Installing a backsplash is one of the final steps when remodeling a kitchen. But some homeowners wonder if they can install the backsplash before putting in new countertops. Here is what you need to know about the order of operations when it comes to backsplash and countertops.
Should You Install Backsplash Before Countertops?
The short answer is yes, you can install a backsplash before countertops in most cases. Here are some of the benefits of doing the backsplash first:
Installing the backsplash before the countertops allows you to take measurements and cut tiles more easily. Once the countertops are in place, it can be trickier to measure and maneuver behind them.
Putting in the backsplash first also minimizes the risk of damaging a brand new countertop during the tile installation process. Heavy tiles or tools dropped on a countertop edge could chip or crack it.
When you install the backsplash first, you don’t have to worry about grout, adhesive, or other debris getting on the countertops. The countertop installation can be kept clean and simple.
Create a Visual Border
Choosing a backsplash that contrasts with your countertop color can help the countertops visually stand out. Installing the backsplash first allows you to create this defined border.
When to Install Countertops First
In some situations, it does make more sense to put countertops in prior to backsplash:
- If you have a full height backsplash or paneling that extends to the ceiling, the countertop may help support these heavy wall tiles during installation.
- For some materials like granite, the countertop supplier will come take exact measurements before fabrication. It’s best to have the finished countertop installed before taking backsplash measurements.
- If your design calls for edges of the backsplash to sit on top of the countertop, such as with a beveled subway tile design, the countertop may need to go in first.
- If your countertop and backsplash use similar materials like quartz or marble, you may want the countertop installed first to match up patterns and colors.
So in summary, for most standard backsplash installations, doing it before the countertops is recommended. But for some more complex designs, installing countertops first may make more sense. Check with your contractor on the best order for your specific kitchen layout and design.
Preparing for Backsplash Installation
Once you’ve decided on installing the backsplash first, there are a few things you can do to prep:
Select Your Backsplash Design
Choose your backsplash tiles or panels and layout out the pattern. Get any specialty tiles or accents needed. Planning the design ahead of time prevents any delays waiting for more materials.
Take detailed measurements of the area to be tiled. Mark where the countertop will end and outlets, windows or any obstacles on the wall. Accurate measurements ensure a proper fit.
Clean and Prep the Surface
Clean the wall surface thoroughly and make any repairs to holes or damaged areas. Apply primer if needed so tiles adhere properly.
Gather Tools and Materials
Get all tools like tile cutters, grout float, and mixing buckets. Have thinset mortar, grout, spacers, and sealing products on hand before starting.
Have Countertop Template
Get the countertop measurements or template from your countertop fabricator before installing backsplash. This allows you to plan the backsplash end point.
Installation Tips for Backsplash Before Countertops
Once fully prepped, use these tips for a successful backsplash installation:
- Start in the center – Begin tile installation at the center point and work outward towards the sides. This helps keep tiles aligned and prevents thin edge cuts.
- Follow layout lines – Snap horizontal and vertical chalk lines on the wall to keep tiles aligned and level during installation.
- Cut tiles precisely – Use a wet saw or tile cutter to cut border and edge tiles to fit perfectly. Don’t force misaligned tiles into place.
- Space tiles evenly – Use plastic tile spacers between each tile to create uniform grout lines. Remove spacers before grouting.
- Seal natural stone – For marble, travertine or granite backsplashes, apply a natural stone sealer prior to grouting.
- Packed full joints – Push grout fully into joints between tiles for optimal adhesion and moisture resistance.
- Clean immediately – Wipe any grout residue or film off the tile surface with a damp sponge right away to prevent staining.
- Caulk perimeter – Once grouted, run a flexible silicone caulk along the top and sides where the backsplash meets the wall.
Following these tips will help ensure your backsplash looks amazing and lasts for years to come!
FAQ About Backsplashes and Countertops
Can you do backsplash before countertops?
Yes, in most cases you can install the backsplash before installing new countertops. Doing the backsplash first gives you more room to work and avoids damaging a brand new countertop.
What is the proper order for kitchen remodeling?
The typical order is:
- Remove old cabinets, countertops, sink etc.
- Install new cabinets and drawers
- Measure and fabricate new countertops
- Install backsplash
- Install countertops
- Install sink and fixtures
- Add finishing touches like knobs, lighting, accessories
Should backsplash match countertops?
It’s not required for backsplash and countertops to match. Many designs use contrasting colors and materials to make the backsplash stand out. However, matching materials can give a seamless custom look.
How long should backsplash overlap countertop?
For standard installation with countertops going in after backsplash, the tiles should overhang the countertop edge by about 1/16 to 1/8 inch. A small overlap helps avoid gaps but doesn’t interfere with countertop placement.
Should backsplash go to ceiling?
Full height backsplashes that go all the way to the ceiling are a popular design choice. However, standard backsplashes need only extend 4-6 inches above the countertop. Full height is required for behind a stove to protect the wall at a minimum.
Installing a backsplash before countertops allows you to avoid damage, have more room to work, and cleanly create a finished look. Just be sure to plan out the design, take careful measurements, and follow good tile installation practices. With proper preparation and execution, your new backsplash and countertops can look amazing while also being durable and practical. Discuss your kitchen plans with an experienced contractor to determine the best order of installation.