When Do You Install Backsplash? The Complete Guide

Adding a backsplash to your kitchen can be a great way to incorporate visual interest, protect your walls, and express your personal style. But when is the right time to install a backsplash during a kitchen remodel or construction? Here is a complete guide on when to install a kitchen backsplash.

What is a Backsplash?

A backsplash is a protective surface that is installed on the wall behind counters, sinks, stoves, and other areas in a kitchen or bathroom that are prone to splashes, spills, and messes. Backsplashes are typically made from tile, metal, glass, stone, or other water-resistant materials.

In addition to their functional purpose, backsplashes also serve as decorative focal points and allow you to add color, texture, and personality to your space. They are available in a wide range of materials, sizes, colors, and patterns to suit any design aesthetic.

Benefits of Installing a Backsplash

There are several benefits to installing a backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom:

  • Protects walls from water damage: Backsplashes prevent moisture from seeping into drywall and causing mold, mildew, and other problems. The water-resistant surface is easy to wipe down.
  • Easier to clean: Backsplashes create a smooth, uniform surface that does not allow grease and grime to seep into grout lines like tile floors. Food splatters can be simply wiped away.
  • Adds visual interest: Backsplashes provide an opportunity to add eye-catching colors, textures, and designs to your space. They can be subtle or make a bold statement.
  • Inexpensive update: Installing a backsplash offers an affordable way to update the look of your kitchen or bath without a full renovation. It can also update a dated backsplash material.
  • Increases resale value: Updating an outdated backsplash or adding one where it is missing can increase your home’s value and appeal to buyers.

When to Install a New Backsplash

When remodeling or building a kitchen or bathroom, the ideal time to install the backsplash depends on the scope of the project and construction timeline. Here are the common options:

During Initial Construction

For new construction and gut renovations, the best time to install the backsplash is towards the end of the project after all structural changes have been made but before the finishing touches.

The general order is:

  1. Framing and rough electrical and plumbing
  2. Drywall/walls
  3. Cabinets and countertops
  4. Backsplash
  5. Flooring
  6. Final fixtures and fittings

Installing the backsplash after cabinetry and countertops ensures you get the measurements exactly right and that outlets and fixtures that may be covered by the backsplash are already in place. The backsplash should go in after the cabinets so that you can easily remove any excess mortar or grout that gets on them during installation without damaging finished surfaces.

Doing it before flooring means you don’t have to worry about cutting tiles for flooring transitions or accidents damaging finished floors during the backsplash installation process.

During a Kitchen or Bathroom Remodel

For kitchen or bathroom renovations where you are keeping the existing footprint but replacing surfaces and fixtures, the ideal time for installing the backsplash is after all old surfaces have been removed and new ones installed.

The order would be:

  1. Remove old cabinets, countertops, sinks, flooring, etc.
  2. Install new cabinetry, countertops, and sinks.
  3. Install new backsplash
  4. Install new flooring
  5. Install lighting and plumbing fixtures

As with new construction, you want to install the backsplash after all countertops, sinks, faucets, and other obstacles are in place so you can get a precise fit. And you want it done before flooring for ease of installation and to avoid damaging new floors.

Replacing an Existing Backsplash

If your goal is simply to update an existing backsplash, this can typically be done as its own standalone project, independent of other kitchen or bathroom remodels. Here are some tips for replacing an existing backsplash:

  • Remove the entire existing backsplash – don’t try to install right over old materials.
  • Assess if any additional electrical, plumbing, or other preparation needs to be done behind where the old backsplash was before installing the new one.
  • Plan to replace the backsplash before switching out countertops or sinks so that you can match up any cutouts precisely.
  • Be prepared to also replace adjacent surfaces like walls or ceilings that may have been damaged during the removal process.
  • Follow standard installation, exactly as if it were new construction.

Replacing just the backsplash can give a kitchen or bath a fresh new look!

How Long Does It Take to Install a Backsplash?

The timeframe for installing a backsplash depends on a few factors:

  • Size of the area: Larger backsplashes with multiple surfaces will take more time than a contained area behind a stove or sink.
  • Layout complexity: Backsplashes with intricate tile patterns, inlays, specialty edges, and multiple materials will take longer than simple grid layouts.
  • Type of material: Handling and cutting natural stone takes more time than uniform ceramic or glass tiles. Grout drying time can also vary.
  • Skill level of installer: Professional tile installers can work much more efficiently than DIYers.

As a general guideline for the average kitchen backsplash:

  • Professional installation: 1-2 days
  • DIY installation: 2-4 days

Preparation like removing old backsplash, prepping the surface, laying out your pattern, and grouting drying time extend the timeline a few extra days as well.

It’s always smart to schedule a few extra days cushion in case additional time is needed for material cuts or setting adjustments during installation.

Order of Operations for Installation

Installing a kitchen or bathroom backsplash involves careful planning and attention to detail. Follow these steps in order:

1. Remove Old Backsplash

If there is an existing backsplash, the first step is to fully remove it down to the bare wall. Scrape off any remaining adhesives or wall materials so you have a smooth, uniform surface for the new installation.

