Installing a backsplash in your kitchen can dramatically transform the look and feel of the space. However, proper installation is key to ensuring your backsplash looks beautiful and lasts for years to come. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the entire process of how is backsplash installed from selecting materials and prepping the wall, to applying thinset and cutting and placing the tiles. We will also provide tips for grouting and sealing to complete your installation. With the right materials and some DIY skills, you can install a backsplash in your kitchen that will be stunning and functional.
Choose Your Backsplash Materials
The first step is selecting your backsplash materials. The most common options include:
- Ceramic tile: Glazed ceramic tiles are an affordable and versatile option available in a huge range of sizes, colors, textures, and patterns. They are durable, easy to clean, and water-resistant.
- Glass tile: Glass tiles make a beautiful backsplash that is shiny and reflective. Penny tiles and subway tiles are popular glass styles. Glass is naturally water-resistant but the grout needs to be sealed.
- Metal tile: Metallic backsplashes like copper, stainless steel, or tin tiles create an industrial chic look. Keep in mind metal shows scratches easily.
- Stone tile: Granite, marble, travertine, and slate backsplash tiles give a high-end, natural look. Stone needs to be sealed to prevent stains and etching.
- Mosaic tile: Tiny mosaic tiles let you create a colorful, patterned backsplash design. Use mesh-backed tiles for easier installation.
Once you select your backsplash tile, also purchase accompanying materials:
- Thinset mortar: Thinset provides the adhesive to bond tile to the wall. Choose unsanded for walls.
- Grout: Grout fills in the joints between tiles. Use sanded grout for joints wider than 1/8 inch.
- Tile spacers: Spacers keep tile spaced evenly during installation.
- Sealant: Use grout sealant and stone sealant to protect the finished backsplash.
Prep the Work Area
To ensure a successful tile backsplash installation, you need to properly prepare the work area:
- Clear the area – Remove everything from the walls, countertops and floors where you will be working.
- Protect surfaces – Cover countertops, floors, and appliances with drop cloths or rosin paper.
- Clean thoroughly – Use TSP cleaner to remove grease and grime from the backsplash area. Rinse well and let dry.
- Remove outlets – Detach any electrical outlets or switch plates in the backsplash area. Turn off power at the breaker.
- Fill any holes – Use spackle to fill any holes or cracks in the drywall where you will be installing tile. Let dry and sand smooth.
Proper prep prevents problems later on in the installation process.
Before you can apply tile, it’s important to install a layer of backerboard over the drywall. Backerboard, such as cementboard or tileboard, provides a water-resistant, stable surface for tiling over drywall. Here are the steps for backerboard installation:
- Measure and mark where backerboard will be placed. Leave a 1/8 inch gap along the top and sides.
- Cut boards to size using a utility knife and straightedge.
- Apply mortar or mastic to the back of each board with a notched trowel.
- Press boards against the wall in the marked locations.
- Fasten with backerboard screws, spaced 8 inches apart across the boards.
- Tape joints between boards with alkali-resistant mesh tape.
- Cover tape with a layer of thinset mortar to embed it. Let dry completely.
The backerboard creates a solid, moisture-resistant surface for applying the backsplash tile.
Lay Out Your Tile Pattern
Now comes the fun part – laying out your backsplash tile design! Here are some tips for planning the tile layout:
- Draw a diagram – Sketch your backsplash area including measurements to visualize tile placement. Mark any obstacles like outlets.
- Map the focal point – Determine where you want the most eye-catching feature of the backsplash to be located.
- Choose your starting point – Pick the center of the focal point wall as the starting point. Work outward from there.
- Use tile spacers – Spacers will help you align and space the tiles evenly. Place them as you lay the tiles.
- Cut border tiles to fit – Measure and cut border tiles for a precise fit against walls or countertops.
Take time to think about the tile design and layout before you start tiling. Planning ahead will make for an easy, flawless installation.
Prepare the Tile
To get your tiles ready for installation:
- Organize tiles by color/pattern if working with multiple options.
- Arrange tiles on the floor to determine optimal placement for color variation.
- Use nippers to cut away uneven edges or bumps on tiles.
- For cuts around electrical boxes or pipes, measure and mark tiles for cutting. A wet saw works best.
- Be sure to wear safety goggles and a mask when cutting tile.
Proper tile prep helps you carefully place each piece for an seamless finished backsplash.
Mix and Apply the Thinset
Thinset is the adhesive mortar used to attach the tile to the backerboard on the wall. Follow these steps:
- Choose unsanded thinset for walls and small tile like mosaic or penny tile.
- Mix thinset per manufacturer instructions, to a paste-like consistency. Let slake for 5-10 minutes.
