Adding a natural stone backsplash is a great way to upgrade your kitchen or bathroom. The beauty and elegance of natural stone can completely transform the look and feel of the space. Installing a stone backsplash may seem daunting, but it can actually be a doable DIY project if you have the right materials and follow proper technique. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to install natural stone backsplash in your home.
Selecting the Stone
The first step is choosing the right type and color of natural stone that aligns with your design vision. Here are some popular options to consider:
Granite is one of the most popular choices for backsplashes and countertops due to its durability, elegance, and natural beauty. Granite comes in stunning colors and patterns like black, white, gray, brown, beige, pink, and blue. It works very well in both traditional and modern kitchens.
Marble is a classic and timeless natural stone renowned for its bright white coloration with gorgeous grey and black veining patterns. Carrara and Calacatta are two of the most popular types of marble. Marble provides an upscale, luxurious look.
Travertine is a beige/tan natural stone filled with holes and pits that give it a rustic, earthy appeal. It’s one of the most affordable and accessible natural stone options. The holes can be filled for a smoother finish.
Slate is valued for its lovely layers and mix of colors like purple, blue, black, and gray. It has an attractive natural cleft texture. Slate stands out for its striking and artistic visual flair.
Quartzite is an extremely strong metamorphic rock that looks similar to marble or quartz but is much more durable. It is a bolder, brighter alternative to granite.
Limestone is softer and more porous than other natural stones. It comes in various shades of white and gray and adds a timeworn antique visual.
Sandstone is created from compressed quartz sand particles so it has an extremely gritty texture. It commonly features warm tan, orange, red, and brown hues with natural grooves.
Soapstone has a soft, smoothed look and feels soapy to the touch. It is more resistant to acid than other stones and comes in dark gray, bluish gray, brown, and black.
Consider the color scheme in your kitchen, your aesthetic tastes, and how heavily the space will be used when choosing a natural stone. More porous, softer stones like limestone generally work better in bathrooms than heavy-use kitchens.
Purchase the Stone
Once you’ve selected the right stone for your backsplash project, it’s time to purchase the materials. You will need to buy:
- Stone tiles or slabs – Make sure to get extra tiles to account for broken or damaged pieces. Standard backsplash tiles are generally 12 inches x 12 inches but you can also do mosaics.
- Grout – Choose sanded grout for joints 1/8 inch and larger or unsanded grout for smaller joints. Match the grout color to your tile.
- Mortar or thinset – Buy fortified mortar suited for natural stone. Latex additives improve adhesion and flexibility.
- Sealant – To prevent staining, buy water-based natural stone sealant that is non-toxic and non-flammable once cured.
You may also need backing board, tile spacers, grout float, mixing pail, and a grout sealer. Get all your supplies before starting the installation.
Prepare the Surface
Installing the backsplash tiles is the final step. The substrate needs to be in good condition first. Here’s how to prepare the surface:
- Clean the installation area thoroughly and remove any old backsplash if present. Fill any cracks or holes with epoxy filler.
- Natural stone can be very heavy, so the substrate needs to be sturdy. Ensure the wall is made of cement board, drywall, plywood or another solid backing.
- If needed, install cement board per manufacturer instructions. Apply fiberglass mesh tape and mortar to the seams and corners.
- Prime the surface but do not use regular drywall primer. Use a specialty primer made for tile and stone. This helps the mortar bind properly.
Allow adequate time for the subsurface and primer to dry completely before spreading mortar. This prevents bonding issues.
Plan the Layout
Carefully planning the backsplash layout is crucial for a seamless look. Here are some tips:
- Draw the backsplash area with measurements on graph paper and play around with tile arrangements.
- Balance the layout visually based on the size and shape of the tiles. Adjust placement to avoid awkward cuts and gaps.
- Determine the focal point and align the best looking tiles in that section. Gradually taper out to the edges.
- Try for at least a 1/8 inch grout joint between tiles to allow room for mortar and grout. Use tile spacers to maintain even spacing.
- Identify any electrical outlets, switches, or fixtures and adjust the design to accommodate them.
Having a well-thought out backsplash blueprint makes installation much smoother.
Cut the Tiles
While most backsplash installations primarily use whole tiles, you will inevitably need to cut some partial tiles to fit around corners, edges, outlets, and appliances. Here’s how to cut stone tile:
- For straight cuts, use a wet saw with a diamond blade. Go slow and steady.
- For L-shaped cuts, use a tile nipper pliers followed by filing/sanding for smoothing. Mark the cut line with a pencil.
- For small circular cuts around electrical boxes or pipes, use a tile hole saw drill bit.
- For jagged irregular cuts, use a rotary tool like a Dremel with a diamond wheel attachment.
Always wear safety goggles and a mask when cutting natural stone tiles. Try to make precision cuts to get tight seams between tiles.
Mix the Mortar
Mixing the thinset mortar properly is a very important step in the installation process. Follow these tips:
- Wear rubber gloves, goggles, and a dust mask – materials may be skin/eye irritants.
- Use fortified thinset mortar designed for natural stone tile. Do not use regular drywall joint compound.
- Mix the mortar with latex additive instead of water for stronger adhesion.
- Stir according to manufacturer instructions, usually 3-5 minutes. Test consistency on a piece of tile.
- Allow mortar to slake for 5-10 minutes, then re-stir before applying. This improves workability.
