Complete Backsplash Overhaul - Start to Finish

Jim Cox
by Jim Cox
10 Materials
12 Hours

While I was upgrading countertops, I had to rip out the old backsplash. Turns out it was easier than I thought.

Goodbye Laminate

The laminate was damaged, dated, and unsightly at best. After a disappointing trial run with a painted countertop in my bathroom, I splurged for the real thing - granite. Whether you are replacing countertops or just want a new look for your backsplash with your existing countertops, I have some tips and tricks I learned along the way that are worth sharing.

Kill the power!

First thing I did was buy a $6 outlet tester. This helped me verify power was OFF every step of the way. Pull your switches and outlets loose. It's not necessary to remove them, but in this case I took out all the 45 yr old GFCIs and switches (not included in cost below) to be replaced.

Start at the edges

I used a really beat up old cold chisel to remove the tile. It doesn't have to be very sharp, just sturdy. Stay away from putty knives etc. A simple tap with the hammer gets things loose. If you try to start in the middle you're gonna damage some drywall. I got 28 sq ft of tile down in about an hour.

Quick Demo work

The tile will have sharp edges, so wear gloves as you pick up the pieces to dispose of it. I saved a few to make hot plates out of for the gal I bought the house from : )

Clean up the edges

Whether you are taking out your old countertops or keeping them: You will need to go around the edges and clean up old grout and caulk. Hit the bottom edge (if needed) the junctions where the tile meets the cabinets above, and wherever it borders the drywall .

Ready for tile

Here you can see my new countertops. I really don't like how busy they are, but they do look nice in person. For this reason I chose a very calm tile pattern for the backsplash. First I went around the entire countertop with 2" blue masking tape. I put the tape down in overlapping 2-3 ft pieces. If you pull the same direction you apply, it will come up in one piece. After the 2" tape is down, I use whatever sale flyer came in the mail/news/etc as a dropcloth, attaching it with 1" tape to the previous 2" tape.

Word the the wiser than me. DON'T put your 2" tape up against the wall, or else your tile will pinch it in place (true story), pull back 1/4" or so.

First tiles up

Here is the first row of tile. It was a pain reaching over the counter to apply the mortar. I eventually found a way around this that made life much easier. Note the spacers: They have a straight " -- " side and a " + " side depending on whether you use them in seams or in corners. I have a slightly irregular pattern planned so we are going with the straight side. Note that these tiles don't have a super straight outside edge. That helps make the finished product look more uniform if you slip a bit. Even then, after every few tiles i used a 3' level as a straight edge to make sure my progress was lining up correctly.

Super time saving step

When it came time to tile behind the sink, I used my 1/4" trowel to put the mortar on the tile instead of the wall. This turned out to be much much easier, and for the rest of the project I proceded this way.


Here's the last row going in. The combination of 5", 3", 3", and finally another 5" fit really well in my 16" gap between the countertop and the upper cabinets. I had to fill just a hair with caulk later in the project. here you can see I am using spacers between tiles to keep them separated Left-to-Right as needed. Those missing from the right side simply fell out. I went back and added a border to this tile, but didn't include in the pics as to keep to the fifteen picture max.

I bought a $20 tile saw on Facebook Marketplace that has made life so very simple. I can notch for an outlet etc in a minute or less.

Filling a gap

I took down some dated trim under my sink window. This left a gap behind the tiles. The ceramic will cover it up, but I put some tape over the gap where I needed to add grout later. Simple planning ahead, the joint acted just like the rest.

Wait overnight and WASH YOUR TILE. This is the best time to get any mortar smudges cleaned up after installation. Note the squiggly stuff - that's a cushion for the tiles when they are stacked in the box. A dish scraper or plastic pizza wheel work wonders

Apply grout

I have used premix and powdered grout. Next time I'll spend the extra $6 for premix. Here you can see I put it on with a float turned at an angle (to keep from landing in the grooves), but I found out later in some tight spots that a plastic putty knife works fairly well. It might take longer, but I enjoyed having more control. You still want to spread it 45 degrees to the seams/gaps.

