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Clearance Requirements For A Mantel Or Mantel Shelf?

What Are The Clearance Requirements For A Mantel Or Mantel Shelf?

Fireplace mantel surrounds

Did you know that installing fireplace mantel shelves or surrounds without adequate clearance from the fireplace opening can be a dangerous fire hazard? It can lead to damage and injury, or worse. Most applications (wood-burning, gas fueled, or electric) radiate heat from the front of the firebox, along the sides, up above the fireplace opening, and even down toward the hearth and floor area. Because of this, your mantel surround or shelf must be placed a safe distance away from the firebox. A non-combustible material (tile, marble, stone, concrete, etc.) is also required to be installed between the fireplace opening and your mantel. 

Many fireplace mantel shelves and surrounds are built from wood. As you can imagine, this material is combustible, so it is very important that the appropriate clearance is enforced and maintained. Since fire and building codes vary from state to state and town to town, it is the homeowner's responsibility to check on these ordinances prior to installation. These regulations are in place to protect life and property, and to avoid creating unsafe situations that result in a fire. In the absence of codes, the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) highly recommends following the guidelines set by the National Fire Code and/or the National/Standard Building Codes.

Fireplace Doors Online puts the safety of our customers first, and we're here to give you a heads up on the fireplace mantel clearance to combustibles issue so that you can enjoy your fireplace risk-free! 

National Fire Code
  • This ordinance states that any combustible material (such as a wood mantel surround or shelf) must be at least 6 inches from the fireplace opening.
  • In addition, for every 1/8 inch that a trim or molding piece on your mantel juts out, another 1 inch of clearance is needed.
    • For example: If a 3/8” of trim protrudes over the bulk of the mantel – you would need 9 inches of clearance from the firebox, minimum.
  • When installing a mantel shelf, don't forget to account for any brackets or corbels when measuring for the appropriate clearance!
Steel mantel shelves
National Standard Building Code

Masonry-Built Fireplaces

  • All combustible mantel surrounds and shelves must be kept at least 12 inches from the opening of your fireplace (top and sides).
  • In addition, if the side panels of your mantel project more than 1-1/2 inches from the fireplace facing, you will need additional clearance equal to this projection.
    • For example: If your side panels jut out 2 inches from the facing, an additional 2 inches of clearance will be needed from the fireplace opening to the sides of the mantel assembly.
  • When installing a mantel shelf, don't forget to account for any brackets or corbels when measuring for the appropriate clearance!

Factory-Built Fireplaces

  • All factory-built/prefab/zero-clearance applications must be testing-agency listed and installed in accordance with the agency's requirements. What this means for you is that you need to read and follow the manufacturer's guidelines in your owner's manual regarding fireplace mantel installation, safety and fire-hazard clearances, warnings, and usage. (If you do not have a manual, contact the manufacturer.)
  • Typically, “zero-clearance” means that the fireplace is recessed into the wall. Wood or framing can be installed tight against the insulated firebox. However, some of these prefab applications have instructions or labels that strictly require a ½ inch clearance to certain materials.
  • Make sure you are following the installation requirements found in your fireplace owner's manual, paying special attention to clearances and warnings!

Improper installation of a mantel surround or shelf can lead to personal injury or property damage. Play it safe by reading and adhering to all safety and fire clearance codes and/or manufacturer's instructions.

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Last updated on October 31st 2019.