When renovating your kitchen, one of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is regarding the installation order of the backsplash and countertops. Many homeowners wonder whether to install the backsplash before or after the countertops. There are pros and cons to each approach, so it’s important to understand the implications of your choice. Here’s a detailed look at the backsplash vs. countertop installation debate.
What is the typical installation order?
Traditionally, countertops are installed prior to the backsplash. This sequence allows the countertop installation to be completed without the backsplash material in the way. It also creates a nice finished edge along the wall. The backsplash can then be cut to fit tightly against the countertop.
However, some homeowners opt to install the backsplash first. This isn’t the standard approach, but it can work in certain renovation scenarios. We’ll explore the details below.
Benefits of installing backsplash first
Installing the backsplash before the countertops offers a few potential advantages:
- Achieve a seamless look – By installing the backsplash first, you can run it from counter to ceiling without any breaks. This creates a seamless, integrated look.
- Better alignment – With the backsplash in place, the countertop can be scribed and cut to fit directly against it. This allows for optimal alignment.
- Easier planning – Seeing the backsplash in place can help with final countertop measurements and sink/faucet placements.
- Protect walls during countertop installation – The backsplash can help protect walls from countertop installation damage.
If you’re aiming for a continuous backsplash look or want maximum precision in fitting the two elements together, doing the backsplash first may be beneficial.
Drawbacks of backsplash first installation
However, there are also some disadvantages to installing backsplash before countertops:
- Difficult to achieve tight fit – It’s tricky to get the countertop to fit perfectly against an existing backsplash. Gaps may occur.
- Backsplash damage risk – The backsplash material may get damaged during countertop installation.
- Blocked access to walls – The installed backsplash can block access to the wall during countertop installation.
- Complex planning – Getting proper measurements and layouts takes extra planning when the backsplash goes in first.
For many kitchen projects, the cons of this approach outweigh the benefits. Unless you have a strong reason to do the backsplash first, the typical sequence of countertops followed by backsplash is often easier.
Tips for installing backsplash before countertops
If you do want to install your backsplash before the countertops, here are some tips:
- Leave a 1/8″ gap between the backsplash and walls. This allows room for countertop overhang and avoids trapping the countertop.
- Use pencil marks to indicate wall areas behind the backsplash. This helps the installers access the proper locations.
- Cut holes for plumbing fixtures in the backsplash prior to installation. This simplifies the countertop fitting.
- Use caulk, not grout, between the backsplash and countertops. Caulk allows for slight variations in alignment.
- Consider partial backsplash sections around appliance areas. This still provides alignment guidance while maintaining wall access.
Proper planning and measurements are crucial when reversing the typical installation sequence.
Countertops first – The standard method
Installing countertops before the backsplash is the tried-and-true method preferred by most installers. Here are some of the biggest advantages:
- Easier planning – Final measurements and cuts are simpler without an existing backsplash in place.
- Better countertop fit – Installers have full access to align and scribe the countertop properly against the wall.
- Lower damage risk – The countertop can be installed without worrying about damaging the backsplash material.
- Standard procedure – Countertop installers are very accustomed to doing their work before the backsplash stage.
- Room for adjustment – With just the countertop in place initially, there is some room for error and adjustments.
For most kitchen remodels, experienced contractors agree that putting in the countertops first is the smoothest process.
Tips for countertops before backsplash
When following the standard countertops-first installation method, keep these tips in mind:
- Leave a small 1/16″ gap between the countertop and wall. The backsplash slides into this space.
- Use caulk between the countertop and backsplash. Caulk allows for slight variations in alignment.
- Consider heights carefully. The bottom edge of the backsplash should align with the top of the countertop.
- Pre-cut any outlet or switch holes that will be positioned behind the backsplash.
- Use painters tape along the wall-countertop junction. This protects the countertop edge during backsplash installation.
With proper planning and coordination, the countertops and backsplash will come together beautifully.
Which should you do first?
When evaluating backsplash vs countertops installation order, consider your goals as well as input from your contractors. Here are some final recommendations on deciding the order:
- For a seamless, floor-to-ceiling backsplash look, doing it first may work better.
- If perfection in fitting the two elements together is important, installing the backsplash first allows scribing the countertop to it.
- To simplify the installation process, avoid damage, and follow standard methods, put countertops in first.
- Seek input from your countertop fabricator/installer for their advice based on your specific kitchen design.
There is no definitively right or wrong choice. Many factors play into the decision, including your goals, kitchen layout, and contractor preferences. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each approach before deciding. With proper planning and coordination with your installation team, you can achieve a beautiful outcome regardless of which goes first!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main benefits of installing the backsplash first?
The main benefits are the ability to achieve a full wall-to-wall backsplash look without seams, optimizing the fit between the backsplash and countertop, and easier planning since the backsplash is used as a reference point for the countertop installation.
What risks come with installing the backsplash before the countertop?
Potential risks include damaging the backsplash material during countertop installation, inability to get the countertop to fit tightly against the backsplash, and reduced access to the wall areas behind the backsplash. Most installers prefer doing countertops first to avoid these issues.
How much of a gap should be left between walls and backsplash?
When installing backsplash before countertops, leave a 1/8″ gap between the backsplash and walls. This prevents trapping the countertop and allows room for any variations in fit.
Is it okay to use grout between the backsplash and countertop?
It’s recommended to use caulk, not grout, between the countertop and backsplash. Caulk allows for slight alignment variations and is easier to apply cleanly in the tight space between the counter and backsplash.
What are some tips for smoothly installing countertops before backsplash?
Helpful tips include leaving a small 1/16″ gap along walls for backsplash clearance, using caulk between materials, planning outlet cutouts ahead of time, and taping countertop edges to prevent damage during backsplash installation.
The order of installing backsplash and countertops comes down to personal preference as well as the advice of your installation contractors. Getting the sequence right takes careful planning and coordination between the backsplash tile setter and countertop fabricator. If aiming for a seamless backsplash look, installing it first may work well. However, following the traditional countertops-first approach is simpler for most installers. By understanding the implications of each method, you can make an informed decision on the proper installation order for your kitchen renovation. With proper planning and expert installation, your beautiful new backsplash and countertops will come together perfectly regardless of which goes first.