Backsplashes are an important design element in any kitchen. Not only do they protect your walls from splashes and stains, but they also add visual interest and tie the whole room together. When designing your backsplash, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is where exactly to put it. Here is a detailed guide on where you should install backsplashes in your kitchen.
Introduction to Backsplashes
A backsplash refers to the section of wall that is directly behind a countertop, stove, or sink. Backsplashes are typically made from tile, metal, glass, or other water-resistant materials. They serve both practical and decorative purposes in the kitchen.
On a functional level, backsplashes protect the walls from water damage, grease splatter, and other types of messes that can occur during food prep and clean up. Without a backsplash, your painted drywall or wallpaper will quickly get stained and need frequent repainting or replacing.
From a design standpoint, backsplashes provide an opportunity to add eye-catching colors, patterns, and textures to your kitchen. Tiled backsplashes in particular can complement your cabinetry and countertops, tying the whole room together. Glass, metal, and stone backsplashes can add a modern, sleek look.
Where to Install a Full Height Backsplash
Though they vary in size and style, backsplashes are generally installed wherever there is risk of splashing or spills occurring. The most common places for full height backsplashes in the kitchen include:
Behind the Stove
The wall behind your stove or cooktop is an essential place for a backsplash. As you cook, grease, oil, and food particles will inevitably be splattered upwards. A backsplash here prevents stains on the wall behind. Full height backsplashes are recommended, extending from the countertop to the underside of the upper cabinets. Make sure your backsplash tiles or materials are heat resistant if installing behind a range.
Behind the Kitchen Sink
The sink area is another prime target for messes. As you wash dishes, food waste, grease, and standing water can splash the wall behind the sink. Staining and molds can occur without a proper backsplash. For best protection, install a full height backsplash reaching the bottom of the upper cabinets. Select a durable, water-resistant material like ceramic tile.
Though not always necessary, some homeowners opt to install full backsplashes along the entire length of their countertops. This provides an extra barrier against spills, drips, and splatters from food prep. It also allows for a continuous and seamless look. If you have the budget, installing full backsplashes behind all countertops can help protect your walls and make a design statement.
On Peninsula Countertops
Peninsula countertops that jut out into the room should absolutely have a backsplash. Since they stick out, the risk of splashing and spilling onto the floor is higher. A full backsplash will protect the surrounding floors and walls. Glass, metal, or stone backsplashes can look especially sleek on a kitchen peninsula.
Around Utility Sinks
For secondary utility or prep sinks, small backsplashes are recommended. These types of sinks are used for washing vegetables, filling vases, cleaning tools, and other odd jobs where splashing can occur. A contained backsplash covering a few inches around the sink perimeter will suffice. Make sure to use a water-resistant material.
Since islands do not sit against walls, full backsplashes are not needed. A small backsplash or trim can be added if desired for decoration. For full protection, water-resistant countertop materials like quartz are recommended instead of backsplashes for kitchen islands.
Optimal Backsplash Heights
In addition to location, proper backsplash height is also important for full protection. The standard height for most full backsplashes is:
- Countertop to Bottom of Upper Cabinets: This allows the backsplash to cover the entire wall from countertop to cabinetry. Typical height is 18-24 inches.
- 4 Inches Above Countertop: For a minimal backsplash, 4 inches is usually the bare minimum height recommended to provide protection from minor spills and splashes.
- 6-8 Inches Above Countertop: For extra coverage, some backsplashes are installed 6-8 inches high. This protects a substantial portion of the wall from smaller spills and splashes.
- 1-2 Inches Above Countertop Edge: Small strip backsplashes only 1-2 inches above the countertop are more decorative than functional, but can complement design styles like modern and industrial.
Keep in mind that outlets, switches, and windowsills can impact your optimal backsplash height. Make sure to account for these design elements when planning backsplash placement.
Factors that Impact Backsplash Choices
Several factors come into play when selecting your kitchen backsplash materials, sizes, and placement:
The choice of gas, electric, or induction cooktop should impact your backsplash selection. Heat resistant and non-flammable backsplash materials are critical for gas stoves. Meanwhile, a glass backsplash can complement an induction or electric cooktop.
Cabinet & Countertop Colors
Your existing cabinetry and countertops should play a role in backsplash color selection. Contrasting or complementing the existing elements creates a harmonious look. For example, white marble backsplash tile pops against dark cabinetry.
Kitchen Size & Layout
Smaller kitchens often utilize full height backsplashes to make the space appear larger. Larger kitchens can get away with smaller backsplash areas. Unique kitchen layouts like galley and L-shaped influence ideal backsplash placement.
Avid home chefs may want full backsplashes along countertops for extra protection. Minimalists who eat out more can opt for smaller backsplash areas. How you use your kitchen should guide backsplash size and placement.
Contemporary kitchens tend to feature metal or glass backsplashes. Rustic and farmhouse kitchens look best with natural stone backsplashes. Your desired aesthetic should guide backsplash material and styling choices.
Backsplash installation costs vary based on factors like labor, material, area size, and accent choices. Setting a budget will help narrow down backsplash placement options and materials. Full backsplashes usually cost more than strips or accents.
Backsplash Installation Tips
When installing backsplashes, keep these tips in mind:
- Purchase 2-5% extra tile. This allows for replacement of any cracked or damaged tiles down the road. Leftover tiles can also be used for repairs.
- Use plastic tile spacers for consistent grout lines. Remove spacers before grouting.
- Apply caulk between the backsplash and countertop or cabinets for water protection. Using a matching color caulk provides a seamless look.
- Choose grout color carefully as dark grout can make tile patterns appear diminished.
- Seal natural stone backsplashes annually to prevent staining and water absorption.
- Hire a professional installer for complicated backsplash designs or installations around outlets and switches.
