Installing a tile backsplash can add style and personality to your kitchen. But working around switches, outlets, and other obstacles requires some careful planning and precision. With the right techniques, you can achieve a seamless, professional-looking tiled backsplash.
Planning Your Tile Layout
The first step is planning out your tile layout. Here are some tips for mapping it out:
- Take measurements of the area and sketch your design on graph paper. Mark the locations of outlets, switches, and other fixtures.
- Most backsplashes use a basic grid pattern. But you can get creative with patterns like herringbone or mosaic designs.
- Plan the tile layout so cut edges and narrow pieces are minimized. Avoid using small slivers of tile wherever possible.
- Lay out the design so outlets and switches fall within the middle of tiles rather than at grout joints. This gives a cleaner look.
- Leave a 1/8″ gap between the tiles and outlets or switches to allow room for the plates.
Thorough planning ensures you have enough tiles and creates a seamless design. Don’t rush this step!
Preparing the Area
Once your design is mapped out, you’ll need to prep the installation area:
- Remove existing backsplash material like ceramic tiles or wallpaper. Scrap off old adhesive and grout.
- Fill any holes or uneven sections with spackle and sand smooth. The area must be flat and even.
- Clean the entire surface thoroughly to remove grease, grime, and debris. Rinse well and let dry fully.
- Apply painter’s tape around the edges and over sections you don’t want tiled, like the countertop periphery.
Proper prep prevents problems like tiles popping off later on. It also allows the adhesive to stick tightly.
Setting Outlets and Switches
Here comes the tricky part – working those outlets and switches into the design! Follow these tips:
Tiling Under Boxes
- Turn off power at the breaker before starting. Verify it’s off using a circuit tester.
- Remove the outlet and switch plate covers. Carefully extract each box from the wall using a screwdriver.
- Apply your tile over the area, leaving a 1/8″ gap around the box outline.
- Insert tile spacer pegs into the box gaps to maintain even spacing as you lay tile.
- Use a box extender if needed to bring the box flush with the new tile layer.
Tiling Around Boxes
- An alternative is to cut tile pieces to fit neatly around the boxes.
- Measure and mark the cutout size on the tiles. Make straight cuts using a wet saw.
- Place the cut tiles around the boxes and fill in the rest of the layout.
- Remove any spacer pegs and reinsert the outlet boxes once the thinset has cured.
Either method works! Under-tiling is simpler, but tiling around gives a smoother look.
Installing the Tile Backsplash
Once prepped, you can move on to tiling. Make sure to:
- Use a notched trowel to apply a thin, even layer of thinset adhesive on the wall. Apply only as much as you can tile over within 30 minutes.
- Press the tiles into the thinset firmly. Use spacers to maintain even grout line spacing.
- Inspect the tiles as you go to ensure they are all aligned. Adjust any crooked or misaligned tiles promptly.
- Allow the thinset to cure fully per manufacturer instructions before grouting, usually 24-48 hours.
Take your time setting the tiles and work methodically row by row for best results.
Grouting and Finishing
The grouting phase really makes your design pop:
- Mix the grout following package directions and let it slake for 10 minutes.
- Apply grout over the tiles using a rubber grout float. Spread it diagonally over the joints.
- Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before wiping away excess grout with a damp sponge.
- Clean any haze or film off the tiles using a soft cloth.
- Use caulk instead of grout between tile and countertop or trim.
- Don’t grout if the thinset isn’t fully cured yet.
- Don’t allow grout to completely dry on the tiles. It’s much harder to remove.
- Don’t apply too much water when sponging. It can dilute or wash away grout.
Take your time with grouting and clean-up for pristine results. Allow the grout to cure fully before using the backsplash.
Troubleshooting Tricky Tile Situations
Despite best efforts, you may encounter some tricky tiling situations around your outlets and switches:
Uneven Tile Edges
If tile edges around boxes aren’t lining up evenly, use a file to smooth and shape the edges. Apply caulk around the perimeter for a tidy finish.
Gaps Around Boxes
For slight gaps, inject caulk into the space and tool smooth. For larger gaps, cut small tile pieces to size as fillers before caulking.
Carefully remove and replace any cracked tiles. Scrape out old thinset and reapply new adhesive.
Don’t get frustrated! With careful attention and patience, you can get a beautifully installed tile backsplash.
FAQs About Tiling Around Outlets and Switches
Got questions? Here are some commonly asked questions about tiling around switches, receptacles, and other obstacles:
Is it okay to tile over electrical boxes?
