Install a Patterned Backsplash
Before hubs worked his reno magic, our basement laundry room started with humble dungeon-like beginnings. It had a typical builder set-up of a double sink and connections for the washer and dryer. Who would ever want to spend time doing laundry there?
The beauty of the tiles we chose is that they have ‘bump outs’ on the edges. If you can find tiles like this, they make installation a breeze because you don’t have to take precious time to insert tile spacers between each tile to leave a space for grout! If you can’t find them, you’ll need to purchase tile spacers to perform the same function.
Note that we used a ledger board to support the tile on the wall. You can read our previous post on how to install a ledger board if you don't have lower cabinets and a counter top.
Thinset vs. Mastic
We were advised by the tile shop to use thinset instead of mastic. Thinset comes as a dry powder and has to be mixed with water, whereas mastic is more like a glue and comes premixed in a bucket – ready to use. The thinset sticks to porcelain better and is much more durable for a backsplash where water could penetrate the grout and possibly loosen the tiles over time. Thinset is above and beyond the best choice for this project!
The thinset we used is a polymer fortified adhesive that claims to provide superior vertical non-slag performance. The last thing you want is tiles sliding down the wall after you’ve spent so much time carefully placing them!
Mark reference line(s) on the wall.
When tiling, you’ll get a professional looking job if you radiate the pattern out from the centre of the wall so you need to mark guide lines to follow. Using a tape, measure the width of the wall where you’ll be placing the backsplash. Divide in half and mark the centre point on the wall with a pencil. Use the tape again to measure the distance from each end of the wall to the pencil mark to double check that you have the exact centre.
Use a level to draw a vertical line at the centre point. This will be the starting point for the tile. From that level line you can then measure where you want to start the height of the tiles if you don't have lower cabinets.
We determined that we wanted four rows of tile so measured down from the underside of our cabinets and placed a level horizontal pencil line across the wall for our ledger board (if you have lower cabinets, you’ll be skipping this step and starting at counter height).
Gather your tools in one accessible spot. Here, we’re using an old door as a work surface (which eventually became the counter top in my craft studio!). You'll see a complete list supplies for this project if you visit our blog (link at the end of this post).
Turn off the water and electrical.
After turning off water and electrical, remove outlet covers and the flange around plumbing if you have one. We used making tape to seal up the electrical outlet to keep thinset off of it.
Protect walls, cabinets and floors.
We laid plastic and cardboard on the floor to arrange our tile layout on and to subsequently catch any thinset drips. Underneath the upper cabinets and on the sides of the walls we use green painters tape to secure 12" poly coated paper that’s water resistant. If you don’t have that, waxed paper or even heavy brown paper will protect the walls from messy thinset.
Randomize the Tile Layout
This step is important because you want to avoid placing the same tile side-by-side. Hubs removed all the tiles from the boxes and placed them on top of a piece of plastic on the floor so we could see the variety of patterns we had. Then we started to mix them.
Keep in mind that the patterns can be turned clockwise so they look completely different from other repetitions of the same tile in the field. We stepped back to view and finessed them until we were happy with the final look. From there, we took the first row of tiles to the ledger board (or counter top, if that’s what you’re working on) and did a dry fit.
Dry fit and cut the first row of tiles.
Doing a dry layout on the actual wall for the first row of patterned tile does two things: 1) it ensures that you really do like pattern mix of the starter row and 2) it allows you to pre-mark and then cut out obstructions like the electrical outlet and/or flange around plumbing (if you’re doing a laundry room like us).
We started the first row of tiles from the centre mark out to the edges of the wall to double check our measurements (use spacers between each tile if you don’t have bump-outs). We used green tape to keep the tiles from accidentally falling off the board.
If the spacing isn’t equal when you’ve dry laid the tiles to each end, then your centre line is off and you’ll have to re-measure to get it symmetrical.
At this point, It’s helpful to make yourself a diagram of the layout showing the centre of the wall (there's an example on our site).
With the first row established on the ledger board, now’s the time to transfer markings onto the tiles to cut the electrical and plumbing openings. We used a combination square (pictured below) to line up the edges of the opening and transfer them onto the tile so it was ready for the wet saw.
If you don't have a wet saw, we suggest you rent one; it makes quick work of cutting tiles!
With some of the initial cuts done, prepare to number the tiles. We suggest cutting pieces of green tape then writing numbers onto them before transferring the tape to your tile; that way, the marker can’t bleed onto your beautiful tiles! Start by sticking on the numbers for the first row and any of the pieces pre-cut for the second row (refer back to your diagram).
As you can see below, the hole for the plumbing flange is completely cut and the electrical outlet is started on the first row. Some of the end pieces are also cut which we could do in advance because our walls were perfectly square. Just in case your walls are out of square, stick to only cutting the ends of the first row; the ends of rows 2 – 4 should be measured and cut as they are installed.
How to apply the tiles.
You'll find instructions and tips for mixing your thinset on our website. Once mixed, dip the flat side of the trowel into the thinset so that you can lift out a dollop of the material. The flat side of the trowel helps to get an even consistency. When you apply the thinset, spread it out at a 45-degree angle to get good coverage and achieve the proper thickness.
Start at the inside of the vertical centre line you marked on the wall and work the thinset out to the edges and up to the underside of the cabinets. Be sure not to go over the centre line as you apply the thinset; the line will help keep your work perfectly straight.
Once the thinset is fully spread, you can add a bit more in the same manner if needed. Then flip over to the notched side of the trowel and comb grooves into thinset – again while holding the trowel at a 45-degree angle. You can see the notches in the thinset below. There's actually a right and wrong way to notch thinset (you'll find that info and more pictures on our website).
Carefully clean off any thinset you accidentally get on the tile face with a damp rag. After the first row is done, continue with the second row. On the second row, when you get near the end of the wall, measure the distance from the last tile to the wall. Take a measurement from both the top and bottom of the last tile – in case the wall is at an angle. Then transfer the measurement(s) to your tile, draw a line and cut. Stick the end piece in place, then continue along with the next row until all the tiles are installed.
If you run into a situation where there is no support under a tile (like we did around our plumbing flange) use pieces of green or blue tape to support the tile from sagging. Even though the fortified thinset is not supposed to sag, the force of gravity can still make it slump after you’ve finished and left the room, so why take a chance?
You need to wait 24-48 hours before you can apply the grout. Stayed tuned for a future post where we show you how to do that!
Maybe patterned tiles are a trend or maybe they are here to stay, but we love how they look on our laundry room backsplash!
The prep work is what takes the most time; it took hubs about 4 ½ hours to gather tools, set everything up and finalize the layout (it takes a lot of planning to make things look ‘random’ – lol). The actual installation of the tile – mixing the thinset and placing the tile – took about 2 hours; the total time commitment was 6 ½ hours from start to finish.
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