with a corner hearth, as they look even grander in my opinion.

lonelygod
Post 3

Has anyone ever seen a really majestic hearth in anyone's home? Did you think it was a bit too much, or did it work well with the design?

My wife and I are trying to decide what kind of fireplace hearths we should have in our home, as we are looking at one for the living room and one for our bedroom. I personally like the big grand hearths that you would see in wealthier homes. I love the look of lots of marble. My wife thinks that grand, majestic hearths are a bit overdone, and I am not sure how I can convince her that we should go with a really big hearth.

myharley
Post 2

I think having a fireplace in a home, whether it be gas or wood burning, adds so much warmth and coziness.

There is nothing like the warmth of a warm fire on a cold winter day to improve the atmosphere of the room.

Sometimes when I am really cold and want to get warmed up quickly, I will sit directly on the hearth in front of the fire until I get completely warm.

There is something about the hearth heat that instantly begins to warm me up. I usually have a cup of coffee or hot tea with me when I do this, so that probably helps too!

Mykol
Post 1

We have a large fireplace in our family room that we burn a lot of wood in throughout the winter. When this fireplace was built it was set up so it can also be connected to run as a gas fireplace.

Since we like the warmth and smell of real logs burning, we continue to use it as a natural wood burning fireplace.

The large fireplace hearth is made of stone and is really important to have when you are adding more logs to the fire or stoking the fire to keep it going.

There have been many times when a spark has escaped from inside the fireplace and landed on the hearth. Since it is made of stone, I don't have to worry about it catching fire - as long as it doesn't go any further than the hearth.

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