Deciding on the order for installing countertops and backsplashes is an important consideration when remodeling a kitchen. Careful planning of the sequence can ensure a seamless look and avoid potential problems down the road. Here is a comprehensive guide on what comes first – countertop or backsplash – and the pros and cons of each approach.
When renovating a kitchen, two of the most visible and impactful elements are the countertops and backsplash. The countertop provides a durable and attractive surface for food prep and dining, while the backsplash protects the walls from splashes and stains.
Choosing materials that pair well together is the first step, but proper installation is also critical. There are two schools of thought on installation order:
- Install countertops first, then add the backsplash.
- Install the backsplash first, then drop in the countertop.
Understanding the nuances of each method will lead to a seamless finished product.
Installing the countertop prior to the backsplash is the more common method among homeowners and contractors alike. Here are some benefits to this approach:
Precise Backsplash Fit
With the countertop in place, the backsplash can be cut to fit flush against the edge. This prevents gaps that could trap debris and moisture. The factory edge of the countertop also provides a straight reference edge for marking and cutting the backsplash.
Easier Countertop Installation
Without an existing backsplash, the countertop has open space around it for maneuvering and securing it to the cabinets. Large countertops can be challenging to position, so the extra room to work makes a big difference.
The countertop establishes the height the backsplash must meet. Having this reference prevents the backsplash from being installed too high or too low. Consistent alignment leads to a polished look.
Countertops often have built-in backsplashes that match or integrate with the main surface. By installing the countertop first, any transitional pieces or edges will be in place before adding the separate backsplash.
Less Damage Risk
A countertop is vulnerable to damage until the backsplash is installed. But with the countertop going in first, only a small strip remains exposed. The risk of damage by other trades is minimized.
Cutting and prepping the backsplash can create dust and debris. With the countertop going in last, cleanup of the surface is quick and easy. Countertops are also protected during grouting.
Although less common, installing the backsplash prior to the countertop has some advantages in certain situations:
Better Moisture Protection
By putting the backsplash in place early, the entire wall area is sealed. This prevents any moisture issues behind the walls during countertop installation.
Ability to Dry Fit
The countertop can be test fit and held in place while verifying the fit of the backsplash. The countertop can then be removed for final modifications if needed.
Extra Support for Heavy Countertops
Solid surface or stone countertops may require additional support or fastening. A backsplash installed first provides a sturdy surface to secure countertops.
Flexibility for Modifications
If any issues arise with cabinet alignment, it may be beneficial to have the backsplash in place first. The countertop can then be scribed and cut to fit around imperfections.
Minimizes Grouting Cleanup
Grouting the backsplash before installing the countertop eliminates the need to tape, mask or clean grout off the countertop surface.
Whichever installation sequence you choose, here are some key tips to get the details right:
- When installing the countertop first, use caulk or epoxy at seams for waterproofing. Leave a slight gap between the countertop and backsplash.
- If going backsplash first, use thinset or construction adhesive as needed to bond tightly to the wall.
- Make sure the countertop and backsplash materials and colors complement each other. Contrasting tones can also work well.
- Take care to prep the countertop and backsplash properly. Irregularities will be obvious once installed.
- Plan any lighting, outlets or accessories that may be integrated in the backsplash area. Install prior to countertop or backsplash.
- Review the manufacturer’s recommendations and warranty requirements before determining install order.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the order really matter for installation?
Yes, the sequence can impact the final fit and finish. Assessing the benefits and constraints of each approach for your specific kitchen can ensure you choose the best order.
What if I want an integrated sink and countertop?
In most cases, an integrated countertop with sink should be installed before the backsplash. This allows proper fit and precise cutting of the backsplash.
Can I install both together?
It’s possible but challenging. Trying to position the countertop and align the backsplash simultaneously takes extra coordination and rarely achieves seamless results.
Is one way stronger than the other?
Not necessarily. Proper installation with adhesives and caulk will yield a durable result regardless of order. The key is using the sequence best suited for your kitchen layout.
How are costs impacted?
In general, material and labor costs should be comparable regardless of install order. However, repairs or adjustments down the road could add cost if proper planning doesn’t occur upfront.
The decision to install the countertop or backsplash first comes down to a variety of factors unique to each kitchen. Layout, materials, cabinetry, utilities and homeowner preferences should all be weighed when determining the optimal sequence. Careful measurements, precise cuts, and proper detailing during install are critical for success. Following manufacturer guidelines and coordinating trades involved will result in a cohesive, integrated look. With some planning and forethought, you can achieve a countertop and backsplash combination that looks amazing and performs flawlessly.