How to Measure for Subway Tile Backsplash

Installing a subway tile backsplash can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom. The rectangular shape and even grout lines create a clean, classic look. Measuring correctly before installation ensures you purchase the right amount of tile and get the layout you want. With some simple calculations and planning, you’ll be ready to start your subway tile project.

Choose Your Tile

The first step is to pick out your subway tile. Standard sizes are 3×6, 4×8, 4×12, and 6×12 inches. The larger the tile, the faster the installation. Smaller tiles allow for more creativity in layout patterns. Consider the size of the space you are tiling and the look you are going for.

A few aspects to factor into your decision:

  • Use larger tiles for bigger spaces. The smaller the tile, the more grout lines will be visible. Larger tiles minimize grout and create a cleaner look in large areas.
  • Smaller tiles work better for small spaces. Small tiles make the space appear larger and allow you to get creative with patterns.
  • Mix and match. Consider using different sized subway tiles together for interest. Or frame your backsplash with a vertical row of stacked elongated tiles.
  • Material. Subway tiles come in ceramic, porcelain, glass, marble, and more. Porcelain is more durable and moisture-resistant. Marble gives a luxurious look but requires sealing.
  • Color/finish. Matte white is the most popular, but subway tiles also come in glossy, metallic, patterned, and colorful finishes.

Once you’ve selected your tile, ordering 10-15% extra is recommended in case you need replacements later on.

Measure Your Space

Measuring precisely is crucial for a successful installation. Follow these steps:

Gather Your Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Laser level (optional)
  • Ladder

Prepare the Area

Clear your counters and remove anything hanging on the walls where you’ll be tiling. Have adequate lighting in the space.

Measure Width

Start by measuring the overall width of the backsplash area. Measure across the lowest point from one end to the other. Write down the width.

Tip: For accuracy, measure in 3-4 places along the span and use the smallest measurement.

Measure Height

Measure from the lowest point you want to tile up to the underside of any upper cabinets. For a full backsplash, measure up to the bottom of the wall cabinets.

Tip: Use a laser level placed on the counter to mark a perfectly horizontal line if needed.

Measure Length

For long spans, divide the backsplash into sections and measure the length of each section. Note any gaps, outlets, or blocking that need to be accounted for.

Draw a Detailed Diagram

Sketch the backsplash area showing all measurements, windows, outlets, corners etc. Having a diagram makes it easier to calculate how many tiles you need.

Calculate How Much Tile You Need

Use your measurements and tile dimensions to figure the total number of tiles required.

Calculate Square Footage

Multiply the width by the height to get the square footage. For example, a 10 ft wide by 5 ft high backsplash is 50 square feet.

Tip: Measure in inches for more precision. Convert to feet by dividing by 144 to get square footage.

Factor in Tile Dimensions

Divide the square footage by the surface area of one tile.

  • Tile surface area = width x height.
  • For a 4×12 inch subway tile it would be: 4 x 12 = 48 square inches.
  • To get square feet, divide by 144 (48/144 = 0.33 square feet per tile).

Now you can calculate the number of tiles:

  • Square footage of space / tile square footage = total tiles needed
  • For our 50 sq ft backsplash using 4×12 tiles, it would be:
  • 50 sq ft / 0.33 sq ft per tile = 150 tiles

Round up to the next full box to have extras.

Calculate Edge Pieces

Figure the linear feet of each exposed edge that may need tiles cut. Measure top, sides, gaps, windows etc that won’t have full tiles. Divide by tile width to get additional pieces needed.

Tip: Overestimate edges by a few extra pieces to be safe.

Find the Right Layout

Having your tile measurements allows you to play with the layout before installing. Here are some popular subway tile patterns:

Brick Pattern

Tiles offset by half a tile width for each alternating row. Gives a classic look. Easy DIY install.

Horizontal Stack Pattern

Stacked elongated tiles run horizontally. Gives a modern look.


Tiles form a V pattern for visual interest. More difficult installation.

Penny Pattern

Tiles are installed in a brick pattern but turned perpendicular rather than parallel.

Tip: Use a tile layout pattern visualization tool online to experiment with different looks.

Prepare Your Surface

Once you’ve calculated how much tile you need and decided on a pattern, prep your backsplash area:

  • Thoroughly clean and sand the surface for proper adhesion.
  • Seal porous drywall with a waterproof membrane.
  • Mark your focal point and find the center point of the installation.
  • Mark guide lines on the wall spaced equal to your tile width.
  • Spread thinset mortar evenly over the surface area, using a notched trowel.

Now you’re ready to cut tiles if needed and begin setting your beautiful new subway tile backsplash!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are common questions about measuring for subway tile backsplash installations.

How Much Extra Tile Should I Order?

Order 10-15% more than your calculated quantity to allow for breakage, uneven walls requiring additional cuts, and future repairs.

Should I Measure From the Lowest or Highest Point?

Start your measurements from the lowest point and tile up. Trying to work down from the top can result in uneven lower rows.

What if My Walls Aren’t Straight?

Many walls have slight variances. Measure in several places for accuracy. Use tile spacers during installation to account for unevenness.

How Do I Measure for Outlets and Obstacles?

Note the locations precisely on your diagram, measure the dimensions, and calculate how many cut tiles will be needed.

What if I Make a Mistake Measuring?

Re-measure as needed for accuracy. Don’t rely on old measurements. Use a tile layout app to experiment with layouts using your measurements.

How Do I Calculate How Much Grout I Need?

Multiply the total square footage by 0.025 to estimate grout needed in pounds. Have 20% extra on hand.

Can I Install Subway Tiles Vertically?

Yes, you can run subway tiles vertically. Make sure your measurements and layout accommodate the longer vertical dimensions.

Key Takeaways

  • Carefully measure the height, width, and length of the backsplash area.
  • Choose your subway tile size based on space size and style preferences.
  • Calculate the total square footage and number of tiles needed.
  • Add edge pieces that will need cuts around outlets, windows, etc.
  • Use 10-15% extra for breakage and repairs.
  • Plan tile layout patterns based on your measurements and tile dimensions.
  • Properly prepare the surface area before installation begins.
  • Accurate measuring prevents frustrations, unneeded costs, and rework.

With the right planning and calculations, your subway tile backsplash will install beautifully. Remember to measure twice for perfection! Let the measuring and installing begin.