Kitchen Tile Backsplash

How To Install a Tile Backsplash in Your Kitchen

A tile backsplash is a mosaic of small tiles, typically installed above counters in a kitchen or bathroom. The backsplash tiles can be ceramic, stone, or glass, and usually complement the color palette of the room where they are installed.

Mosaic tile backsplashes can be purchased at home improvement stores or may be cut by hand with a wet saw. Many homeowners appreciate the aesthetics that a backsplash can make to a room.

This article looks at the steps that a homeowner or remodeling contractor may use to install a new backsplash in a kitchen or bathroom.

Tools Required

  • Cordless drill / driver with mixing attachment
  • Notched trowel
  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Caulk gun
  • Grout float
  • Level
  • Non-contact voltage tester
  • Utility knife
  • Tape measure

Materials Needed

  • Wall Tiles
  • Tile spacers
  • Mastic tile adhesive
  • Paint deglosser
  • Caulk
  • Grout
  • Grout sealant (if using natural stone)
  • Grout release agent
  • Outlet extenders
  • 1 by 4 board – for ledger board
  • Step One: Prepare the Wall

    Turn off power to the wall, clear appliances (stove, dishwasher) from the area to be tiled. Test to make sure the power is off to outlets using a voltage tester.

    Clean up the walls so mastic will adhere. The adhesive will not bond to the wall if it is greasy. You can clean the wall with some soapy water – Dawn dishwashing liquid and warm water works well. Stubborn stains that will not come off easily can be removed with paint deglosser, and a mild abrasive pad.

    Tape mask any outlets, cabinets, or areas where countertop meets the wall. Leave a ¼ inch gap between wall and overhead cabinets, and wall and countertops when taping cabinets. This accounts for width of the tiles. Wall tiles are thinner than floor tile.

    Put the outlet extenders in the outlet boxes. The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires extenders when the boxes are more than ¼ inches behind the wall surface. You’ll want to put in the extenders now, and cut the backsplash tile to fit around the outlets. Adding the extenders later is more difficult. The extenders will be a guide for placing the tile. When you come to the grouting stage, you can remove them.

    Using a level, make sure the countertops are even. Install a ledger board in gaps where there is no countertop. This can be a 1×4 board that will temporarily support the tile until the adhesive mastic sets. Check to make sure it is horizontally level, screw to beams in wall.

    Draw a center line using a level below the kitchen hood fan. This is usually a focal point in the kitchen, so this is the starting point for installing backsplash tile.

    Step Two: Apply Mastic, Set the Tile

    Lay out the tile on the counter below the area you are going to tile (with spacers). This is to visually check to see if the backsplash will fit, or if the ends need to be adjusted with larger tile pieces.

    Starting from the center line that you have drawn from the hood fan, faucet, or other focal point, apply the mastic to the wall using your trowel. Use the flat side of the trowel to spread the mastic onto the wall, starting at the center line. Turn the trowel to a 45-degree angle to rake the mastic with the notched side, creating ridges.

    Only use enough mastic to set two to three tile panels at a time, so the mastic does not dry out too quickly. Mastic sets within fifteen minutes, so do not use too much. You should be able to see the layout lines where the points of the trowel touch the wall. If the adhesive mastic on the trowel starts to harden up, tough it with the wet sponge to moisten it up again.

    On the ledger board and bottom of the countertop edge, use spacers, as this will be caulked later. Align the first row of tiles along the bottom, press them into the mastic. Use spacers where necessary, as this will be grouted and caulked, and the spacers can be removed later.

    The mastic should not be seeping through the tile joints. If it is pushing through, the mastic was applied too thick. You can remove the tile, take off the mastic and re-trowel to get the right thickness.
    Remove any excess mastic with a utility knife.

    After finishing two of three rows of tile, cut the corner tiles to fit, facing the cut edges into the corners. Repeat the process until completing the area.

    If you are using backsplash mats, do not use these for areas that will be in close contact with water (as in the bathroom).

    Step Three: Cutting Edges of Tile

    When you reach the top row of tile, cut as necessary to fit the cabinets or other area on the wall.

    For edges of outlets, cut to fit, dabbing mastic on back of tiles to adhere to wall.

    If you are using a backsplash sheet, you can cut using a utility knife or wet saw to fit to edges. Individual tiles should not be cut using a wet saw. They will fly away from the saw blade.

    Allow the tiles to site for about 30 minutes. If you are using natural stone, apply a grout sealer. This will prevent the grout from sticking to the tile when it is applied in the next step. If you are using ceramic tile, this is not necessary, as ceramic tile is non-porous. Apply the sealer to a sponge, then wipe on enough to moisten the tiles.

    Step Four: Apply Grout, Clean Tiles, Caulking

    Allow the tile to set for 24 hours before applying the grout. Cover nearby surfaces with newspaper to prevent grout from getting on the countertops.

    If you are using natural stone or slate for tiles, you might need to apply a grout sealer first. Check with the manufacturer recommendations.

    It’s better to spend a little more on quality grout, so spattering grease from the stove or stains from food preparation doesn’t stain it later.

    Remove the spacers from between the tiles.

    Mix the grout in a bucket with water until it is the consistency of mashed potatoes, then apply it with a grout float. Holding the float at a 45-degree angle, work the grout into the joints between the tiles.

    After applying the grout and filling the joints, scrape off any excess grout using the float.

    Wait ten minutes after applying grout, then use a barely damp sponge to wipe off excess grout. Rinse the sponge in water and continue cleaning the surface of the grout until it is clean. Take care not to dampen the grout, as it can dilute and weaken the bonds.

    Once the grout has completely dried, wipe remaining grout haze use a grout release agent. Wait 48 hours, then apply a grout sealant.

    Fill the expansion gaps with caulk. This will be on the edges where the tiles meet the countertops and other areas.
    The final step is adding box extenders to any outlets and light switches, making them level with the tile backsplash. Replace the outlet and switch covers. You may need longer attachment screws to compensate for the added depth from the backsplash tiles.

    Need Kitchen Remodeling in the Northwest Chicago Area?

    If you are looking to do a full-scale kitchen remodel, Sunny Construction & Remodeling has served the Northwest Chicago suburbs since 2007. We can help you pick kitchen or bathroom remodeling options and design a tile backsplash that fits your needs.

    Fill out the form at the top of the page to get a no-obligation estimate, or call (708) 860-9742.

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    Sunny Construction & Remodeling helps homeowners in Schaumburg, Palatine, Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect and other Chicago neighborhoods with home remodeling. Our team has done hundreds of kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling, and basement finishing projects in the Northwest Chicago area. We offer complementary estimates and a five-year warranty on workmanship. If you have a home improvement project you need help with, call the contractor team at Sunny Constrcution & Remodeling for a free estimate at (708) 860-9742.

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