Backsplash installation costs vary based on the factors below:
- Ceramic, porcelain, or marble tile: $15-$50 per sq. ft. installed
- Metal or glass tile: $25-$100 per sq. ft. installed
- Stainless steel: $40-$100 per sq. ft. installed
Size of Backsplash
- 4 inch backsplash strip: $2-$5 per linear foot
- Full backsplash 20-30 sq. ft.: $400-$1200 installed
- Decorative borders: $5-$15 per linear foot
- Decorative trim: $15-$30 per linear foot
- Mosaic accents: $10-$25 per sq. ft.
- Travertine or pebble stone: $60-$100 per sq. ft. installed
- Hand painted tile: $40-$75 per sq. ft. installed
- Custom murals or designs: $80-$250 per sq. ft. installed
- Plumbing shifts: $200-$500 per fixture
- Electric work for outlets: $125-$300 per outlet
- Additional wall prep: $2-$6 per sq. ft.
Get professional quotes for your exact backsplash dimensions and materials to determine precise installed costs.
Maintenance for Backsplashes
Though durable, backsplashes require occasional maintenance to keep looking like new:
- Seal grout lines annually. This prevents staining and damage.
- Use pH neutral cleaners only. Harsh chemicals can damage backsplash surfaces.
- Rinse backsplashes after cleaning to prevent soap scum buildup.
- Immediately wipe up oil splatters or liquids. Don’t allow stains to set.
- Replace any cracked, chipped, or broken backsplash tiles or accents.
- Re-caulk where backsplashes meet countertops or cabinets if gaps appear.
With proper care, your kitchen backsplash can remain pristine for years before needing replacement.
Backsplash Design Inspiration
Here are some backsplash design ideas to provide inspiration:
Geometric Tile Patterns
Geometric shapes, Lines, and angles applied through backsplash tile add visual intrigue. Subway tile, herringbone, chevron, and stacked designs work well. Contrasting grout color highlights the patterns.
Using an assortment of complementary tile sizes, shapes, colors, and textures makes for an eclectic backsplash. Mixing and matching tile is ideal for achieving that collected over time look.
Mosaic Backsplash Accents
Tiny mosaic tiles lend well to being used as an accent insert within a larger backsplash. For example, a mosaic stripe or geometric shape inclusion adds interest and pulls colors together.
Materials like marble, travertine, and pebble stone make organic and natural backsplashes that pair nicely with shaker style cabinetry. Honed or tumbled stone finishes give a timeworn look.
Bold Color Statement
Make the backsplash the focal point of your kitchen with an eye-catching bold tile color like cobalt blue, emerald green, or rich red. Contrasting grout provides definition.
Patterned & Handpainted Tile
Moroccan, Spanish, and Middle Eastern-influenced patterned tiles can bring exotic flair. Custom hand-painted backsplashes with scenic designs or vignettes make artistic statements.
Mirrored & Reflective Surfaces
For contemporary and glam backsplashes, mirrored and reflective materials like polished metal and glass tile offer light-enhancing shine. They introduce luminosity.
Natural Wood Planks
Real reclaimed wood planks make rustic, country-style backsplashes with natural beauty. Variations in wood grain and occasional knots add character.
With so many styles to consider, you’re sure to find the perfect backsplash design that both protects your kitchen and makes a stylish decorative statement. Carefully consider the most advantageous placement based on your cabinetry, countertops, appliances and overall kitchen layout and uses. Then choose materials that realize your desired aesthetic, be it retro, industrial, modern, rustic or traditional. With proper installation and care, your kitchen backsplash is an investment that can last for many years before replacement is needed.
Frequently Asked Questions About Backsplash Placement
Many homeowners have additional questions about proper kitchen backsplash placement and installation. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:
Should I put a backsplash in my small kitchen?
Yes, backsplashes are highly recommended for small kitchens. Since wall space is limited, it’s even more important to protect those walls from splatters, drips, and spills. Full height backsplashes can make a small kitchen appear larger too.
What about backsplashes on peninsula or island countertops?
Peninsula countertops benefit from full backsplashes since they protrude into the room. Islands don’t require backsplashes since they are standalone units surrounded by open space.
Where should I end the backsplash if I have a window over the sink?
In that case, install the backsplash from the countertop up to the bottom window trim or frame. Make sure to caulk the seam between the backsplash and window well.
Should backsplashes match or complement my countertops?
Matching or coordinating your backsplash and countertops, as well as your cabinetry finish results in a cohesive kitchen design. Contrasting can look great as well.
Is it okay to just do a small 4 inch high backsplash strip?
The 4 inch height is fine above a kitchen desk area for notes and recipe books. But for areas prone to spills like behind a stove, larger is better for protecting walls.
What about electrical and outlets when installing backsplashes?
You may need to rearrange outlets and light switches before installing backsplashes. Have an electrician move anything located in the backsplash installation area.
Can I just install backsplashes with adhesive instead of grout?
Adhesive is not recommended. It allows for gaps that compromise splash protection. Mortar and proper grouting provides superior installation and durability.
How difficult is it to install a tile backsplash DIY?
For beginners, a backsplash install can be challenging and imperfect. Professionals are best for tricky cuts around outlets and faucets and achieving clean grout lines.
Determining optimal backsplash placement is an important kitchen design consideration both from a decorative and practical standpoint. Be sure to install durable, moisture and heat-resistant backsplashes wherever risk of splashing, spills or grease stains exist. Full height backsplashes reaching upper cabinets provide maximum wall protection. Focus on covering range cooktops, sinks, countertops and peninsulas.
Choosing backsplash materials that complement your cabinetry, counters, and overall design style will allow your backsplash to contribute visually too. With proper installation and maintenance, quality kitchen backsplashes shield walls, enhance aesthetics, and add to the resale value of your home.