Install A Tile Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash can be a quick and inexpensive way to give your kitchen a facelift. Anyone with the least amount of skill can complete it in a weekend.

1. Measure the length of your backsplash, and then measure the height from the top of the counter to the bottom of the wall cabinet to calculate the area you'll need to cover with your tiles. Now that you know the size of the area you can plan your layout pattern. Use graph paper and draw a scale outline. The most common tiles used for backsplashes are 4 x 4, 6 x 6 or 3 x 4 subway tiles. Whichever you choose, be sure the tiles are glazed. Unglazed tiles will stain from moisture and grease, so they aren't a good choice. When you calculate your tile quantities, don't forget to add about 10 percent for cutting and waste.

2. If your tiles are going to be running over any gaps (like where the range will be), install a temporary ledger board along the base of your tile line to help hold them in place during installation.

3. Check the countertop to see if it is level. If it is out of level a little the difference can be adjusted in the bottom caulk joint. If it is more drastic, then the bottom row of tiles will have to be cut on an angle to match the countertop. Working off your layout use a level to draw a plumb line starting line near the center of the wall. You'll use this to line up your tiles vertically.

4. Starting at the center, begin the bottom row by applying tile mastic (a ready tmixed tile adhesive) or thinset mortar to a small section of the wall using a 3/16 V-notched trowel. Put the edge of the first tile on the vertical line leaving a gap of about 1/8" on the bottom - this leaves space for a bead of caulk later in the process. Press the first tile into place with a twisting motion, then put in a temporary spacer of the size you determined for your grout lines.

5. Continue installing tiles using the same process working away from the center line in both directions. Be sure to twist each tile as you place it to get a good bond. Place spacers between each tile. Follow your pattern and install any decorative tiles according to your layout.

6. When you get to a place where you need to cut or trim a tile (under a countertop, end of a row, around an electrical outlet), cut the tile as part of the installation - don't leave an opening and plan on coming back.

Cutting Tile

For straight cuts you can use a tool called a “score and snap” You can rent these for $15 or $20 a day or buy one for less than $50. Mark the tile where you want to cut it, then place the tile on the bed of the tool, line up the scoring wheel with the mark you made on the tile and score a line on the tile with an even non jerking motion. Then, place the breaker bar over the scored line and apply a sharp downward motion of the tool

When all tiles are installed and the mastic has been allowed to set up, it's time to grout. Use a non-sanded grout for small gaps of ⅛’’ or less. Use the sanded type grout for larger gaps. Mix it according to manufacturer's directions. Apply the grout using a rubber float trowel. work it down into the gaps between the tiles, then holding the float at a 45 degree angle, remove the excess. Allow the grout to set for about 15 to 20 minutes. Using a damp (nearly dry) sponge wipe the tile at a  angle to the grout lines. Wipe only one stroke with each side of the sponge, and then rinse and repeat over the entire surface. If you’re pulling lots of color out of the grout the sponge is either too wet or the grout needs to set for a while longer.

Finally, apply a bead of tub and tile caulk (the same color as the grout) all along the bottom seam where the backsplash meets the countertop.

Tip: Grout can stain, and it's particularly vulnerable in the kitchen, so you might want to consider sealing it. Wait until the grout has totally cured (about a week) and then apply a silicone grout sealer. This will keep you new backsplash looking fresh for years.

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