The Ultimate Guide to Installing a Porcelain Tile Backsplash

2 Materials
7 Hours

This is by far my favourite how-to of 2016. If you're planning on DIY'ing your own tile backsplash in the near future, you'll want to check out my step-by-step tutorial. You'll learn the ins and outs of working with thinset and how to work with a patterned tile.

Encaustic cement tiles are a hot look right now. We used a porcelain look-a-like that was budget friendly and easy to work with (they came with 'bump outs' on the side so we didn't even have to use tile spacers!) We're in the process of renovating our laundry room in the basement.

The tutorial walks you through applying a backsplash that is enclosed by two side walls. Below is a brief 10-step description of the process. Be sure to check out my blog at Birdz of a Feather (see link below) for the full details .

Tiles installed using thinset morter

The prep work section takes you through what tools and supplies you'll need. 

1. Gather your tools. Here's a list of what we used, in no particular order: 

a. Sponge or rag 

b. Trowel (we used " x " notched trowel, but ask your tile store what they recommend for your particular tiles) 

c. Towel and/or paper towels (to dry cut tiles and wipe up thinset) 

d. Plastic, cardboard, newspaper and waterproof paper to protect floors and walls, and work surface. 

e. Mask, goggles 

f. Sharpened pencils 

g. Wet saw or snap tile cutter 

h. Green painters tape 

i. Water and bucket to mix thinset 

j. Extra bucket of water for washing up tools and rinsing your hands in 

k. Level 

l. Combination square for connecting marks on tile to cut for obstructions like wall outlets. 

m. Marker - we used this to write number on the green tape and transfer them to the tiles so we wouldn't get the order or direction of each tile mixed up 

n. Layout guide - if you draw one up on computer or by hand 

o. Thinset 

p. Tile 

q. Workspace. It's essential to have something to work on that's not on the floor. We set up two saw horses and laid an old flush door across them for our flat surface. Because it was all beat up, we didn't protect the surface, but you might want to put down some newspaper or plastic. 

r. Two plastic 'measuring cups' - (one for water and one for thinset). Something like a margarine or yoghurt container is ideal for measuring out the water and thinset, but make sure they're the same size to keep the proportions consistent. 

s. Paint stick for initially mixing thinset 

t. Drill 

u. Cement mixer attachment for drill

Preparing your tools and supplies

2. Turn off the water and electrical.

3. Protect walls, cabinets and floors. Lay down some plastic on the floor and cardboard on top of that to catch any thinset drips and to arrange your tile layout on. Protect underneath the upper cabinets and sides of adjacent walls.

Warning: draw a faint line the width of your tiles against the side walls FIRST before placing your tape and paper. If you leave anything within the space that the grout will be going, the tape and paper will get permanently stuck on by the grout you'll have bits and pieces that you won't be able to pull away when you're done grouting (same goes for underneath the cabinet). If that happens, you'll need to carefully cut these away from the wall with an exacto knife and it will be a pain!

Prep work is 3/4 of the time committment!

4. Use a ledger board if you can remove your lower cabinets and countertop. Mark studs to determine where ledger board can be screwed in.

First, determine the height for the ledger board. Learn from our trials and tribulations! Did you know that flat pack cabinets drop down lower than the rest of the box where the sides meet? Be sure to measure down from the lowest point of the cabinet when you place your ledger!

Ledger board in progress

Measure twice, tile once!

Pencil on a horizontal line for the ledger and also a vertical line at the centre of the wall to divide your work area into two manageable sections.

Measuring with a tape measure can be tricky. To find the centre to place your vertical line, measure the entire wall, then divide the total measurement in half. Measure in from the side of both ends of the wall and place a mark each time. If you end up with a gap between these two measurements, split that gap in half and you will have the exact centre of your wall!

Pre-drill the ledger board, then screw it into place.

Measure Twice - Tile Once!

5. Do a dry layout on top of the ledger board. Work out from the middle and line up the first row of tiles so you can determine if you'll need to cut a piece near the edge. If you have a pattern, as we did, you'll want to see how the first row looks on the wall too! This also gives you an opportunity to measure and cut for any obstructions on the wall - such as an electrical box or plumbing flange.

At this point, you've probably been at it for several hours. Don't forget to stop and eat to keep your energy up for the rest of the day!

Starter row dry laid on top of ledger

6. Layout your pattern. Number the first row of tiles and remove from ledger. Reassemble in order on the floor in front of wall on the cardboard you set up when you prepped the space.

Layout complete and obstructions pre-cut

A wet saw is a great way to quickly cut tiles. Learn the tips and tricks of cutting a clean line. You can likely rent one at your local build-it centre.

7. Once initial prep work is done, stack your tiles in two piles. See how to set up your work station to prepare to apply your backsplash.

All set up and ready to tile!

8. Mix thinset and apply to wall. The tuturial will give you the complete how-to in detail.

Getting ready to mix thinset

9. Divide the wall in half and work in two sections. Only mix enough thinset to lay one section of tile at a time.

10. Step back, admire your work and psyche yourself up for applying the grout after the tile has had a chance to set up (minimum dry time is typically 24-hours).

Set up and prep took 4.5 hours. Once the thinset was mixed, it took an additional 2 hours to install the tile. It's well worth the time and effort; it's easy to do if you're well prepared..... and read my full tutorial!

Check out how we installed the countertop in our newly tiled laundry room:

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Come  visit us to purchase a pattern; with 100% going to charity, it's a win-win!

Suggested materials:
  • Tile   (Tile store)
  • Thinset   (Tile store)
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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
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  1 question
  • Lanet Tolzin Lanet Tolzin on Mar 08, 2016
    Thanks for sharing, this inspires me to make some changes around my house. Where did you purchase the time, I love it?

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4 of 32 comments
  • Sandy Hartnett Sandy Hartnett on Mar 18, 2016
    Super job! Love your tile choice! Would love to see room when completed! Hugs

    • Birdz of a Feather Birdz of a Feather on Mar 19, 2016
      @Sandy Hartnett - Thanks for the compliment! The laundry room is being shared by my new craft studio which is still a work in progress so the reveal will take awhile, but I'll definitely provide an update once it's all done!

  • Lagree Wyndham Lagree Wyndham on Mar 31, 2016
    Happy to see I'm not only one who works in their socks. Looks great.