Backsplashes serve both decorative and functional purposes in a home. They protect walls from water damage and splatters while also adding visual interest to kitchens, bathrooms, and other spaces. However, ending a backsplash properly on an open wall takes some finesse. An unfinished edge can detract from the look of the backsplash and leave the wall vulnerable. With proper planning and technique, you can achieve a clean finish for your backsplash installation.
Preparing the Wall Surface
Before installing the backsplash, take time to ensure the wall surface is properly prepared. Take these steps for best results:
Clean and Dry the Wall
- Remove any debris, grease or soap buildup by washing the wall with an all-purpose cleaner and rinse thoroughly. Allow the wall to dry completely before beginning installation. Moisture will prevent proper adhesion.
Fill Any Holes or Imperfections
- Use spackle or drywall joint compound to fill any holes, cracks or uneven areas in the wall surface. Allow filler to dry completely and sand smooth. The backsplash tiles will only be as flush to the wall as the surface beneath them.
- Brush or roll on a wall primer like Kilz to seal the surface and improve adhesion. The sheen on glossy paints can also cause a slipping hazard during installation. Priming provides a matte texture for tiles to grip.
Properly prepping the open wall surface takes a bit of work, but it’s a critical first step. Rushing this risks ending up with a backsplash that doesn’t adhere properly or lays unevenly on the wall.
Choosing Where to End the Backsplash
The termination point of the backsplash plays a big role in the finished look. Here are some tips on choosing the ideal stopping point:
Near Countertop Level
- Ending near the countertop creates a clean, seamless look. Use a tile edging piece like a bullnose or trim tile to transition neatly from backsplash to bare wall.
At Cabinet Height
- Terminating the backsplash where wall cabinets begin is a common choice. It keeps splashes protected behind the sink and range while opening the upper wall area.
Near Ceiling Height
- A full-height backsplash makes a dramatic statement. Take care to precisely match your end point to ceilings or cabinets for the best effect.
Break Up Long Expansive Walls
- On large bare walls, ending the backsplash tile partway up visually breaks up the space. Complement with wall paint color.
Take measurements and map out your planned stopping point. This will determine the tile layout needed to make a straight, even edge.
Choosing a Backsplash Edge Piece
Using a finishing edge piece is the best route for ending a backsplash cleanly. Here are some top options:
- Bullnose tiles have one rounded finished edge that installs flush along the wall. The rounded edge eases the transition from tile to wall.
- Pencil liners are narrow, trim-sized tiles with one finished edge. Their thin profile offers a minimalist transition.
- Metal, plastic or tile strips like those made by Schluter Systems attach to walls as edging. Some provide a decorative finish.
- Moldings and trims made of wood, plastic or metal attach to the edge of the backsplash tile as a finishing frame.
- Silicone caulk comes in colors to match or complement backsplash grout. It creates a sealed finish along the tile edge.
- A stained wood strip offers a rustic backsplash finish. Use tile-setting adhesive to attach along the tile edge.
End Cap Tiles
- Some tile collections include coordinating end cap tiles. These combine bullnose shaping with designed trim details.
Browse edge options to find a style that complements your kitchen or bath decor. Delicate trim suits a vintage setting while stainless steel suits contemporary.
Preparing to End the Installation
Once you’ve prepped the wall and chosen how and where to end the backsplash, gather a few supplies:
- Spacers for proper tile spacing
- Level to check straightness
- Tile cutter and nippers to modify or split tiles
- Carbide hole saw for electrical boxes or plumbing cutouts
- Adhesive applicable for backsplash use
- Grout float, grout sponge, and grout sealing product
Ensure you have all tools and materials needed for a complete installation. Preparing everything up front makes ending the backsplash job simpler.
Cutting Perimeter Tiles
Framing a backsplash with edge tiles takes precision cutting for accuracy:
Measure Twice, Cut Once
- Carefully measure the terminating wall edge where tiles will end. Transfer exact measurements to tiles before cutting to avoid mistakes.
Cut Tiles with Overhang
- When cutting perimeter tiles, leave an extra 1/16 to 1/8 inch overhang past the wall edge. This extra will get tucked behind during installation.
Split Large Tiles
- Large tiles and natural stone may need splitting to proper size using a tile wet saw or manual tile nippers. Take care to make straight cuts.
Make Straight Cuts
- Mark cutting lines on tiles and carefully cut following lines to achieve edges that sit flush to the wall. Jagged or angled edges get noticeable.
Use Edge Terminators
- Some jobs call for custom sizing where tile backing shows. Use trim, bullnose or edge tiles to terminate properly.
Cutting perimeter tiles for a clean finish takes practice and patience. Having extra tiles on hand offers wiggle room for any mistakes.
Installing the Edge Finish
Once perimeter tiles are prepped, turn to installing the finished edge:
Review Edge Style Needs
- Refer back to edge piece directions for required adhesives, special tools or mounting hardware needed for installation.
Dry Fit the Border
- Do a dry run positioning cut tiles along the edge before permanent application. Check for proper fit and spacing.
- Use a notch trowel to apply adhesive evenly over the area where border tiles will attach. Follow adhesive instructions.
Align and Press Tiles
- Carefully lay tiles along the edge, evenly spaced and properly aligned. Firmly press each tile into the adhesive.
Allow Proper Curing
- Give adhesive ample time to cure completely before grouting or sealing. This ensures durable adhesion along the open edge.
With a quality adhesive and careful technique, the finished edge tiles should lay evenly, hide any cut edges of surrounding tiles and align properly along the terminating wall edge.
