Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tiling the Backsplash

I watched it done on TV, I even read books at my local library and they all made tiling seem way more complicated than it actually is. Seriously doubting my ability to do this project, I measured for my materials and purchased the tile product. I chose a ceramic 6 inch tile that is mottled in its finish with variations in color and texture. I also chose a premixed grout in a tone on tone color.

Premixed grout is about 5 times more expensive than unmixed grout, but to me it was totally worth the money. I didn't want to have to schlep a huge bucket of grout, get the consistency just right, and have grout powder flying everywhere. If I ever do another tile project, it will be with pre-mixed grout again.

I also purchased a small, inexpensive wet tile saw as well as a tiling kit (nippers, spacers, sponge, float, etc), and tile adhesive. The tile I chose had regular tiles, decorative tiles, and a single type of bullnose pieces. I had already calculated how many of each I would need taking care to try to get the same dye lot. Huge variations in color can happen between dye lots and I did experience this with the tile I chose.

In all my research, trial and error in the masterbath remodel, I did learn that I needed a bullnose tile for an edging and a field tile. I also chose a precut decorative tile for an accent around the backsplash. With all my materials stocked, it was time to get started.

This was a working kitchen during the entire remodel. This is possible if you are either 1) doing the remodel yourself or 2)acting as your own general contractor. I was both. Sort of. So I removed the items from the counter and switch plates and worked in sections at a time. I laid out my tile and decided where I needed to make cuts with my new wet tile saw ;-).

Immediately, I discovered that the switch and electrical cut outs were going to be very challenging with my level of skill and the saw I was working with. Laying the bottom row was a real confidence builder. I was laying off granite countertop that did not have a slab backsplash. I spaced the tile between the granite and the first tile (this is not the space you grout, I will cover this later). My first row proved only a very small cut. Tiling is a science in the fact that you have to measure the cuts to be made, but it is also a visual art. When looking at the field to be laid, a full tile should start at the bullnose and work in. For example, a full bullnose tile would be on the edge of the countertop by the door and as the tile works the opposite direction, lay full tiles until you get to the cut in the corner or adjacent wall.

I would highly recommend eye protection and a towel to dry yourself off when using the diamond blade tile saw. Chips of tile and water flies everywhere. In cutting the tile around the switches, I had to make some cuts with the saw and then finish up with the tile nippers. I learned that the less you take on with the nippers the better. Let the saw do as much work as possible. Also on the switch plates, you must unscrew the plate attached to the wall, lay the tile underneath the actual switch plate and reattach the switch plate to the junction box. If you do not do this and you tile over the switch plate, you will not be able to reattach the switch plate cover. Shut off the electricity if you are not familiar with working with live switch plates and wall sockets.

Since I laid out all the bullnose, field tiles, and accent tiles first, made cuts second, and laid rows of adhesive next. The first section went very quickly. I let it dry overnight, and started on the grout in the section of tile that I laid the day before. Again, since this was a working kitchen, we were actually trying to live in it during the renovation, I wanted to lay tiles and grout them and move on to the next section.

Float the grout at a 45 degree angle across the tiles and fill all spaces. Unsightly bubbles will surface if the grout is too wet, and if that is the case, it will have to dry and go back for a second grout coat or touch up. I used a 1/8 of an inch grout space which was challenging to push the grout into the gaps. The final challenge with the grout proved to be the cleaning. I had to clean light enough not to pull the grout out of the spaces and hard enough to clean the grout out of the divots on the tiles.

Finally, I used a matching sanded grout calk between the tiles and the granite and the tiles and the wall. These areas receive a lot of expansion and contraction, they also may get wet so they provide a waterproof, flexible seal between the tile and the granite. This is a very tricky and messy product, so having wet paper towels and working with a wet finger on the bead of calk is the best advice I can give. The calk product does not cover very much square footage, so buy more than you think you will need. See the pics of the finished project!

DIY project cost: $500 tile and materials.


  1. So I'm sitting her with my first cup of coffee, skimming FB, click your link, start skimming again, and then read "... and the saw I was working with...' I slow down, read again, and MOTHER OF GOD Dawn Arnold is ONE OF THOSE GIRLS. There is a show I used to catch on .. okay I don't remember, but it was a show about a bunch of chicks who redid homes. Those crazy types who weren't afraid of anything, and could jump right in with those man tools and do it better than.. well.. a man. (remember, first cup of coffee, here.. I realize I am taking the female race back 100 years with that statement) My point is that I am NOT one of those women, however, I think YOU ROCK AND SHOULD RULE THE WORLD. I am super impressed and you have just inspired me. No, not to grab a hand tool, b/c I can't even chop veggies without cutting my finger, but to get off my lazy whiney butt and do SOMETHING TODAY. You are TILING and I can't even do laundry? Here's to you, Dawn Arnold. *raises mug* For inspiring not only me, but women everywhere. We can do anything we set our minds to. You need a tiara made out of screwdrivers and nails. You have just made my day. :)

  2. You are so sweet, Shannon. I too have been inspired by you in so many ways. Blog on, girl!