A subway tile backsplash can be a beautiful and classic addition to any kitchen. The rectangular tiles in white or colored glass tile are reminiscent of the white tile used in old New York City subway stations, hence the name “subway tile.” But how much does a subway tile backsplash actually cost? The price can vary quite a bit depending on the materials, tile size, labor costs, and other factors. This article will break down the costs associated with subway tile backsplash installation so you can determine the budget for your kitchen project.
Tile Material Costs
The biggest factor in determining the cost of a subway tile backsplash is the material of the tile itself. Here are some of the most common types of subway tile and average material costs:
- Cost: $5 – $15 per sq. ft.
- Overview: The most budget-friendly option, ceramic subway tiles are available glazed or unglazed. Sturdy and easy to clean.
- Cost: $15 – $30 per sq. ft.
- Overview: More durable and water-resistant than ceramic, porcelain glass tiles have a refined, elegant look.
- Cost: $15 – $30 per sq. ft.
- Overview: Offering brilliant gloss and color options, glass tile is very eye-catching but also more delicate.
- Cost: $25 – $50 per sq. ft.
- Overview: Natural stone like marble, travertine, or slate can create a high-end, sophisticated look. Requires extra sealing.
- Cost: $25 – $50 per sq. ft
- Overview: Adding a modern, industrial vibe, metal tiles come in stainless steel, copper, and aluminum. More prone to scratches.
As you can see, ceramic or porcelain tile tend to be the most budget-friendly, while stone and metal tile are on the premium end. Glass tile falls somewhere in between. The material you choose will depend on the look you want to achieve and your budget.
In addition to material, the size of the subway tile also affects cost. The standard size for subway tile is 3×6 inches, but you can also find sizes like 4×4 inches, 4×8 inches, 4×12 inches or even longer “plank” sizes.
Smaller tile sizes (3×6, 4×4 inches) will cost less per square foot but require** more grout lines**. This can increase installation time and labor costs.
Larger tile sizes (6×12, 4×12 inches or larger) will have a higher material cost per tile but fewer grout lines for potentially faster installation. The longer the tile, the more expensive it will be.
Make sure to take tile size into account when budgeting and ordering materials for your project. The size will also impact the overall visual effect of the backsplash design.
Backsplash Area Size
Figuring out the square footage of your backsplash area is key to determining how much tile you will need to purchase. Measure the height and width of the area you plan to tile, multiplying them to get the square footage.
For example, if your backsplash area is 15 feet wide and 4 feet high, that is 15 x 4 = 60 square feet.
Be sure to also calculate any niche or accent areas you may want to tile separately. Having an accurate square footage amount will allow you to estimate needed materials and budget properly.
Tile Installation Cost
While DIY installation is possible for ambitious homeowners, most people hire a professional tile installer to ensure it is done correctly. Tile installation costs typically run $50 – $100 per hour. The total time and cost will depend on:
- The size of the backsplash area
- Tile material and size selected
- Complexity of the design
Simple installation of standard ceramic subway tiles generally starts around $200 – $500. More intricate designs, larger installs, or tricky materials like natural stone or glass tile can be $500 – $1,500.
Be sure to get an itemized estimate from tilers on expected project time and cost. Many charge by the hour or day.
Beyond just the tile and basic installation, there are a few other potential costs to factor into your backsplash budget:
- Grout and grout sealing – Grout fills the joints between tiles. Epoxy or specialty colored grout is more expensive. Sealing is required for some materials.
- Underlayment or backerboard – Cement board or other backerboard may be recommended as a base before tile.
- Trim and edging – Plastic or metal trim pieces finish edges of the backsplash.
- Niche or accent tiles – Specialty tiles for a niche or decorative accents can add cost.
- Additional materials – Thinset, spacers, sealant, tools, etc. Any supplementary supplies.
- Removal of old backsplash – If replacing an existing backsplash, demolition and disposal fees apply.
In total, these extra materials, preparation, and finishing elements can tack on $200 – $500 or more to the overall budget.