Matching Backsplash Grout Lines
Proper grouting ties the edge tiles to the full backsplash design:
Grout Approach Strategy
- Look at grout line spacing on the rest of the backsplash and figure out your approach for the edge area.
- Spacers between edge tiles help match grout line spacing to the field tiles. Keep them even.
Cut Grout Lines Clear Through
- When grouting near terminating edges, run grout lines all the way to the wall edge for consistency.
Tool Joints Properly
- Match grout line thickness and profile to the rest of the backsplash installation. Keep them clean.
- Spacers on cut edges often remain in the grout lines. Carefully remove them once grout cures.
Take care to match grout lines along the terminating edge to the grouting on the whole backsplash installation. Consistency pulls the design together.
Sealing Gaps or Edges
Small gaps may persist along finished edges. Sealing them properly prevents moisture entry:
- Look closely along the edge tiles and transition line to the wall. Note any visible gaps that need sealing.
Choose Appropriate Caulk
- Match silicone or grout caulk color to your grout. Use mildew-resistant bathroom caulk as needed.
Prep the Surface
- Clean and dry the edge thoroughly before applying caulk. Remove any grout haze or debris.
Gun in Caulk
- Hold a caulk gun at a 45-degree angle, applying a steady back-and-forth bead of caulk into gaps. Overfill slightly.
Smooth and Wipe
- Before caulk dries, use a fingertip or plastic smoother to spread it evenly. Wipe away excess with a damp sponge.
Taking time to properly seal gaps along the backsplash edge prevents moisture from infiltrating and causing damage.
Despite best efforts, some backsplash edges have imperfections. Here are fixes for common issues:
Uneven Tile Edges
- If parts of the edge feel raised or lowered, use a grinder to gently grind protruding tile smooth and flush.
Gaps Between Tiles
- Use caulk in matching grout color to fill any visible gaps between edge tiles for an even appearance.
Gaps Where Wall Meets Tile
- Run a steady bead of silicone caulk along the junction of the tile and wall to fill in gaps or cracks in the caulk line.
Grout Smears on Wall
- Use a grout haze remover or mix baking soda and water into a paste to gently clean grout residue without damaging the wall.
Chips Along Cut Tile Edges
- For small chips on cut edges, fill in with caulk then touch-up grout lines with grout touch-up paint.
With some minor touch-up fixes, most common edge issues can be fixed for professional looking results.
Maintaining the Installation
Protect your efforts with proper backsplash maintenance:
Seal Grout Lines
- Once the grout cures fully, apply grout sealer using a small foam brush. Pay special attention to sealing along the edges.
Use Gentle Cleaners
- Clean backsplash tiles regularly using mild dish soap and water. Avoid harsh chemicals that can degrade grout or etch natural stone.
- Grout sealer will need reapplication over time. Check for areas of failing sealer and re-coat as needed to prevent stains.
Fix Cracks Quickly
- If grout lines near edges begin to crack, re-caulk promptly before moisture can enter and cause damage. Small fixes prevent big repairs.
With the right edge installation and ongoing maintenance, your open wall backsplash can maintain its beauty and function for many years before ever needing replacement.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ending Backsplashes on Open Walls
Terminating a backsplash on an open wall can certainly present challenges. Here are answers to some common questions homeowners have:
What is the most popular height to end a backsplash?
The most common approach is to end the backsplash tile where kitchen wall cabinets begin. This allows you to maximize the splatter protection behind appliances and sinks while keeping upper walls paintable.
Should I end tile flush with the wall or overhang slightly?
It’s best to have tiles sit slightly proud of the wall edge by about 1/16 inch. This extra will hide any wall edge irregularities and imperfections behind the tile.
How do I cut tricky edge pieces like L-shapes?
Use a cardboard template traced along the wall to mark the exact shape needed on the tile. Score the curve with a tile nipper then carefully snap pieces off until the shape fits into place.
Should I use caulk that matches my grout or wall paint?
Match the caulk color to your grout for the most seamless look. Clear or white caulk stands out. Colored caulk that matches is less noticeable visually.
Is it okay to end backsplash tile mid-wall without any border?
It’s not ideal as the exposed cross-cut edges of the tile will be visible and prone to chipping. A pencil liner is an affordable trim option to get a clean edge.
How do I prevent cracking between backsplash tiles and walls long-term?
Thoroughly sealing where tile edges meet walls with flexible silicone caulk is the best defense. Re-apply caulk sealant periodically as needed over time.
What’s the minimum backsplash height needed for a kitchen?
Standard building codes require a minimum 4-inch backsplash height when tile or backsplash materials are installed behind cooking and prep areas prone to splatter.
Don’t hesitate to use an experienced tile installer if you have any apprehension about DIYing the finished edge details for your backsplash installation. Often a minor investment saves a lot of hassle and prevents costly fixes down the road. With some finesse and the right materials, you can achieve a polished, seamless finish transitioning from backsplash to open wall.
Ending a backsplash properly on an open wall comes down to thoughtful planning, precision, quality materials and proper technique. Choose the right termination point to suit the space. Use trim pieces made for clean finished edges. Take care to precisely size and place border tiles. Effort taken during and after installation to grout, caulk and seal edges pays off for many years of durability and beauty enhancing your space. With a few potential troubleshooting fixes, you can keep your backsplash looking professionally installed. And don’t neglect routine sealing and maintenance to keep your backsplash and open wall ending looking pristine.