How to Install A Tile Backsplash
We installed our tile backsplash over two years ago and I am still smitten! To learn more about how and why we picked this arabesque tile, head HERE! But now, for how we installed it
All outlets/faceplates must be removed prior to install – this step includes turning off your electricity, removing outlets and taping them off with electricians tape, etc. This tutorial does not purport to tell you how to safely remove or replace outlets prior to installing your backsplash or how to reinstall outlets following completion, and I do not assume responsibility for any damage or injury that might occur during this process, or the process of installing your backsplash – proceed at your own risk! (*Electricity is dangerous – consult a professional if you are at all unsure about what you are doing!*)Okay, now that we got that out of the way, we can move on to the fun part!Now...Otherwise prepare your space and your backsplash surface. This step will be different for everyone, so I won’t spend too much time here – if you have questions feel free to drop them in the comments! For us, this involved using plastic tarps to tape off our countertops and bottom cabinets to ensure they remained mortar and grout free. Also remove all necessary appliances
We also (long before this project actually started) used an angle grinder to prep our old granite backsplash to ensure that the mortar and tile would create an adequate bond. If you’re tiling over a wall you won’t need to worry about this step! It’s really only necessary if you are attempting to tile over an extremely glossy surface. You can read more about out angle grinding adventure Here. It’s also a good idea to wipe off your backsplash surface with a damp cloth and allow to dry.We also nailed in a 1″ x 2″ board at counter height where our stove was – this creates a surface for the tile to rest on where there is no countertop – otherwise it may just fall right off. Darn gravity
Mix your mortar in a bucket, and do so in SMALL batches, as it dries quickly. We mixed about 1-2 dry cups of mortar with the appropriate amount of water for each batch. And you might be shocked, but I recommend ignoring the mixing instructions on the package and mixing more so you get the right consistency – about that of mayonnaise. You want the mortar to be thick enough that it doesn’t run off the wall, but thin enough that it spreads very easily with your v notch trowel.Here is where our first mistake occurred. We actually followed the mixing proportions on the package, but because we were mixing such small batches, the proportions were way off, and our first batch was WAY too thick and the tile was not sticking. Because this was our first time tiling, we had no idea what we were doing and ended up doing about a third of the backsplash this way before I finally thought, “wait, there is NO WAY this is supposed to be this difficult!” So off that section came and we started all over! No bueno.PRO TIP: This mixing step is easier if you use a paint mixer attachment on a cordless drill – mixing goes much faster! (See list above.
Spread your mortar onto the wall/backsplash area using your v-notch trowel. You can use your putty knives to scoop it onto the trowel if that’s easier – I found that it was because our bucket was so deep and the batch of mortar was pretty small!Begin placing your tile, working from bottom to top. Our tile came in sheets with a mesh backing, which was helpful and made things go quickly, at least at the beginning. As you go, use your level to ensure your tile is straight. I also suggest putting a tile spacer between your countertops and tile, so you have a seam equal in size to your grout lines to caulk at the end! PRO TIP: Use an ABUNDANCE of tile spacers. And if you also are using tile backed with mesh, be sure you put spacers in between ALL the tiles regardless of the mesh – the mesh will not keep your tile evenly spaced, it is just there for ease of application/installation. Also, use bullnose tile or metal tile edge trim to finish off your edges
Continue placing your tile until you have to begin cutting pieces (don’t forget you can cut apart the mesh in order to get an individual tile or two to go in specific places)! Once you reach this point, begin measuring the tiles you will need to cut. This step is more of a trial and error/learn what works for you kind of step, rather than an exact science. We used a combination of a tape measure to measure some spaces/tiles, as well as holding tiles up and eyeballing where we thought the cuts would need to be with a sharpie (the sharpie marks should come off easily with water as long as your tile is glossy/glazed)! You could also use a dry erase marker. We put a check mark on the pieces we wanted to keep to make it easier to remember since we were cutting multiple pieces at a time
Put on your safety glasses and dust mask, and use your wet tile saw to cut your tile. Fair warning – if you are installing a tile like ours, which is very small overall, this will take a LONG time. We were still using our tile saw at 2am in the garage and I am honestly still surprised no one called the cops on us. We individually cut over 200 of these tiles, and our kitchen/backsplash is relatively small. If you are renting your tile saw and have a large kitchen, be prepared that you may need it for more than one day! And of course, this step will not take as long with larger tiles, like subway. Continue tiling until the entire backsplash is covered! Then let dry for at least 12 hours – 24 is better, but like I said, we were in a time crunch, so 12 hours it was. And it all turned out just fine
Time to grout! (First remove the 1″ x 2″ board that you installed to hold up the tile – the mortar should be dry now so you shouldn’t need the extra support anymore, and it will just get in the way when you are applying your grout). Our grout was premixed, so I just had to stick my grout float in the container and go. But if you need to mix your grout, do so now. I again recommend mixing in relatively small batches (with that added paint mixer attachment) to ensure your grout doesn’t dry up on you.Apply your grout with the grout float at a 45 degree angle to the wall. Use enough pressure to get the grout into the spaces between the tiles, but also be mindful not to put too much pressure on the tile, especially if you only waited 12 hours for it to dry! You don’t want the tile popping off on you (but if it DOES, and one of ours did, you can use a little bit of gorilla glue to reattach it – not ideal, but will work in a pinch). Make sure you apply the grout in all different directions
Again, apply the grout in small sections. I did about a 2-3 foot length of backsplash at one time. Once the grout is applied, immediately dip your sponge in a bucket of water, and wring out so that it is still nice and damp, but not dripping. Now wipe, wipe, wipe, away that grout! Again, don’t use so much pressure that you pull the grout out of the seams, but do use enough pressure to remove the excess grout. Your goal here is to remove all the grout haze from the tile. It will likely take several passes over with your sponge – be patient – it’s totally worth the end product! Continue until you have finished the entire backsplash! I did another good once over the entire thing with my sponge and water bucket at the end, and then allowed to dry for about 2 hours
Use your caulk and caulk gun to apply a thin bead of caulk where your tile meets the countertops, and also where the tile meets your cabinets (or the ceiling, depending on where you tiled to). Really, caulk anywhere the tile meets another surface – we had to caulk along walls and a window sill as well. You can dip your finger in water and run along the caulk line several times to smooth it out to your liking. (Many tutorials recommend you use a sponge to smooth out the bead of caulk, but I much preferred my finger as it gave me a lot more control!
Clean up your space, wash all your tools, attach your faceplates back to your outlets, turn on your electricity and you are DONE! (Note: You may need outlet spacers if your outlets won't pull out far enough – ours had a generous amount of room to pull them out, so we didn’t need spacers, just longer screws to reattach the faceplates and outlets back into their receptacles, but now on top of our newly installed tile!) Now step back and admire your handy work, because I’m betting your kitchen looks absolutely FABULOUS!And that my friends, is a backsplash how to! If you have questions on any part of the process, feel free to leave them below and I will get back to you! Overall this is a pretty easy DIY, and if your kitchen isn’t gigantic, can likely be tackled in one weekend! (Note: the cost of this project will also vary SIGNIFICANTLY based on the size of your kitchen). And for the design punch a good backsplash packs, I’d say that’s worth every second – even if you’re up at 2am using a tile saw!Head over to my blog to check out more fun DIY projects and home decorating ideas!
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