Yes, it is safe to tile over electrical box openings as long as the tiles don’t extend higher than the outlets themselves. Be sure to maintain a 1/8″ gap around boxes.
How do I cut outlet holes in tile?
Use a rotary tool with a diamond blade to carefully score and cut tile openings for outlet boxes. Use steady, even pressure for clean cuts.
Should I remove outlets before tiling a backsplash?
It is generally recommended to remove switches and outlets prior to tiling so you can neatly tile up to the edges of the boxes.
What is the best way to finish an outlet on a tiled backsplash?
Caulking around the outlet plate provides the most seamless finish. Make sure to use silicone caulk that matches the color of the grout.
How do I tile around plumbing fixtures?
Carefully cut tiles to fit neatly around pipes or plumbing fixtures. Maintain a 1/8″ gap and use caulk to seal the gaps for a tidy finish.
Can I tile a kitchen backsplash over drywall?
Yes, tile can be installed over drywall as long as it is in good condition. Be sure to use cement board around outlets and other openings.
How far should tiles extend above outlets?
Tiles should end 1/8″ above outlets. Do not extend tile higher than the top of the receptacle openings to prevent electrical hazards.
Careful prep and attention to detail will allow you to safely and beautifully incorporate outlets and switches into your new tiled backsplash!
Tiling Around Switches and Plugs – Step-by-Step
Ready to get started tiling? Here is a detailed step-by-step walkthrough for tiling around switches, outlets, and other obstacles:
- Tile and grout
- Thinset mortar
- Tiling tools (spacers, buckets, trowel etc.)
- Damp sponge
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
- Painter’s tape
Step 1: Turn Off Power and Remove Covers
Turn off power to the outlet or switch at the breaker box. Use a circuit tester to confirm it is off before proceeding. Then remove the switch/outlet covers using a screwdriver.
Step 2: Remove Electrical Boxes
Unscrew the electrical boxes from the wall and gently pull them out. Be careful not to damage any wires.
Step 3: Prep the Area
Fill any uneven spots with spackle and sand smooth. Clean the area then tape off edges with painter’s tape.
Step 4: Apply Thinset
Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset mortar on the wall area. Smooth with the trowel’s flat edge.
Step 5: Cut Tile Pieces
Measure the area then mark and cut tiles to fit around boxes using a utility knife or wet saw. Cut tile edges should be smooth.
Step 6: Install Tiles
Press the cut tile pieces firmly into the thinset around the boxes. Place the surrounding tiles next, using spacers to maintain even grout lines.
Step 7: Insert Box & Finish Gaps
Once thinset has cured, remove spacers and reinsert switch/outlet box into wall opening. Caulk edges neatly with silicone.
Be patient and let all thinset/grout cure fully before using outlets. Turn power back on only after backsplash is complete!
hiring an electrician to install outlets
Installing outlets and switches in a tiled backsplash is complicated electrical work. For many homeowners, hiring an experienced electrician is the best option for getting a professional quality job. Here are some tips on hiring an electrician to install outlets in a tiled backsplash:
Check Licensing and Insurance
Verify the electrician has an active license and is insured. This protects you in case of accidents, faulty work, or injuries on the job. Ask to see their license and insurance certificate.
Look for Tile Experience
Find an electrician who is experienced with tiling projects and working around backsplashes. Ask to see examples of past tiled backsplash jobs. Experience working with both tile and electricity is ideal.
Ask for referrals from family, friends, or neighbors who have had outlet work done in a kitchen backsplash. Referrals are a great way to gauge an electrician’s quality and reliability.
Get a Detailed Quote
Have the electrician visit to examine the specific job and provide a written quote for the work. Get quotes from at least three electricians before deciding.
Discuss schedule constraints and when the work will be done. Some tile jobs require staging electrical work in phases to accommodate the tile installation.
Understand Next Steps
Make sure you know what to expect after the job – when outlets will be usable, how grouting around them works, clean-up, etc. Get instructions clearly in writing.
Hiring an electrician may have added cost but brings professional expertise. The results will be a backsplash with properly installed, code-compliant switches and outlets.
Installing tile around outlets, switches, or other fixtures takes careful planning and patience. But with the right techniques, you can achieve a flawless, seamless finish. Be sure to thoroughly prep the surface, map out your tile design, and take care cutting and fitting tiles around any obstacles. Grouting neatly and cleaning thoroughly will give you a professional, polished backsplash you’ll enjoy for years to come. With some persistence and attention to detail, you can handle tiling your backsplash like a pro!