Remove the excess grout

I sprung for the$4 sponge. A big sponge saves time and is quite handy. If you have smaller places to touch up, just use an old washcloth. This was the step that had me working up a sweat, shooting for quality and still trying to get done before the grout hardened.

Apply caulk to edges, corners, etc.

Wait as directed by grout instructions. This was good in 3 hours but I still waited overnight. I went around all the tile with an old washcloth to clean up any grout the sponge missed.

I use a very fine tip for my caulk. If I have to go over it twice I don't mind, it's easier than cleaning up too much. Here is a light gray silicone caulk. I thought the color would separate the countertop and backsplash, and not be as bold or out of place as white caulk.

Smoothing the caulk

Here's an old body shop trick: I spray non-stick cooking spray on my fingers to smooth the caulk into corners. (We used WD-40 in the cars ; ) Makes cleaning up your fingers much much faster.


Here's the new backsplash. We did a microwave during this project as well, look at my profile for that and other projects you might like. You can see I put in all black outlets with stainless cover plates. Stainless matched the new faucet and just made sense in the kitchen as well.

All in all, about one hour to demo, eight hours to tile, hour and a half to grout, and a half hour to caulk. One full weekend and a few minutes a night here and there after work.

This was not an expensive project. I did the whole thing including tools for less than the Lowes quote for labor alone @ $299. Please comment if you know a way to make it easier for the next home-owner, or holler if you have any questions. Happy Hometalking!

Next up: Remodeling the doors ;)

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  2 questions
  • Ingrid Ingrid on May 04, 2020

    Wow Jim, seems like my 1978 home is similar to yours. I love the granite and am saving up for that. Right now I have a Formica butcher block. I had wallpaper from the previous owner and Sherwin Williams guided me through an oil based primer and water resistant paint. I do intend to tile the back splash and wondered should I too, remove that window sill trim? Also how to raise the electrical outlets to fit under the tile, and how do you remove that sink with the granite on top?

    I am presently sanding and staining my cabinets with a Varathane Carbon Grey and love it! I took the doors off and sanded them outside but inside, even with a rotary sander it couldn't catch all the dust. If you attempt that be sure to cover what is inside the cabinets with an old shower curtain and duct tape or you will be cleaning each cabinet out. Be sure to wear a mask! I fashioned one out of a dish towel due to the mask shortage. Can't wait to see my accomplishment and hope it turns out as well as yours.

  • Annette Annette on Jun 10, 2020

    could you post a picture of the area by the window over the sink. We recently had granite installed with a 4" back splash and are planning to add a tile back splash from the granite to the cabinets. The space from the trim to the granite is only about 3/4 " and we have been debating if we should remove the trim below the windowsill...From your description, it sounds like that's what you did....

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4 of 11 comments
  • Jim Cox Jim Cox on Apr 25, 2020

    I actually thought about that, but the only gray I could find was industrial and it left something to be desired

    • DeeDee DeeDee on Apr 26, 2020

      I actually like the black, it stands out nicely against the tile color and the faceplates! Great job!

  • Grace Menendez-Dewitt Grace Menendez-Dewitt on Apr 26, 2020

    I love the job you did. I believe I have the same granite ( Baltic sea from home depot) I have found it difficult to find a back splash I like. Can you tell me what tile and color you used.

    • Jim Cox Jim Cox on Apr 27, 2020

      This granite came from a local contractor (Solid Surface Designs Inc). Wonderful people and treated this 'non-decor' guy like his opinion mattered. My countertop savings was $2k, so I spent 2200 ;) plus garbage disposal, plus faucet, so I HAD to be careful with the tile $$. The pattern is still a bit 'busy' for me, so I went with a tame tile. The less than straight edges of the tile hide some of my inexperience too. I bought 20 diff samples and brought them home before I settled on this one. I also googled images of a few hundred kitchens that had similar countertops until I found a tile style I liked, and finally I used gray and not white caulk for a more muted look.

      Here's a link to help you out