- Prepare small batches of mortar to avoid it drying out before use. Discard any hardened mortar.
Achieving the ideal mortar texture takes some practice, but is essential for proper bonding of the stone tiles.
Spread the Mortar
Now it’s time to spread the mortar onto the prepared subsurface using a notched trowel. Follow these guidelines:
- Apply a thin layer of mortar using the trowel’s flat edge first to promote better adhesion.
- Next, use the notched edge to comb mortar in a single direction. Maintain even depth across the area.
- For walls, hold the trowel at a 45 degree angle to get full coverage of the ridges.
- Only spread mortar over sections where tiles will be set immediately to prevent drying.
- Use the recommended trowel notch size (usually 1/4″ – 1/2″) based on tile size and surface variation.
- Consistently comb the same thickness throughout installation for proper adhesive contact.
Spread mortar liberally but also controlled enough to avoid globs and slides for a professional appearance.
Set the Tiles
Now comes the satisfying part – seeing your beautiful tiles transform the space. Here is the proper technique for setting the stone:
- Working in small sections, press tiles firmly into the mortar to embed completely. Use a slight twisting motion.
- Use plastic spacers between tiles for consistent alignment and spacing as you set each piece.
- Check tiles for levelness as you go and make alignment adjustments as needed.
- Cut border and edge tiles as needed for precise fit. Carefully grind or sand any edges.
- Account for natural stone thickness and depth variations when setting multiple tiles together.
- Allow mortar to cure 24-48 hours once all tiles are set before grouting. Keep area dry.
- After grouting, allow another 48 hours before sealing tiles.
Patience and care in setting each stone tile leads to a stellar finished project.
Apply the Grout
Grout fills the spaces between tiles to completed the unified look. Here are some grouting tips:
- Choose unsanded grout for joints smaller than 1/8 inch or sanded grout for wider joints. Match grout color to your tile.
- Follow mixing directions and only make what you can use in 30 minutes. Discard any hardened grout.
- Spread grout diagonally across the tiles using a rubber grout float applying moderate pressure to pack the joints.
- Hold float at a 45 degree angle and scrape excess grout off the surface. Take care not to smear.
- After 15-20 minutes, start cleaning grout haze by wiping gently with a damp sponge in circular motions. Rinse sponge frequently.
- Once haze is gone, use a soft cloth to polish off any remaining film once grout dries to the touch.
- Cure grout 24-48 hours before sealing or applying final polish.
Letting grout cure fully prevents issues like shrinking, cracking, and discoloration down the line.
Seal the Stone
Sealing is the critical final step that protects natural stone from stains and damage. Here are sealing recommendations:
- Wait 48-72 hours after grouting to seal so moisture can escape and grout fully cures.
- Clean tiles thoroughly before sealing using non-abrasive stone cleaner and rinse well.
- Read sealant instructions carefully and ventilate area well before applying.
- Use a high quality penetrating sealer made for natural stone. Apply sealer evenly in thin coats.
- Allow proper drying time between coats, usually 30 minutes to 1 hour. Two to three coats is ideal.
- After final coat dries, buff off any visible excess sealer haze using a soft cloth.
- Reapply sealer yearly or as needed based on usage and wear.
Sealing is quick and makes natural stone much easier to maintain. Your breathtaking stone backsplash will stay pristine for years to come!
FAQs about Installing Natural Stone Backsplash
What kind of mortar should I use for a natural stone backsplash?
It’s best to use a latex-fortified thinset mortar specifically formulated for natural stone. This provides a strong bond and flexibility to prevent cracking. Do not use basic multipurpose drywall joint compound.
How long does mortar take to cure before grouting?
Allow 24-48 hours for the mortar to fully cure before applying grout. This ensures tiles are firmly set and prevents dislodging or cracking.
What color grout should I choose?
Select grout that is close to your tile color. Contrasting grout can look dirty over time as dirt accumulates in the crevices. Matching or slightly darker grout gives a clean uniform look.
Can I use sanded grout for small mosaic tiles?
No, sanded grout should only be used for grout lines 1/8 inch or larger. The sand particles can get stuck and scratch smaller tile spaces. Use unsanded grout for mosaics.
How soon can I seal the tiles after grouting?
Wait 48-72 hours following grouting to seal natural stone tiles. This allows all moisture from the grout to evaporate so the sealer can properly cure and bond.
How often should natural stone backsplash be resealed?
That depends on use, traffic, and exposure to things like cooking splatters and cleaning chemicals. Typically resealing yearly is recommended for kitchen backsplashes. For low use areas, every 2-3 years may suffice.
What’s the best way to cut curves and holes in stone tile?
For rounded cuts, use a hole saw drill bit attached to a power drill. For tight corners or curves, score the line with a tile nipper and then smooth with a file. Use a Dremel tool for freehand sculpting.
Installing a backsplash out of beautiful natural stone elevates any space with style, elegance, and luxury. By using proper materials, careful planning, precision cutting, expert mortar application, meticulous grouting, and protective sealing, you can achieve stunning results. Natural stone backsplashes make a dramatic statement and become a true focal feature of any kitchen or bath design. With this comprehensive guide, you can confidently tackle a stone tile backsplash project from start to finish. Just take it step-by-step. The beauty payoff will be well worth the effort.