How to Tile a Backsplash

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Our home was a little above the price we were willing to pay and that meant the finishes weren’t all the best.  Oh well, overtime like most homeowners we knew we’d have to make some updates.  Some updates like nicer light fixtures are  simple, others like my favorite update the granite are pricey, and others like installing new tile necessary.  

To explain how we updated our tile and why,  I need to begin by showing you what we started with.  Our home has matching tile in the kitchen back splash, fireplace, and all the bathrooms.  Its not the perfect tile but its neutral, I like its classic look , and since its natural stone, very much worth saving.  Here are some before pictures of the kitchen with the worn black counter tops.  I don’t have any of the bathroom, but you can see they are worn and too dark.

The Kitchen Back Splash and Tiles Before

Before photo of a kitchen that needed new countertops and tile

The fireplace with the classic travertine natural stone tile.  

Living room showing the tourmaline tile on a fireplace

The tile is also around the shower, the jacuzzi, and the regular tub and shower surround.

Tile around Jacuzzi tub.

Pick Where to Spend and Where to Save

I am very picky about having matching colours, tiles and so forth throughout our home, the finished look has to be cohesive.  There is no way I would have different tile in different rooms.    We whinced when the bill was added up, but splurged on matching granite.  But, instead of replacing all that tile, we looked high and low and found matching tile.  It took some looking, but if we couldn’t find matching tile, our plan B was to buy a cream coloured square stone tile and paint all of it to match.  Removing all that tile throughout our home would cause too much damage, too much work and too much expense.    I don’t know how much we saved, but its thousands.   

I am beyond proud of how Hubs repaired the tiling.  I bet you can tell.   

The gaps missing in a tile backsplash caused by replacing old laminate with new granite.

Once the counter tops with the vertical back portion were removed there was a wide bare spot on the wall.  You can see it in the above photo.  Hubs filled that in with the matching tile and added tile to the bathroom counters as the walls were bare once the laminate was gone.   

For $1.50 per tile Canadian I will show you how Hubs updated and fixed the tile in all kitchen and all the bathrooms.  We bought some extra just in case we need it again.

Tiling Supplies for DIY Back Splashes

You will need

Matching tile

Tile Cutter

Tile Adhesive (Mortar)

Tile Trowels, both smooth and grooved

Plastic Tile Spacers

Matching coloured grout

Metal tile edging

How to Lay Tile Back Splashes

He did the tiling in the following steps; measuring and shopping, cutting and fitting, mortar and adhering the tiles,  and finally grouting.  He finished the tile in each room before moving on to the next.  It really does help reduce the mess and turmoil when working in these main living areas.

Adding Edging to Open Ends

If you have an open edge,  start by fitting the metal rile edging into ends.  Trim any tile edging pieces so that they fit perfectly at the end of your tiles.  

Once the edging is and attached using tile adhesive.  When fitting in the kitchen tiles Hubs fit the tiles it so they matched the existing tile.  All the tiles were cut short to fit in the space allowed. 

Hubs has a very old wet saw, but it did the job.  Make sure to wear gloves, earplugs, and eye wear.  To cut the tiles he ran the tile through the saw, just following the pencil mark he had made earlier.  It’s really surprisingly simple and took around a minute per tile.

For the bathrooms, begin in a corner with your tiles only and work your way outwards in both directions.  We liked the look of shorter tiles in the corner and working our way outward to full tiles at the end.  Measure and lay out your tiles first.  Adhesive is next, with other tile jobs we learned not to rush the process.  

Cutting tile to fit to size in for a kitchen backsplash.

Adding Tile Adhesive (Mortar)

Mortar is a cement based product used to support and adhere the tiles.  Its got a sandy type texture and typically paired with grout when doing tiles.

Using a trowel apply a thin layer of mortar on the wall.   The mortar should be about 1/16 to 1/8th of an inch thick (like peanut butter on toast).  Next apply the mortar to the back of your tile.  First using a flat trowel and then remove the bulk of the mortar with a trowel that has notches on the edge. Place your tile in place on the wall.

Place  the mortar on both surfaces will give you even adhesion likely to have even adhesion (prevents cracking). 

Fit the first time in the corner the way you like, then add the spacers and the second tile.   

Continue this process until you reach the end.  Once you have all the tiles up use a level along the entire length of the tiles installation to make sure your tiles are even.  Let the mortar dry according to the mortar manufacturers directions.  He let’s his dry overnight.  Once dry remove the spacers.

Applying the Grout

Applying the grout is the next step,   Grout gives the tiles a finished look by filling in the gaps between the tiles, locking tiles tightly and adds some waterproofing.  We purchased unsanded white grout for this project as our spaces are narrow and the tile is thin.  We mixed the grout a little bit at a time so that it doesn’t dry out. The mixture recipe varies by product so its best to stick to manufacturers instructions.

To apply the grout start at one end, put a large blob of grout on your tiles and work towards the outside.  In the above picture you can see on the left where there are holes in the actual tile stone, so for this type of natural stone Hubs worked the grout into all the spaces, both within and between the tiles.  Smoothing out the grout goes easy if you sponge trowel is damp.

Using a rubber trowel to smooth out grout on a DIY tile back splash

As our tile stone has a square top instead of a beveled edge, our back splash still needs the final step.  If you are only installing one row like we are, you may want to look for tile with a beveled edge.  Of course matching was more important for us and finishing is all that left.  Once the grout is smooth and you like how it looks on the front and the top of your tiles, use a clean wet sponge and wipe it all off once more.

Let the grout dry again according to the manufacture’s instructions.  Leave the grout to dry for 24 hours is a good starting point.

Finishing the Top of the Back Splash

There are several ways to do this, we chose the easiest method.  Good old fashioned tube silicone in white.  

Squeeze a thin line of silicone along the top of your tiles, just like you do for baseboard.  Then run your finger along it.  

Using silicone to seal the top of DIY tile project.

Our bathrooms are still in transition, we have new lights, new granite, and the brand new back splash.    I have to add the pretty final touches, but I love the tiles and granite.

How to install tile
A travertine tile for the bathroom with masonary cement being smeared on the back in the background. In the front the picture of the completed farmhouse bathroom with a new tile backsplash, wood farmhouse shelf and round mirror.

Three final thoughts., if you haven’t purchased tile yet pin the tutorial to get you started.

If your matching tiles try at tile stores, and don’t let them up sale you into new tile. If your home is newer you may be able to match tiles like we did.

If your tile job is small, make sure to check out Habitat for Humanity or other salvage stores, the tiles are much cheaper and you can often find gorgeous tiles for 1/4 the price. Its actually the first place we look when buying tile of any kind.

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  1. I just finally went out and bought the material reading this blog. Backsplash was done by dinner the next day

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