No combustibles are allowed within 6 inches of the firebox.

Q: I’m working on a remodeling project where the clients want to replace a modern-style fireplace mantel with a salvaged decorative one. However, the wood surround appears to be too close to the existing firebox opening at the sides and top. How close can a mantel surround be? Are the clearances different with manufactured fireplace inserts (in case their hearts are set on installing the decorative mantel)?

A: Doug Horgan, a vice president of best practices at BOWA, a design/build remodeling company in Northern Virginia, responds: In my experience, there are two standards to follow with regards to fireplace mantel and surround clearances: With traditional masonry fireplaces, follow the code book standards, and with manufactured fireplaces, follow the installation instructions.

Traditional masonry fireplaces. For standard masonry fireplaces, fireplace codes are in Chapter 10 of the International Residential Code (or local versions, such as the Virginia Residential Code, that are based on it). Section 1001.11 “Fireplace Clearance” of the IRC (2018 edition), Exception 4 states the following:

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