Reader Request: DIY Concrete Hearth Update

On my Facebook page this week a reader named Glenn asked about our concrete hearth

“Just discovered your blog while searching for concrete hearth stones. Michele and I have also been searching for the right stone and have looked at granite, slate, etc. We think we’re going to go with the low cost concrete alternative. Have you finished the hearth and any pics? Would love to see how yours turned out.”

I realized it would make a great reader request update and immediately went to work taking photos. Hope this helps you out!

DSC_7929-01First things first, we really enjoy our concrete hearth. Post pour we had planned to seal the hearth as it was. After the concrete cured we realized we had a mild dusting issue on the very top surface of the concrete which led us to change our plans to polish the hearth instead. Polishing would expose the stones within the concrete for a smooth salt and pepper look. The more we talked the more we realized we actually liked the look of the raw rough surface if we took just a wire brush to it. The decision to forgo the polish step was solidified, and we don’t regret it at all.

DSC_7934-01DSC_7937-01The rough rustic nature goes well with our reclaimed pine floors and our design preferences in general. We easily could polish the hearth in the future (after not so easily removing the wood stove again), but I can’t imagine that we will. For a finish, we used Thompsons Water Sealer. Andy can’t remember how many coats he did, but it wasn’t many.

As far as any issues we’ve had with the hearth there has only been one…ish, and one we don’t care in the least about. To be honest, I’m not sure I would even classify it as an “issue”.

DSC_7932-01Once we put the wood stove on the hearth, which was task in and of itself, we adjusted it. As we did the adjustment the stove came off the planks we were using and it scratched the hearth. It’s not even a gouge, just a surface scrape. The white is just a light dust that shows up when you scrape concrete in general. If we touched those with a damp cloth they wouldn’t show up as prominently when they dried. As you can tell, we haven’t done that because it bothers us that little. You can get a better glimpse of it in the photo below.  The white dots in the photo below are ash. The scratches are directly by the legs.

DSC_7940-01Over all, we’re really happy with the concrete and we’d absolutely do it the same way if we had to do it all over again. No doubts about it. It saved us a ton of money, it fits our style, it suits the need, and it looks nice. The difference in color in the photo below is because the light was streaming in and hitting the hearth. It’s uniform in color.

DSC_7941-01Hearth aside, I’ve also been asked if the wood stove being in this location means the other areas of the house are cold. 99% no. The 1% is the toilet seat in the bathroom. Even when that room was heated with oil when we first moved in, the toilet seat would be pretty cold. Let’s just say this – it wakes you up in the morning. The upstairs bedroom on the road side is slightly chillier in the morning than the master but that’s often because we keep that door shut, and because the master bedroom is directly above the living room. The heat not only comes up the stairs to get in the room, but it also resonates through the floor. The house in total stays toasty warm with just this stove. It’s going to be even toastier once we fix all of the insulation in the original house. We also have a monitor heater in the same room which will kick on at a certain temperature. This helps keep the house comfortable enough when we’re gone that the pipes won’t freeze. It never kicks on as long as the wood stove is going though. Even when the wood stove goes out it takes a long time for the house to drop low enough for the heater to kick in.

I hope all of that helps! If there’s anything else you guys want to seen an update on let me know in the comments below. There must be other things I need to tie up the loose ends on!




Our Dyed Concrete Hearth & Lessons Learned

When it came to a wood stove hearth in our new living room we knew we wanted something that would hold up but was also sleek. Oh, and it had to be affordable and easy. We simply didn’t have the money for a big slab of granite, slate, or anything similar. We also really didn’t want tile. We had been eying dyed concrete for a while for the kitchen counters but decided to give this a go first. Though Andy had poured huge slabs before, we had never poured a small slab…in our house…dyed…in winter.

I’m going to be up front when I say ours didn’t turn out perfectly. We had a dusting issue, which admittedly kind of stinks but things happen, you know? I’ll explain more below. This issue had to do with after it’s poured though, and not how we mixed it. All said, this was a good “test run” so to say about what we can do better if we do concrete counters.

The first thing Andy did was mark out where we wanted the hearth on the floor so we could assess if it fit our needs. We always prop our winter boots next to the stove, and like to stand next to it too on the hearth, so we knew it had to be big enough for more than just the stove.

