Is a Backsplash Required by Code?

A kitchen backsplash serves both decorative and functional purposes. While it adds visual interest and ties together your kitchen’s design, a backsplash also protects the walls from water damage, grease splatters, and other messes. This practicality leads many homeowners to wonder – is a backsplash required by code?

What Building Codes Say About Backsplashes

Most residential building codes do not specifically require backsplashes. However, they do set standards for kitchen construction that make backsplashes necessary in most cases.

The International Residential Code

The International Residential Code (IRC) applies to most new home construction and renovations in the United States. The 2018 edition states the following regarding kitchen construction:

  • Wall surfaces within 2 feet horizontally and 4 feet vertically of cooking appliances must be covered with a smooth, cleanable, nonabsorbent material. This includes areas directly behind and adjacent to ranges, cooktops, and ovens.
  • Joints between backsplashes and countertops must be sealed.

While the code doesn’t explicitly mandate backsplashes, they are the most practical way to meet these requirements. TheIRC assumes backsplashes will be used in standard kitchen construction.

Plumbing Codes

The International Plumbing Code (IPC) regulates kitchen plumbing. The 2018 IPC states that sinks must have an impervious backsplash that extends at least 4 inches above the sink rim. This prevents water from contacting and damaging the wall behind sinks.

So for kitchen sinks, backsplashes are explicitly required. For other areas, they are implicitly called for by building codes.

When Are Backsplashes Necessary?

Given what building codes say, backsplashes are required in these situations:

Behind Stoves, Ranges, and Ovens

Anywhere cooking appliances are present, backsplashes are needed to protect walls. Without them, heat, grease, and food debris could damage drywall and paint.

Backsplashes must extend at least 4 inches above and on either side of the cooking surface. Diagonal installations reaching a minimum of 4 inches above are also acceptable.

Around Kitchen Sinks

Plumbing codes mandate impervious backsplashes that rise at least 4 inches above sinks. This prevents water damage behind faucets, soap dispensers, and the sink itself.

Countertop Joints

Backsplashes seal all joints between countertops and walls. This provides a cleanable surface and prevents spills from seeping under countertops.

When Backsplashes Aren’t Required

In some areas of a kitchen, backsplashes aren’t required:

  • On walls or sections of walls not within the splash zone of sinks and appliances. However, many homeowners opt to install full backsplashes for a seamless look.
  • For mobile islands or peninsulas not placed against walls. Islands don’t require backsplashes.
  • In wet bar or butler’s pantry areas without sinks or cooking surfaces.

So while backsplashes aren’t universally mandated, codes make them necessary components of safe, sanitary kitchens. Water-resistant backsplashes preserve walls behind sinks, ranges, ovens and anywhere else messes may occur. When designing a kitchen, plan on including backsplashes to meet building codes and protect your home.

Common Backsplash Materials

Now that we’ve covered where backsplashes are required, let’s look at material options. Proper backsplash materials have these key characteristics:

  • Non-porous surface – Liquids shouldn’t soak in, leading to stains and damage.
  • Moisture-resistant – Backsplashes must withstand splashes and spills from sinks and cooking.
  • Heat-tolerant – Surfaces should hold up near stoves and ovens without burning or cracking.
  • Easy to clean – Backsplashes need to be kept clean and sanitary.

Here are some top backsplash choices:

Ceramic Tile

A classic option, ceramic tiles come in endless colors, patterns, and textures. Their hard-fired composition resists heat, moisture, and stains. Grout may require occasional sealing.


Stainless steel, copper, bronze – metal backsplashes bring beautiful shine. They are naturally water- and heat-resistant. Enameled metal provides an impervious surface.

Glass Tile

Glass tile backsplashes have luminous appeal. The smooth finish wipes clean easily. Textured glass and recycled tile variations are also available.


Granite, marble, and other natural stones make elegant backsplashes. While moisture-resistant, regular sealing is recommended. Avoid porous stones.


Quartz backsplashes withstand heat, scratches, and stains. Seamless installations maintain cleanliness. Quartz is non-porous and low-maintenance.

Preventing Water Damage

One of the backsplash’s main jobs is preventing water damage on kitchen walls. Here are some installation tips for maximum moisture protection:

  • Extend the backsplash beyond the edges of sinks and cooktops.
  • Seal all edges and seams thoroughly with caulk.
  • For tiled backsplashes, use water-resistant grout and seal yearly.
  • Consider waterproof backsplash materials like glass tile or metal.
  • Slope the backsplash slightly to encourage water runoff.
  • Install backsplash end caps to cover exposed drywall edges.