Factors That Increase Subway Tile Backsplash Cost
Certain factors can increase the cost of a subway tile backsplash, such as:
- Custom or intricate designs – Mosaics, banding, complicated patterns, and detail work require more planning, precision, and labor.
- Oversized tiles – Larger format tiles are often more expensive and challenging to install properly.
- Natural stone or glass tile – More delicate and difficult to cut materials drive up installation time and difficulty.
- Niche or shelving – Cutting into the wall for a niche or installing shelving boosts cost.
- Backsplash height – A full height backsplash is more expensive than a standard 4-6” height above countertops.
- Professional installation – Hiring experienced tilers ensures quality but costs more than DIY.
Upgrades like decorative accents, lighting, trim, or mosaics can also increase the total subway tile backsplash price significantly. Simple is usually the most budget-friendly route.
Factors That Decrease Subway Tile Backsplash Cost
On the other hand, you can reduce costs on your backsplash installation by:
- Choosing smaller, simpler tile – Basic 3×6” ceramic subway tile is very affordable.
- Opting for a DIY install – If you’re fairly handy, consider doing it yourself.
- Keeping the design straightforward – Avoid intricate patterns and custom niche work.
- Using recycled or repurposed tiles – Reclaimed materials are much cheaper.
- Going for a lower backsplash height – 4 inches is common and uses less tile.
- Skipping decorative extras – No need for expensive trim, lighting, or accent tiles.
Using matte grout and sealer rather than specialty epoxy or colored grout also helps keep the budget reasonable. Focusing on smart material choices and simple design is the best way to reduce costs.
Average Cost for a Subway Tile Backsplash
Given all the variables at play, the cost for a subway tile backsplash can range quite a bit. Here are some typical overall averages:
- Small DIY install with basic materials: $150 – $300
- Medium-sized professional install with porcelain tile: $500 – $1,000
- Large designer backsplash with natural stone tile: $1,500 – $2,500
Many homeowners spend $500 – $1,500 for a professionally installed subway tile backsplash in the average 6×8 feet kitchen area. High-end materials or expansive commercial backsplashes can be $3,000+ but are less common for residential remodels.
Estimating Subway Tile Backsplash Cost
When estimating the cost of a subway tile backsplash for your own kitchen, consider:
- Tile material cost per sq ft. based on type
- Number of sq ft. to be covered
- Tile installation cost per hour
- Estimated installation time based on backsplash size and design complexity
- Any additional costs – grout, niche, trim, disposal fees, etc.
Factor in each element above to determine your total estimated budget. Be sure to get quotes from tile retailers and installers as a reference point too.
Tips for Reducing Backsplash Costs
If your estimated backsplash cost is beyond your budget, there are ways to reduce the price:
- Size down slightly smaller tiles – 4×4” vs 6×6” tiles lowers material cost.
- Use a tiler’s square or penny-round edges to avoid costly tile cuts.
- Install the tile yourself if you have tiling experience.
- Choose solid white or light grout – colored or epoxy grout adds cost.
- Use backsplashes just 4-6 inches tall above countertops rather than floor to ceiling.
- Opt for ceramic or porcelain tile rather than pricier glass or stone.
- Buy tile and materials from big box stores rather than specialty tile shops.
With smart design decisions and budget-friendly materials, you can achieve the subway tile backsplash look you love at a reasonable price. Just focus on the essential elements rather than expensive upgrades or extras.
Should I Tile My Own Backsplash?
Installing your own backsplash can definitely save on labor costs compared to hiring a pro, but only if you have tiling experience. Key considerations include:
Skill level – Tiling requires precise measuring, cutting, leveling, grouting, and finishing for clean results. DIY is best for the experienced.
Time requirements – Tiling is time-intensive. Make sure you can devote full days or weekends to the task. Rushing leads to mistakes.
Tools needed – Have on hand or rent a wet saw for cutting tile, mixing paddle for mortar, buckets, grout float, sponges, tape, and safety gear.