- Use a notched trowel to apply a layer of thinset to a section of the backerboard, pressing firmly to scrape down ridges.
- Spread only as much thinset as you can tile over in 30 minutes. It dries quickly!
- Use the flat side of the trowel to smooth and level the thinset.
Applying high-quality thinset properly allows strong adhesion of the tile to the wall.
Install the Backsplash Tiles
Now comes time for the real work – accurately cutting and placing each backsplash tile:
- Place a starting tile – Apply a tile spacer. Then press the first tile firmly into the thinset where your layout begins.
- Apply more thinset – Spread additional thinset with the trowel notched side, covering an area for several tiles.
- Place the tiles – Set each tile gently against the spacers for even alignment. Press firmly.
- Check level and spacing – Use a level and measuring tape periodically to ensure even rows.
- Cut and fit border tiles – Measure and cut any tiles to fit against walls, appliances, outlets, etc.
- Let thinset dry – Allow thinset to dry overnight before grouting. Remove spacers.
Take your time laying the tile to get straight, evenly spaced rows for a professional look.
Apply the Grout
Grout fills the seams between tiles with a waterproof, decorative material:
- Choose grout color – For wider grout lines use sanded grout. Unsanded is good for narrow joints under 1/8 inch.
- Prepare grout – Mix grout per package directions. Let sit for 10 minutes, then remix before using.
- Apply grout – Use a rubber grout float or squeegee, applying at a 45° angle pressing into joints.
- Wipe away excess – Let grout set just until hazy, 15-30 minutes. Use a damp sponge in a circular motion to wipe surface clean.
- Clean residue – Once dry, use a soft cloth to polish off remaining grout haze or film.
Let grout dry fully for 24-48 hours. Then seal grout to make it waterproof and stain resistant.
Seal the Backsplash
Sealing is the final step that will protect your new backsplash:
- Choose sealants – Use grout sealer for grout lines and natural stone sealer for marble, granite, etc.
- Clean tiles – Wipe the entire surface with a clean damp sponge to remove residue before sealing.
- Apply sealer – Use a paintbrush or sealant sponge, applying in thin coats according to product directions.
- Cure sealants – Allow sealants to cure fully, often 24-72 hours before use.
- Re-seal regularly – Reapply sealants periodically, usually once a year, for ongoing protection.
With proper sealing your new backsplash will stay looking beautiful for years of daily use.
Now that you know how is backsplash installed from start to finish, you can confidently tackle this project as a DIY homeowner. The key is taking your time, using quality materials, and following each step carefully. Once completed, you can enjoy a gorgeous, durable backsplash that makes your kitchen shine.
Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Backsplash
Installing a backsplash tile project often brings up many questions for DIYers. Here are answers to some of the most common queries about backsplash installation:
How difficult is it to install a backsplash yourself?
Installing a tile backsplash is considered an intermediate skill DIY project. With proper planning, materials, and time set aside, it can absolutely be tackled by an experienced homeowner. The key is following each step methodically.
What tools do I need to install a backsplash?
Essential tools needed are a tape measure, pencil, straightedge, utility knife, wet saw, spacers, grout float, sponges, buckets, trowels, and drill. A level is also extremely helpful for checking alignment.
How do I cut the backsplash tiles?
Cutting around outlets, pipes, or for border edges is easiest with a wet saw fitted with a diamond tile blade. A snap tile cutter or handheld grinder can also be used for straight cuts. Use a ruler and marker to draw cutting lines.
Should I use sanded or unsanded grout?
For typical backsplashes, unsanded grout works well on walls and for grout joints under 1/8 inch. Sanded grout is better for wider joints and has a rougher texture.
How soon can I use the backsplash after installing?
It’s best to wait at least 24-48 hours after grouting before regular use of the backsplash. This allows thinset and grout to fully dry and cure for maximum durability. Avoid submerging the backsplash in water for 5-7 days.
How often do I need to seal the backsplash?
Sealing should be done once a year to protect grout and natural stone from stains and water damage. Sealants wear off over time so regular reapplication is key.
Installing your own kitchen backsplash is an extremely rewarding project you can feel proud of every time you walk into your kitchen. Just be sure to tackle each step carefully and patiently for the most professional-looking results.
We have just gone through the entire process of how is backsplash installed – from selecting your tile material, prepping the work area, applying thinset mortar, meticulously cutting and placing each tile, expertly grouting, and sealing the finished product. While it is an involved process requiring planning and time, installing a tile backsplash is an extremely worthwhile investment that can drastically enhance the beauty and functionality of your kitchen. With the proper materials and tools, plus some patience and DIY spirit, you will have a stunning new backsplash that provides protection for your walls while making your kitchen shine.