Check the drywall or surface underneath for any needed repairs before proceeding. Also look at adjacent areas like the ceiling for any needed patching or repainting; it will be much harder with the new backsplash in place.

2. Prepare the Surface

The surface must be smooth, clean, and dry for proper backsplash installation.

  • Sand and fill any imperfections in the drywall to create a uniform surface.
  • Clean thoroughly to remove grease, dust, or soap residues that could hinder adhesion.
  • Seal porous surfaces like drywall with primer.
  • Apply acrylic latex-modified thinset mortar if needed to flatten and smooth the area. This provides a cured surface ideal for bonding.

3. Cut Tile Pieces

Measure carefully and use a wet saw to cut any specialty pieces of tile, marble, or other material that need precise shaping around outlets, switches, faucets, corners, or other fixtures.

Cut border and trim tiles for edges and transitions as well. It’s much easier to do specialized cuts prior to installation.

4. Install Backerboard if Needed

For surfaces besides drywall, you may need to install cement, fiber-cement, or fiberglass mesh backerboard secured with appropriate screws. This provides a rigid, stable layer for the backsplash installation.

If using backerboard, apply a layer of thinset mortar to the wall surface first, then press the backerboard into place.

5. Apply the Mortar and Tile

Apply a layer of thinset adhesive mortar to the installation area, using a notched trowel to create ridges for the tile to adhere to.

Press tiles into the mortar, using spacers for even alignment and wiping away excess mortar as you work. Check for level and straightness as you go along. Allow mortar to cure fully (12-24 hours) before continuing.

Apply additional mortar and tile in sections until the entire area is covered. Remove spacers after tiles are firmly set.

6. Cut Tile Around Obstacles

Use a wet tile saw or manual snips to cut border and accent tiles to fit tightly around outlets, corners, junction boxes, or other obstacles.

Fill any gaps around fixtures with caulk in a matching color after installation.

7. Apply the Grout

After tile mortar has cured fully, apply grout between tile joints. Apply diagonally to fill joints fully, then wipe away excess grout with a sponge.

Allow grout to cure per manufacturer instructions, usually about 72 hours for epoxy grout or 24 hours for cement-based grout. Avoid getting the area wet during this time.

8. Seal and Finish

Seal grout and natural stone tiles with an appropriate sealer to protect from moisture and staining. Use multiple coats for optimal protection.

Finally, wipe down the entire backsplash area with a clean, damp cloth to remove dust, residue, or leftover film from installation. Once fully cured and cleaned, your new backsplash is ready to enjoy!

DIY Installation Tips

Installing a tile or stone backsplash yourself can save on labor costs. Here are some tips:

  • Shop for quality tiles, adhesives, grout, and tools. Don’t compromise on materials.
  • Consider mosaics, mixed sizes, or sheet tile for easier installation. Large format tiles are harder to handle.
  • Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for setup, mortar application, cure times, grouting, sealing, and cleanup.
  • Plan your layout and tile cuts carefully. Draw diagrams of the pattern.
  • Use leveling spacers for consistency and straight joints.
  • Work slowly and carefully. Don’t rush through steps before materials have cured properly.
  • Be prepared to redo sections if tiles are crooked or joints uneven. Take your time.
  • Seal natural stone tiles before and after grouting. Use epoxy grout for durability.
  • Clean up thoroughly after each work session. Tiled surfaces can get dingy during installation.

While DIY backsplash installation takes more time, the cost savings can make the extra effort worthwhile.

Hiring a Contractor

For busy homeowners or larger projects, hiring a professional tile installation contractor is advisable. Here’s how to choose the right pro:

  • Review examples of previous backsplash jobs in their portfolio.
  • Ask about experience with your type of tile and project scope.
  • Confirm they will obtain all necessary permits and follow building codes.
  • Request a written estimate or bid for the specified job.
  • Verify they have liability insurance.
  • See if they provide any warranties or guarantees on materials and workmanship.
  • Ask for references from recent clients and check reviews.

A tile pro can provide valuable expertise on design plans, materials, special order items, and installation methods specific to backsplashes. They have the skills to handle tricky tile shapes and natural stone materials.

Hiring a contractor minimizes stress and saves you from having to purchase expensive wet saws and other specialty tools. Just be sure to get an itemized contract and schedule payments tied to work milestones.

Backsplash Maintenance Tips

To keep your kitchen or bathroom backsplash looking fresh:

  • Use a gentle cleaner designed for stone or tile. Avoid abrasive scouring powders.
  • Re-apply sealers to natural stone regularly to guard against stains.
  • Immediately wipe up food splatters or cleaning solutions sitting on the backsplash. Don’t allow moisture to penetrate grout.
  • Replace damaged, chipped, or missing grout periodically. Check for cracks.
  • Use caulk instead of grout for corners and areas needing flexibility. Check for gaps.
  • Look for loose or bowed tile sections that indicate a problem with adhesion or mortar.
  • Clean along the entire joint between the backsplash and countertops. Don’t allow grime to build up in this area.

