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DIY: Install a Tiled Backsplash in Your Kitchen

By Kris Jensen-Van Heste

Installing a tiled backsplash in your kitchen is a surprisingly easy project that any willing do-it-yourselfer can tackle, even with minimal experience. A custom backsplash not only adds a dash of style, but protects your walls from messy kitchen mishaps and makes cleanup easy.

Though a backsplash can be made of nearly any material - stainless steel, granite, wood - those require some special skills; you may need to hire someone to cut the granite, for example. Ceramic or glass tile is the perfect choice for the do-it-yourselfer because it is easy to install and can suit any decorating style.

Before You Install a Tiled Backsplash

Determine how much tile to buy by calculating the square footage (length times width) of the space you're tiling. The label on the box of tile will say how many square feet one box will cover.

To install a tiled backsplash, you will need:

  • Enough tile for the job, plus an additional 15% to cover mistakes
  • Tile adhesive or mastic
  • Tile nippers
  • Tile scriber (good) or tile cutter (better)
  • Tile spacers if not using self-spacing tile
  • Notched trowel for applying mastic
  • Grout (premixed or powder)
  • Grout float
  • Sponges
  • Level and pencil
  • Grout sealer
  • Silicone

How to Install a Tiled Backsplash

  1. Prepare the surface. Remove any wallpaper, lightly sand high-gloss paint and scrape any cracked or flaking paint. Clean thoroughly with any household spray cleaner and allow to dry completely. Turn off the circuit breakers to any electrical outlets on your surface and remove outlet covers and switch plates.
  2. Set your guildelines. Stand back and look at the backsplash area and "eyeball" the visual center. Mark it with a pencil, then using the level, draw a perfectly vertical line a few inches away from your mark. You'll lay your first tile on that vertical line, leaving 1/8 inch between the bottom of the tile and your countertop. You'll fill that gap with silicone later.
  3. Apply the tile. Spread the tile adhesive or mastic over an area the size of about four tiles. It doesn't have to be exact. With the notched trowel held firmly at a 45-degree angle to the surface, drag it through the adhesive to form ridges. With a slight twisting motion, set the first tile into the adhesive on your guideline and press securely. If your tile doesn't have self-spacers - little bumps on the edges that give you a uniform space between tiles - insert tile spacers into the adhesive, snugly against the set tile, then continue applying tile out from your starting point. Spread more mastic to small areas as you progress, and take care to wipe off any adhesive on the tile surfaces while it's wet.
  4. Use a tile scriber or tile cutter to fit tiles where needed. A scriber is a handheld tool that scores the tile, allowing you to snap it on the edge of a countertop or other straight surface. There's a learning curve to this, so be sure to have extra tiles. A tile cutter is a tabletop tool that holds the tile securely while you drag a cutter across the tile. Some have pressure feet that snap the tile for you. Nippers allow you to cut curves and odd shapes by nibbling away at the tile.
  5. Allow the tiled backsplash to dry. Refer to the package directions for the specific amount of time.
  6. Apply grout. After the adhesive is dry, remove the spacers if used. Grout is caustic, so wear rubber gloves when handling it. Mix the grout according to the manufacturer's directions or use premixed grout. Spread the grout across the tiled surface with a float held at a 45-degree angle, making sure you work it into every space. Work at a diagonal to the grout lines for the best coverage, and try to leave the tile surface as clean as you can.
  7. Clean up. When the grout is firm to the touch, wipe off the surface with a damp (not wet) sponge and clean up the grout lines with a gloved fingertip. Wipe it all down with a damp sponge again. When the tile dries to a haze, buff vigorously with a clean rag. An old cotton T-shirt is ideal.
  8. Seal the grout. Grout sealer comes in convenient aerosol cans; just point and press the tip. The sealer will keep moisture out of your grout and protect the color.  Your grout package directions will tell you how long to wait before sealing.
  9. Fill the gaps. After all is dry,  you can run a think bead of silicone caulk along the edges of the tiled area, taking care to smooth it with a wet fingertip. Be sure to apply the silicone to the gap between the bottom of the tiled area and your counter material.
For more information on installing a tiled backsplash, visit About.com's Home Renovations channel for videos on how to grout tile and how to set tile.

Tips

  • If using spacers, stand them between the tiles like road signs rather than laying them flat; they're much easier to get out that way.
  • Don't let too much time elapse during step seven, or you'll have a very hard time getting the grout off the tile surface.

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