Material choices – Natural stone, glass, and large format tiles are very difficult for DIY installation. Stick with sturdy ceramic or porcelain.
Backsplash size and design – Simple, small-scale backsplashes are best for beginners. Skip niches, banding, and mosaics which require extra precision.
If working with tile seems daunting, don’t hesitate to hire a pro. For avid DIYers, installing your own subway tile backsplash can be very rewarding and save hundreds of dollars.
Hiring a Tile Installation Contractor
Finding an experienced tile installation contractor is recommended for more complex backsplash projects, challenging materials, or if you simply want to save yourself the hard work. Here are tips for hiring a pro:
- Review examples of previous tile work in photos or by visiting completed jobs.
- Ensure they have experience specifically with backsplash installation.
- Check reviews from past clients and look for recommendations.
- Get a detailed written estimate outlining tile, materials, preparation, installation rates, and total cost.
- Verify they are licensed, bonded, and insured.
- Ask about warranty coverage on their workmanship.
Hiring a true tile professional is worth the investment to ensure your backsplash looks amazing and lasts for years of enjoyment in your home.
Design Ideas and Trends for Subway Tile Backsplashes
While the classic white 3×6” subway tile backsplash is a forever favorite, there are plenty of design options to give this look some flair:
- Colorful tiles – Bright solids, bold patterns, or varied hues create a cheery or eclectic effect.
- Horizontal orientation – Stacked rows offer a modern, sleek style. Great for plank tiles.
- Textured tiles – Subtle stone textures provide depth and interest.
- Focal niches or shelves – Frame out a section for artwork, plants, or pretty vases.
- Accent banding – Use contrasting colors to outline sections or the perimeter.
- Mosaic tiles – Tiny tiles allow for intricate geometric, floral, or nature-inspired designs.
- 3D tiles – Dimensional or handmade tile adds artistic personality.
Mix and match sizes, textures, layouts, and colors to design a subway-tile backsplash that reflects your personal taste and complements your kitchen style beautifully.
Subway Tile Backsplash Maintenance Tips
To keep your backsplash looking like new for years to come:
- Seal porous grout periodically to prevent staining and discoloration.
- Clean with gentle soap and water. Avoid harsh chemicals or scrubbing.
- Immediately wipe up spills and messes to prevent buildup of grime.
- Re-apply sealers to natural stone tiles as needed according to manufacturer directions.
- Inspect for any cracks or loose tiles over time and repair promptly.
With proper care and maintenance, a subway tile backsplash can stay looking classic, stylish, and freshly installed for decades before needing to be redone.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions homeowners have about installing a subway tile backsplash:
How much does it cost to install a subway tile backsplash?
The typical range is $500 – $1,500 professionally installed. Cost varies based on tile material, the extent of the backsplash, design complexity, and pro vs DIY installation.
What tile material is cheapest for a backsplash?
Ceramic or porcelain tile provides the most affordable options starting around $5 per square foot. Natural stone, glass, and metal tile tend to cost more.
Should I get white or colored subway tiles?
White is the classic and versatile choice, but colored subway tiles in blues, greens, grays, or multi-hued create a fun pop of color. It depends on your design style.
How difficult is it to install a subway tile backsplash?
For an experienced DIYer, subway tile is one of the most straightforward tiles to install. Beginners may want to hire a pro for best results. Careful planning is key.
Can I install a backsplash over existing tile?
It’s not recommended. Existing tile should be removed to start with a smooth, clean surface for proper thinset adhesion.
Installing a subway tile backsplash can add a major style update to your kitchen, for a cost ranging from a few hundred dollars for DIY using ceramic tile up to $1,500 or more for a larger professional install with premium materials like natural stone. Carefully measure your backsplash area, create a budget, select your tile, and explore design ideas before getting started. With the right planning and choices, you can achieve the subway tile backsplash of your dreams at a price that fits your budget beautifully. Happy designing!