When Tiling a Backsplash Where Do You Start

Selecting Your Tile

The tile you choose will set the tone for your whole backsplash, so take your time and choose carefully. Consider the size, color, texture, and finish of the tile. Smaller tiles like mosaics can create busy patterns, while larger tiles create a more seamless look. Glossy, metallic, or handpainted tiles add visual interest. Match your tile to your kitchen’s existing color scheme and style. Keep in mind that natural stone and ceramic tiles have differing thicknesses. Plan to use tile spacers and adjust as needed.

Planning the Layout

Map out your backsplash installation before getting started. Measure the area to find the square footage. Draw out patterns on graph paper, mapping out tile placements, cuts, and spacing. Plan for wipeable surfaces near the stove. Cut ceramic tiles with a snap tile cutter or wet saw. Natural stone requires a wet saw. Mix tile sizes, textures, and colors to create patterns. Blend tiles on the walls and countertops. Include decorative accents like borders or medallions. Plan extra tiles to allow for cuts and breakage.

Preparing the Surface

Proper prep prevents problems down the road. Clean the surface thoroughly, removing existing wallpaper and paint. Repair any damage to the wall surface and let dry completely. Seal porous surfaces like drywall with latex primer. This allows for smooth installation and prevents absorption of grout liquids. Stone may require extra adhesion products like mortar or thinset underneath. Evaluate moisture levels and address any issues to prevent damage. Remove any outlets or switch plates prior to tiling.

Choosing Your Materials

Select high quality adhesives, grout, and sealants. Use unmodified thinset mortar for ceramic tile and consult about stone installation needs. Choose grout that matches your tile color. Epoxy grout is waterproof and stain resistant. Select a sealant if your tiles are porous. Gather all necessary tile installation tools before starting. Safety gear like gloves and eye protection are a must. Follow all instructions for materials closely.

Starting Your Installation

Follow a logical progression up from your countertop. Start by attaching a ledger board at the base to keep the first row level. Apply thinset mortar using a notched trowel to promote adhesion. Work in small sections, laying tiles into the thinset pressing and wiggling for contact. Use plastic spacers between each tile for consistency. For cuts, measure and score the tile with a cutter before snapping. Follow recommendations for drying times before grouting.

Grouting and Finishing

Let thinset fully cure before grouting, generally around 24 hours. Apply grout using a rubber grout float. Push diagonally into joints till completely filled; wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge. For wide grout lines, grout in sections for easier clean up. Allow grout to dry fully before buffing and applying any needed sealer. Avoid moisture contact with grout for at least 3 days. Seal natural stone tiles if needed. Apply caulk between countertop and wall. Examine final results and touch up as needed.

Tiling your own backsplash is an attainable DIY project with proper planning and attention to detail. Focus on surface prep, setting tiles properly, neat grout lines, and you can achieve professional-looking results. Take your time selecting materials that work with your kitchen’s existing style. Follow installation guidelines and allow all adhesives, thinsets, and grouts to fully cure. With some patience and elbow grease, you can transform your kitchen with beautiful new backsplash tile.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tiling a Backsplash

Where should I start my tile installation on the backsplash?

It’s best to start at the bottom and work up. Install a ledger board first to support the lowest row of tiles. This helps keep them level. Starting with the bottom row provides a solid base for installing the tiles above.

What kind of thinset mortar should I use?

For ceramic tile, unmodified thinset is the best choice. Be sure to use a notched trowel to spread it evenly. Check recommendations for natural stone, as some may require modified thinset. Match thinset strength to the tile’s weight.

How do I get clean edge lines between tiles?

Tile spacers are a must for keeping grout lines even and getting professional looking edges. Place them between each tile as you lay them. Spacers range from 1/16 to 1/8 inches for standard grout lines. Remove them after setting the tile before you grout.

Should I seal my tile backsplash?

Sealing is recommended for natural stone tiles, as it prevents staining and damage. It is an optional extra step for ceramic tile. Sealing is not needed for porcelain or ceramic tile unless grouted with natural stone. Always read product instructions.

How long should I wait to grout after installing the tiles?

It’s crucial to allow the thinset to fully cure before grouting. Check the thinset packaging, but you generally need to wait about 24 hours after setting the last tile before grouting can begin.

What’s the typical cost to install a backsplash?

The cost can range from $2 – $10 per square foot depending on the tile type, size, and labor costs. Simple ceramic tile and basic installation may cost between $200-$500 for an average sized backsplash. Stone, glass or mosaic tile is more expensive.

Can I install a backsplash over existing tile?

Yes, it is possible. The existing tile must be firmly attached to the wall. Use a tile adhesive designed to adhere to sealed surfaces. An isolation membrane may be needed to allow for adhesion. Consult a tile professional.


When installing a tile backsplash, planning the layout first and preparing the surface thoroughly will contribute to a trouble-free installation. Carefully selecting your backsplash tile and materials ensures it will complement your kitchen’s style. Proper thinset use, tile spacing, and full grout curing provides professional looking results. With some time and care taken at each step, you can tackle a DIY backsplash project and make a big impact in your kitchen.