Can I Install Backsplash Before Countertop?

Installing a beautiful backsplash can transform the look of your kitchen. But when tackling a kitchen remodeling project, it’s important to do things in the proper order. So can you install the backsplash before installing the countertops? Here’s what you need to know.

Overview of Backsplash and Countertop Installation

The backsplash is installed on the wall behind countertops, sinks, and stoves. It serves both decorative and functional purposes, protecting the walls from splashes and spills while also adding visual interest.

Countertops provide the durable, sanitary surface for food prep and dining. Common materials include granite, quartz, laminate, and tile. Countertops are secured firmly to the base cabinets with screws driven up from underneath.

In most kitchen remodeling projects, the order is:

  1. Install cabinets
  2. Install countertops
  3. Install backsplash

This sequence allows you to get a perfectly fitted countertop before tiling up to it. But can this order be tweaked?

Can You Install Backsplash Before Countertops?

It is possible to install backsplash tile before countertops, but it comes with some disadvantages:

  • Achieving a clean line is difficult – When tiling, you want the backsplash to end in a perfectly straight line against the countertop. Without the countertop installed, ensuring an even line is a challenge.
  • The countertop may not fit perfectly – Tile spacers used when installing backsplash can create slight variations in your wall surface. This makes getting a precision fit with countertops difficult. Gaps or tight squeezes can occur.
  • Edge finishing is trickier – Finishing the edge where the backsplash meets the countertop looks best when you can integrate the materials. If the countertop isn’t present, you’ll have to return later to finish the edge properly.
  • Backsplash may get damaged – An installed backsplash runs the risk of getting damaged or dirty when installing countertops. The heavy countertop slab may crack fragile tile as it gets positioned.

For these reasons, installing backsplash first is not the recommended approach. But if your situation demands it, extra precautions must be taken.

Tips for Installing Backsplash Before Countertops

If you have no choice but to install backsplash first, here are some tips to get the best possible outcome:

  • Leave a 1/8″ gap between backsplash and wall edges. This allows room for variation when the countertop is installed. Fill any remaining gap later with caulk.
  • Make sure your walls are straight and plumb. Use shims if needed before tiling. This prevents lippage between tiles and ensures a straight line.
  • Use tile leveling systems when installing the backsplash. This keeps tile flat and evenly spaced.
  • Cut tile precisely for clean edges and corners. Avoid small sliver cuts bordering walls.
  • Avoid lightweight tiles like glass or mosaics. Heavier natural stone tiles will be more durable if bumped when handling countertops.
  • Protect installed backsplash while countertops are being maneuvered into place. Cover with cardboard or plastic to prevent damage.
  • Plan to finish edges later for a seamless transition between backsplash and countertop.

The Ideal Order: Countertops then Backsplash

Installing backsplash tile first can create headaches and a less than ideal result. The best practice is still to install countertops first. This allows you to:

  • Fit the countertop precisely to the cabinet base with full support underneath.
  • Provide a straight, sturdy surface to tile up to.
  • Integrate the countertop and backsplash edge for a seamless look.
  • Avoid damage to the backsplash during countertop installation.

If at all possible, have countertops installed before tiling the backsplash. But if backsplash first is your only option, take precautions to achieve the best finish. With care, you can still create a beautiful, integrated kitchen design.

Frequently Asked Questions About Backsplash and Countertops

Can you put backsplash behind a preinstalled countertop?

Yes, it is possible to install backsplash behind a preexisting countertop. The challenge is getting the bottom edge of the backsplash to fit tightly against the countertop. Using a tile cutting blade to trim off excess material can help achieve a clean finish.

Should backsplash go over or under countertop?

Backsplash should be installed so that it goes up to the bottom edge of the countertop and stops. It does not extend over the countertop edge. Installing it underneath would leave an unfinished gap between backsplash and countertop.

Should backsplash match or complement countertops?

The backsplash and countertops can either match or complement one another. Matching provides a streamlined look. Complementary contrasts create more visual interest. Consider the overall style you want to achieve.

Can you use the same tile for backsplash and countertops?

Yes, using the same tile for backsplash and countertops can create a seamless, integrated look. Be sure to use tiles rated for floor or countertop use to withstand heavy wear. Select a grout color that complements the tile.

How much room should be between backsplash and countertops?

Ideally there should be no gap between the backsplash and countertops. The backsplash should end flush against the bottom edge of countertops. At most, allow a 1/8 inch gap to be filled with caulk. Larger gaps look sloppy and allow spills and debris to collect.


The ideal kitchen remodeling order is to install countertops before backsplash tile. This allows you to achieve a clean finish with a precise fit. But backsplash can be installed first if needed, using careful tile setting practices and planning to protect the tile and finish the edges later. While a bit tricky, it is possible to do backsplash before countertops with an eye to detail.