With proper care, your backsplash can remain in great shape for many years of beauty and service!

Backsplash Installation Costs

Backsplash installation costs depend on the size of the project, tile materials chosen, and whether you do it yourself or hire a professional. Typical price ranges:

Tile Type

  • Ceramic tile – $5-$10 per sq. ft. installed
  • Porcelain or stone tile – $15-$40 per sq. ft. installed
  • Mosaic tiles – $15-$50 per sq. ft. installed
  • Metal or glass tile – $30-$75 per sq. ft. installed

Additional Costs

  • Backerboard – $0.50-$3 per sq. ft.
  • Mortar, grout, sealers – $100-$300
  • Contractor labor – $5-$10 per sq. ft.

For a 10 sq. ft. kitchen backsplash, a middle-tier project could run $500-$800 for nice porcelain tile installed by a pro. Higher-end materials like natural stone, glass, or mosaic tiles could be $1,000-$1,500 installed.

The artistic impact and protection backsplashes provide make them well worth the investment!

Backsplash Ideas by Material

There are endless options for backsplash materials, colors, shapes, and patterns. Considerations include your budget, style, and needs like durability and water resistance.

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

A ceramic or porcelain tile backsplash offers versatility and durability at an affordable price point. Glazed ceramic and porcelain resist moisture well. Options include:

  • Matte, shiny, or textured glazes
  • Colorful solids or hand-painted designs
  • Subway tiles, geometric shapes, or artistic patterns
  • Metallic lustre or crackled tiles

Natural Stone Tile

Backsplashes made from granite, marble, travertine, limestone, or slate create a high-end, elegant look. Stone surfaces bring texture and natural variation. Choices like:

  • Honed, polished, or tumbled stone looks
  • Earthy-toned marble or travertine
  • Multicolored stone mosaics or blends
  • Rustic slate tiles

Glass Tile

Glass backsplashes sparkle and reflect light beautifully. Durable and water-resistant, glass also comes in endless colors, finishes, and shapes like:

  • Clear, frosted, or opaque glass
  • Penny tiles, subway tiles, or mosaics
  • Iridescent glass mosaics
  • Recycled or crackled glass

Metal Tile

From rustic to modern, metal backsplashes create an industrial vibe. Good choices include:

  • Stainless steel tiles in brushed or bright finishes
  • Rusted tin tiles
  • Copper, bronze, pewter, or nickel tiles
  • Metal mosaics or mixed metal combinations

Pool and Spa Tile

Using pool- and spa-grade glass, ceramic, or stone tiles designed for underwater use is a smart choice for backsplashes in steamy spaces or behind stoves. These tiles are maximum strength and ultra-resistant to heat, grease, moisture, and stains.

With practically endless style and material options available today, you can find the perfect backsplash tile to match your kitchen or bath design, functionality, and budget needs. Let your backsplash be the crowning touch that pulls your whole room together!

Backsplash Ideas by Style

Kitchen and bathroom backsplashes can range from basic to bold. Use the backsplash that adorns the wall behind sinks, stoves, and countertops to express personal style or complement the room’s overall aesthetic.

Rustic Backsplashes

Rustic style backsplashes work for many kitchen designs like farmhouse, cottage, or craftsman spaces. Timeworn favorites include:

  • Weathered wood planks
  • Reclaimed barn wood
  • Handmade subway tile
  • Old brick or stone

Tuscan Style

Echo the rich elegance of Tuscan architecture and decor with backsplashes featuring:

  • Elaborate ceramic tile designs
  • Terracotta tiles
  • Decorative stone or wrought iron accents
  • Arched niches

Contemporary Backsplashes

Sleek, minimalist backsplashes enhance modern kitchens. Top contemporary choices:

  • White subway tiles
  • Large-format porcelain tiles
  • Penny tiles
  • Stainless steel or glass mosaics

Eclectic Backsplashes

Have fun and mix different styles, colors, and materials like:

  • Multicolored mosaics
  • Combination of wood + tile
  • Mirrored accents
  • Found items like sea glass

Classic Backsplashes

Traditional kitchens shine with timeless backsplash designs, including:

  • White marble or ceramic subway tiles
  • Beadboard
  • Tin ceiling tiles
  • Hexagonal or octagonal tile

Mid-Century Modern

Channel retro 1950s style with unexpected shapes:

  • Triangle mosaic tiles
  • 3-D sculptural tiles
  • Burst patterns
  • Contrasting colors

The design options are endless! Let your backsplash reflect your home’s unique style.

Backsplash Height: How High Should It Go?

How high should a backsplash go? The standard recommendation is 4 to 6 inches above the counter. But this can vary depending on your sink, stovetop, or other factors.

For a standard 30-36 inch tall countertop height:

  • 4 inches creates a minimalist look that shows off countertops
  • 6 inches is common, providing ample but subtle protection
  • 8-10 inches makes more of a statement and offers greater protection
  • Go to bottom of upper cabinets for a full backsplash look

Consider the height of your faucet and any wall-mounted pot racks or shelves over sinks. Leave a gap between the backsplash and fixtures for cleaning ease.