With proper installation and upkeep, quality backsplashes will keep kitchen walls dry and undamaged.

Maintaining Sanitary Conditions

In addition to blocking moisture, backsplashes aid kitchen cleanliness and hygiene:

  • Non-porous surfaces deter bacteria growth.
  • Joints between backsplashes and counters are sealed to prevent grime buildup.
  • Smooth materials allow thorough scrubbing and disinfecting.
  • Few grout lines minimize areas where soils can collect.
  • Lighter colored backsplashes show when surfaces need cleaning.

Routine disinfecting of backsplashes helps maintain sanitary prep and cooking spaces.

Backsplash Height Standards

Building codes contain specifications for minimum backsplash heights, but many homeowners prefer to extend their backsplashes even higher. Here are typical height standards:

  • 4 inches – The minimum height required by most codes behind sinks and cooking surfaces. Prevents direct splashing onto walls.
  • 6-8 inches – The most common height, offering ample wall protection. Gives more room for decorative backsplash designs.
  • Full height – Backsplashes running from countertops all the way to cabinets for a seamless look. Great for highly wet areas.
  • Partial height – Lower backsplashes allowed on protected walls or decorative accent areas. Must meet 4 inch minimum.

Consider your kitchen’s uses, traffic patterns, and style when planning backsplash heights. Remember, taller backsplashes increase splash protection.

When to Upgrade Backsplashes

Many homeowners undertaking kitchen remodeling projects take the opportunity to upgrade their existing backsplashes. Reasons to install new backsplashes include:

  • Outdated or worn surfaces – Backsplashes with worn grout, broken tiles, or permanent stains can be replaced.
  • Insufficient coverage – Backsplashes that are too small or poorly placed can be expanded.
  • Moisture damage – Signs of water damage indicate backsplashes need improvement.
  • Style changes – New backsplashes that match updated cabinets and counters can modernize kitchen aesthetics.
  • Safety improvements – New non-porous and heat-resistant backsplash materials improve safety near cooking areas.
  • Cleanliness – Hard-to-clean backsplashes should be switched for more sanitary surfaces.

When evaluating your backsplash, consider function, damages, cleanability, and design. Upgrade backsplashes that are outdated, porous, cracked, or stylistically mismatched.

Backsplash Installation Tips

When taking on a backsplash installation or replacement project, proper planning and preparation will ensure success:

  • Carefully measure the space and layout tile patterns before installation day.
  • Remove existing backsplashes completely – don’t tile over old surfaces.
  • Ensure the wall surface is smooth, dry, and ready for installation.
  • Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for materials used.
  • Thoroughly seal edges and seams leaving no gaps for moisture intrusion.
  • Use backsplashes end caps and trim moldings for finished edges.
  • Take time to properly grout and seal grout lines as needed.
  • Allow adequate drying time before using newly tiled backsplashes.

With careful installation and quality materials, your new backsplash will provide years of stylish protection for kitchen walls.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is any backsplash required by code?

Most residential codes require backsplashes or a similar protective surface at least 4 inches high above sinks, ranges, cooktops, and ovens. Full backsplashes aren’t mandated but provide greater safety and cleanliness.

Can you put a stove against a wall without a backsplash?

It’s inadvisable and probably code violating to abut a stove directly to a drywall wall with no backsplash. The lack of a heat- and moisture-resistant barrier would lead to wall damage in a short period of time.

What areas besides behind a sink need a backsplash?

Codes require backsplashes extending above all cooking appliances – ranges, cooktop, ovens, etc. Backsplashes should also seal all countertop-wall joints to prevent spills from penetrating.

Can backsplashes be made from wood or wallpaper?

Wood and wallpaper are too porous and combustible to satisfy code behind cooking zones. Impervious, non-flammable materials like ceramic, metal, or stone are required.

Is a 4 inch granite backsplash enough?

The 4 inch minimum height for backsplashes meets code requirements. However, 6-8 inches is generally recommended for better protection, with full height backsplashes optimal for high-traffic kitchens.


While backsplashes aren’t universally mandated by residential building codes, they are integral components of safe, functional kitchens. Water- and heat-resistant backsplashes contain messes and prevent damage around sinks, stoves, ovens, and countertops. When planning kitchen projects, include durable and easy-to-clean backsplash materials that protect walls while adding decorative appeal. With proper installation and maintenance, quality backsplashes will provide homeowners with years of worry-free performance.