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Backsplash Basics

Quick-to-Install Detail That Adds Panache to Kitchen or Bath


Backsplashes have a high work-to-enjoyment ratio. For simple projects, you can be done in only a few hours, with minimal tile cutting. It's not very messy, as it uses little thinset. And it can be completely dry if you use a dry adhesive tile mat. Backsplashes are an ideal canvas for making your dreams come alive with materials ranging from tiny glass mosaic tile to traditional subway tile.

What Is a Backsplash?

kitchen backsplash
© Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com
Backsplashes are found in kitchens and bathrooms, directly behind sinks and usually stretching the entire length of the counter. Their purpose is primarily functional: to protect the wall behind the sink against water damage from inadvertent splashing. Since, in the kitchen, backsplashes cover other parts of the countertop besides the sink area, they also help protect the wall against grease splatter when cooking or food splatter during meal preparation. Backsplashes are more than just functional, though. Built with care and an eye toward the aesthetics, backsplashes can be a beautiful addition to your kitchen or bathroom--almost like a permanent picture on the wall.

Learn From Example: Photo Galleries of Backsplashes

Photo © / Courtesy of Jean Maurice / Getty Images
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, then you cannot flatter these examples of backsplashes more. Most come from tile manufacturers.

Do You Really Need a Backsplash?

Bathroom Backsplash
© American Olean
In kitchens, yes. In bathroom, it's negotiable but recommended. Due to the amount of water and abuse that kitchens get, it's unthinkable not to have a backsplash along the back of the countertop. Even if you can control the water, your walls will quickly get damaged from items being accidentally pushed up against them: knives, cutting boards, food, and more. In bathrooms, you get by without a backsplash in some situations. If you have a sink counter that doesn't butt up against the wall (a pedestal sink, for example), your need for a backsplash is only aesthetic.

Backsplash Materials: Tile, Stone, Glass, or Countertop

Choosing Backsplash Materials
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Which backsplash material to choose, though? The default material offered by some countertop installers is the countertop material itself. So, if you have a solid surface countertop, installers may run a 4" high backsplash of the same material along the length of the counter. This helps to mask any gaps between the counter and the wall. Ceramic tile and stone are more common backsplash materials. Vitreous (slick surfaced) ceramic tile or glass offer good wipe-down ability, no small thing when we're dealing with behind-stove grease splatter. Natural stone is slightly thicker and offers poorer cleaning properties.

How to Install a Simple Tiled Backsplash

White Tiled Backsplash
© About.com
It's the most basic of all backsplashes: ceramic tile. In a brief video, Tom Pierro shows you how to install white tile as a backsplash above kitchen counters. It's little more than applying thinset mortar to the wall and then pressing the tile into the wet mortar. But the trick is in getting the layout straight and staying straight as the compound dries. Tom shows you how.

Contemporary Style With a Glass Backsplash

Glass Tile Backsplash
© About.com
Glass tile conveys a look of sleek urbanity. If that's the kind of kitchen you have in mind, you may want to consider this material. First learn how to choose glass tiles appropriate for backsplashes. Next, learn how to install a glass backsplash from About.com contributor Zack Heene.

Travertine Backsplash Installation

Travertine Backsplash
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Travertine makes for an ideal backsplash is you're going for a Tuscan-style kitchen or any kind of kitchen with a classic, Old World look. One great thing about travertine is that it can be dry-installed, meaning that it does not need grout between the tiles. One downside is that, unlike vitreous ceramic, travertine is porous and does need to be sealed. If you find travertine too expensive to install for an entire counter's worth of backsplash, consider installing as a medallion, like the one shown here behind the stove (click image to enlarge).
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