Fireplace Surrounds Update
Back in 2013 The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a safety bulletin drawing attention to a number of deaths caused by incorrect fitting of stone fireplace surrounds. Tragically there are still occasional incidents, and the HETAS Technical team is revisiting an article published in Technical Bulletin #1 in 2013 to remind installers of the best practice.
Whilst it may seem implausible that an inert stone block can kill, stone mantels can be very heavy and their design means they are often seated on vertical jambs with the mantel having a large overhang that makes them unstable and close to the point of toppling. Whilst any death or injury is unacceptable, what makes this situation worse is that the deaths have happened to the most vulnerable in our society: young children. Toddlers learning to walk often use furniture to pull themselves up onto their feet. A young child pulling on an insecurely fixed fireplace surround can easily load the mantel beyond the point of stability and cause it to topple onto themselves.
Bonding the surround’s back to the wall isn’t considered a suitable method of fixing as bonds can break or be weakened by the thermal movement between the chimney breast and surround. Correct mechanical fixing is the only safe option, with the surround being fixed in place using brackets that are designed to take both the dead load of the surround components and any imposed load from objects placed on the mantel, and children or adults pulling up on it.
Manufacturers have been instructed by HSE to take the necessary measures to ensure the surrounds are securely fixed, giving the following guidance for the information that should be provided to the installer of the surround:
- Which wall/floor types the fireplace surround may be suitable for and those on which it should not be mounted (e.g. non-structural walls such as demountable partitions or lightweight metal stud walls, etc).
- How the surround is to be assembled including the correct sequence.
- The recommended bonding products and the extent of their application (e.g. area and joint thickness) to bed the individual stone components together, and the recommended method of using the bonding product – given the type of stone involved (e.g. pre-wet porous or impervious).
- How the fireplace surround should be secured to different forms of wall construction and finish.
- The number and type of mechanical fittings to be used, where they are positioned, and how they are to be fixed to both the stone components and to the wall to hold and secure the stones in position.
- The curing time before the fireplace can be used with a lit fire or appliance.
- Any additional information for the home-owner e.g. how much weight may be placed upon the mantel.
To help strengthen the requirements for fixing fireplace surrounds BS 1251:2015 Specification for open- replace components was redrafted to include extra guidance on fixing both cast stone and cut stone fire surrounds.
For more information visit the HSE bulletin Risks to occupiers from the installation of modular, stone and artificial stone replace surrounds.
Download the Stone Federation of Great Britain’s guidance on fixing fireplace surrounds which was published in 2013 and revised in 2015:
Alternatively contact the HETAS Technical Helpline for advice on 01684 278194 or email email@example.com.
You can access HETAS Technical Bulletin #1 and all of our other bulletins in the HETAS Technical Area (login details required).