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Building a Custom Electric Fireplace Surround

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I love the layout of our new home’s living room, but my husband, Evan, and I felt there was something noticeably missing from it: a fireplace.

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This is something I realized I was taking for granted in all previous homes I’ve lived in; it wasn’t until we started the search for our first house that we realized that not all homes in our area (in our price range) have a traditional fireplace.

But we didn’t take houses off our list because they didn’t have a built-in fireplace just yet. We did a quick online search and found there were several stores in our area that sold electric fireplaces. But after going to the stores and getting estimates for a) the fireplace unit itself, b) the fireplace surround and mantle and c) installation costs, we learned pretty quickly that that route was way out of our budget.

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At this point we were still determined to find a way to add a fireplace to our living room. This is also about the time I had a few epiphanies, without which the following project would not be possible:

  • Evan’s parents had purchased an electric fireplace a few years ago, which they were unable to return and kindly donated to our new home;
  • One of my uncles is a master woodworker; and
  • My father is a retired general contractor (although both he and my uncle assure me this project can be done with a basic set of d-i-y skills).

After putting these pieces together, the idea came to design and build a custom surround for the electric fireplace.

What You’ll Need:

  • table saw
  • finish nail gun with finish nails
  • edge banding and an iron
  • hammer
  • tape measure and level
  • birch plywood and trim (trim optional)
  • wood glue
  • wood filler
  • paintbrush
  • primer and paint

Evan and I researched online and in local hearth stores to determine what kind of look we wanted. We both agreed something simple would fit in best with the casual style of our living room.

My dad and I then exchanged phone calls and I emailed him photos of what we were looking for, and within a week he delivered us a prototype made from scrap wood. (I should also interject here that I can’t take much credit for the construction of the fireplace surround—kudos go to my dad and uncle for building us such a quality piece. With that said, they told me this project could be completed by anyone with a fundamental set of woodworking skills).

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Here are the steps they shared with me on how to build the surround:

You’ll first want to measure the size of your electric fireplace. As you begin sketching your design, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for space requirements. We added a box frame so the fireplace wouldn’t be sitting on the floor and for some added interest.

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Using a table saw, cut the birch plywood, then use wood glue and a finish nailer to assemble the pieces. You’ll notice from the scrap prototype that this essentially involves creating a wood box to hide the fireplace unit. For added reinforcement, nail triangular pieces of wood to all four corners of the piece, covering the unit itself.

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The steps for creating the top very similar, but you’ll want to make sure your measurements work out so the top is a snug fit on the middle piece.

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After applying edge banding or wood trim to the seams and rough edges (we opted for trim), you’re ready to fill in any remaining holes left from the nail gun and prime and paint (or stain) all the pieces. Those last cosmetic steps I can take credit for—I’m still working on getting up the confidence to use the nail gun and table saw.

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If you’re not comfortable with building a fireplace surround from scratch yourself (or if you don’t have a retired contractor and woodworker on call like we do), another mid-range budget option would be to enlist the help of a local woodworker. Check with your local hardware store, as these retailers often know local contractors they can recommend for a project like this one. You can easily save money by staining or painting the finished piece yourself.

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Amanda Bell
More about Amanda Bell

Amanda spends her weekdays working as an editor for NRHA and her weekends working on d-i-y projects for the home she shares with her husband, Evan. Located in a suburb just north of Indianapolis, the home is their first, so many of the projects they work on to beautify it are firsts for them, too. She loves searching for new d-i-y blogs to follow and is addicted to Pinterest, so her project list is always growing.

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24 responses to “Building a Custom Electric Fireplace Surround”

  1. Claudia Ross says:

    Your fireplace surround came out beautiful. My husband and I are looking to do the same. Unfortunately, our fireplace insert which we bought about five years ago has a vent on the top of it where the heat comes out of. Does your insert have the vent on the top?

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