Laying tile used to be arduous and time consuming – something that took quite a lot of skill and effort as well as time to produce something beautiful, to say nothing of cost. But modern materials and techniques have moved tiling solidly into the realm of the DIYer. While laying tile flooring is something probably best left to a pro if you haven’t had any prior experience, installing a tile backsplash is a quick and easy weekend project that can dramatically increase the appearance of your kitchen or bathroom and help protect your walls from moisture.
While plain drywall is susceptible to water damage, stone or glass tile like this Sea Green tile resists and repels water and can help prevent the buildup of mold and mildew. This is important for the area directly behind a sink, especially a kitchen sink, which is particularly prone to getting splashed when you hand wash or rinse dishes.
A backsplash as small as four inches tall can protect your walls, but they also look great run all the way up to your cabinets or all the way around your kitchen. Glass tile, like the squared rectangular tile of Martini Mosaic’s Essen Collection is sleek, clean, and colorful, and adds a great modern look to the room. But the best part is, the way backsplash tiles are designed, you don’t have to install each individual tile manually.
Traditionally, mosaic meant intricate designs and detailed planning before you could even think about laying the tile. But now you can buy sheets of tiles in beautiful, bold, complimentary or corresponding colors, already arrayed in a pattern and secured with a fine, usually nylon, mesh – as you can see in the photo of this Berry Wine tile. This leaves less room for personalized design, but basically guarantees a professional looking finish. The sheets usually come in about one foot squares designed to interlock at the edges. Stacked tiles will have flat edges all the way around, but staggered brick-style tile sheets like the one above will have two flat edges and two jagged ones that fit together. Either way, the sheets can be easily trimmed down to fit your space (though again with a staggered style you’ll still need a tile cutter to even up the far edges and corners).
What this means is that instead of installing eighty or a hundred tiles by hand for every square foot of space, you can essentially install them all as a single tile. The procedure is essentially the same as it would be for a regular tiling project. You want to make sure the surface you’re tiling is clean and very dry. If you have existing tile or paint, you should strip everything down to the base layer and make sure that it’s extremely clean. If you expect the tile to see a lot of water, you might want to consider installing a concrete backing board (which usually just needs to be screwed in) for extra protection. It’s a good idea to figure out the area of the space you’re going to be tiling before you start installing them so you know exactly how many tile sheets you’ll need, and how to arrange them best to minimize cutting. Remember, you can install your tile vertically, like these Aria Glass And Steel tiles, as well as horizontally, but it might require more cutting to get an even top edge.
Once your wall and tile are prepped, you’re ready to start. You’ll get the best results if you work over a few moderate days (50-70 degrees or so) with mild humidity, and have all your materials at room temperature, as it will ensure that everything sets properly. First, you want to spread a layer of thinset adhesive over the area you’ll be tiling, gradually spreading and thinning it down to about 1/8″. Then, press the Sheet of Tile mesh-side down and press firmly into place, first with your hands and then a wooden board or float, working out all the air bubbles and making sure the tiles are secure.
Keep working, laying one sheet at a time, ensuring the joints match up and removing any excess thinset. At the seams between the sheets, double check the spacing – especially if the edges are staggered, like those on this Blocco Fireberry Tile, as they might need to be flipped to alternate properly, and can be a little harder to space. Once everything ins lined up, press the tiles gently into the adhesive with a grouting float placed halfway on each sheet to unify the edges.
Tile sheets usually come with paper covering the tile faces to prevent them from becoming damaged during transportation and installation. Once all your tile has been laid, wait 15-30 minutes and then gently spray the paper with water from a spray bottle repeatedly over a 5-10 minute period. Once the water is absorbed, you should be able to peel off the paper easily, revealing the pristine Glass Tile underneath. You want to wait 24 hours before you try to wipe off any excess glue, but this is the time to make any necessary adjustments and make sure all your tiles are lined up properly before the adhesive cures.
After 24 hours, you want to wipe your tiles – gently! – clean of any remaining paper or residue. The tiles should be completely set by now, but even so, be gentle, especially with Textured Tile so you don’t accidentally push one out of place trying to get the crevices clean. Once the tiles are dry, spread a sealant on stone tiles or grout release on any other kind, to make sure the grout won’t stick to the surface of the tile. You want to mix your grout (powder + admixture) adding the powder to the liquid rather than the other way around. The grout should stick to a float held upside down, and be the consistency of toothpaste.
Spread the grout with a grout flow at a 45 degree angle, pressing the grout firmly in between the tiles until it’s packed firm and about even with the tile surface. You should work in 10 minute sections, wiping away excess grout as you go with a damp sponge to ensure that it doesn’t dry onto the tiles, and to make sure the grout lines are even and smooth. Any remaining film can be washed away with a grout haze remover within 30-40 minutes, but you shouldn’t wait much longer than that. Finally, after 2-3 days when the grout has dried, you want to seal it with a stone seal, which helps preserve the grout and blocks water absorption to make sure your backsplash is 100% water tight. Wipe off any excess immediately with a dry paper towel, and then step back and admire your handiwork: you just installed your own Cafe Mocha tile backsplash!
Have you ever done a tiling project? Do you prefer individual tiles or do you like the convenience of the sheets? Are you planning to tile in the kitchen or the bathroom? Let me know in the comments!