DSC_2094-01Once we had a general idea of the layout, Andy cut the wood a little longer than we drew out just to make sure we liked it. We decided we really didn’t want it any longer so he cut the wood to length and adhered a construction grade plastic to one side of the wood to make a concrete form. The plastic would allow the form to release later on, instead of have the concrete adhere to it during curing.

DSC_2125-01DSC_2127-01Once we had the form in place we put some painters tape in a level line to the form. Side note here: You will want to keep a wet cloth on hand. As you pour the mix, it may splatter. We had no issues with it dying our wall which was pretty great. Score one for the Sherwin-Williams eggshell paint, it was super easy to clean. If however you are concerned, I would recommend taping up some thin plastic above your pour line to minimize splatters on the wall. No matter what, you should expect some bleeding up the wall. You may be able to wash this right off, you may have to touch up that area of your wall with paint.

DSC_2139-01When it comes to concrete you need to follow the directions for mixing, and curing to ensure it turns out properly.

DSC_2073-01For our dye we decided to go with a black from Direct Colors, Inc. in hopes it would turn out dark gray.

DSC_2090-01We used a scale for weight, versus a measuring cup because it’s important to ensure each batch has the same ratios to have a uniform color. To get our ratios we just followed the directions that came with the dye for how much per pound of cement, and measured it out in a container that I tared to zero before each weighing.

DSC_2136-01After mostly mixing the cement and aggregate you want to slowly sprinkle in the color while you finish mixing. It was hard to get photos, but the mixing/dying process looked something like this (one of the mixing photos is after we poured a few batches already, ignore that).

DSC_2172-01 DSC_2176-01 DSC_2132-01 DSC_2138-01 DSC_2217-01 DSC_2218-01 DSC_2219-01 DSC_2145-01Once you have everything mixed pour slowly. We didn’t put a protective plastic sheet up so instead once we realized there were splatters we improvised. As Andy poured I held the cardboard at a few inches back from the tip of the wheelbarrow and a few inches off the ground. Success.

DSC_2220-01To make the slab itself we poured a few batches, followed by re-bar, followed by a few more batches.

DSC_2179-01 DSC_2189-01 DSC_2192-01 DSC_2195-01 DSC_2199-01 DSC_2207-01 DSC_2213-01Then came smoothing everything out and running a level over the top to get the water off the top while ensuring a level surface to the slab. Once everything was level we took a sander, minus sandpaper, and vibrated the form and the floor to release any air pockets throughout. This process will also bring water to the surface.

DSC_2226-01 DSC_2234-01This is where we may have hit our snag. Once we finished vibrating we troweled the surface smooth. The only thing we can think of to cause the dusting was we troweled the water back into the surface layer. There are a few reasons dusting can occur, but the only one that made sense in our setting was excess water being worked back into the surface. Lesson learned.

As the slab cured (concrete is cured through a chemical reaction, not drying the water out) it wasn’t just dark gray, it was black. I mean really, really, black. It sort of grew on us and we really liked it with the flooring we would be putting down.

DSC_2239-01As it kept curing over the next 48 hours it started getting lighter and lighter. Eventually it cured to a medium gray. While not the dark gray we intended, or the black that we ended up really liking, the medium gray was still darker than a natural concrete slab and will still be nice against the reclaimed pine floors we’ll be laying.

DSC_2348-01It was about this time we started seeing an issue. When we ran our finger across the top it came up with a dust (hence the name, dusting). Once the dust was blown away we were left with a patch of rough material. Womp womp.

DSC_2369-01We put some spray sealer on but realized this wasn’t going to fix the rest of it from dusting. So that said, we’ve come up with a solution. We are going to take a concrete grinder and grind it down. Instead of looking like a slate slab, it will have smooth exposed aggregate which will give it a salt and pepper look. Overall it should still look nice when done, and I’ll definitely blog about it once we do it. In other words, we’re still turning it into something still nice—and we’ve learned something valuable for our kitchen counters if we decide to go with concrete.

When your cake comes out broken, mash that cake in with frosting, roll them in balls, put them in chocolate, put a stick in them and call them cake pops. Just like you intended.

Who wanted a smooth slab anyway?