May 2, 2015

How to: Install a Glass Tile Backsplash

I woke up a few Saturdays ago and decided I was going to tile our kitchen backsplash. I had been talking to Matt about the backsplash for months, looking at tile just about every time we visited our local Home Depot (about once weekly). I had not planned to tile the backsplash on this particular day. In fact, I had actually decided I would paint the front door, rake/blow leaves in the yard, clean the gutters, paint the mailbox, organize the garage AND vacuum the house. I'm ambitious, I know. But it was Easter, and I anticipated that I probably wouldn't have much time on Sunday to finish whatever I didn't finish on Saturday, so I completely derailed my plans and decided that a backsplash overhaul was the way to go.

After Matt got back from the gym, he and I headed out to Home Depot to go pick up supplies. We checked out the tile options, decided we didn't know what we actually wanted, went across the street to Lowe's where we decided THEY didn't have what we wanted and back to Home Depot we went.

I love Home Depot.

Anyway, we picked up a handful of supplies and honestly, it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. A bit time consuming and it definitely helped to have a second set of hands, but very manageable. We did an entire side of the kitchen without any kind of tile cutter, but eventually we ran into a little road block and Matt went and picked one up for $15. 

We were able to tile about 33 square feet of wall for about $250. Depending on your tile, methods and space, the cost might vary a little for you. It seemed like a huge (expensive) undertaking, one that we had no experience with whatsoever, but those seem to be the projects that I enjoy the most. On that note, let's get started.

Here's what you need:


Pre-mixed grout (we used a linen color)
Grout float
Large sponge
Scissors or box cutter
Simple Mat (thin-set mortar, or other tile adhesive)


1. Measure your space. I overestimated a bit (but over than under!) and measured the counter to cabinet distance to be about 18". The total length of the wall to be tiled was about 21 feet long. The tile I anticipated buying comes in 12" x 12" sheets, so 1.5 tiles per linear foot of wall equals approximately 33 tiles (that's 21 feet + 10.5 feet, rounded up).

2. Prep your walls. In this case, I sprayed them down with a degreaser and with a little warm water, and rinsed the walls of any grease, dirt, cat hair, etc. that had made its way onto them. Make sure that they have had a chance to dry before you start sticking tile or adhesive to them.

3. Give your tiles something to stick to. While wandering the aisles, Matt and I stumbled upon "Simple Mat" which is essentially double sided tape made specifically for tile. The exposed sticky side is pressed to the wall, smoothing it on as you go. When you're ready to attach the tile, you remove the protective paper and carefully lay the tile on - voila! Alternatively, if you prefer the old-fashion way, you can use thin-set mortar instead of the sticky paper, but we figured that this less-mess option was better for us.

4. Prepare the tile (aka, make sure you have enough!) and make sure you space it appropriately. Once the adhesive is firmly stuck to the wall, we started laying out our tile on the counter to figure out what our cuts would be like. We used this iridescent brown mosaic glass tile that was on sale for less than $5 per sheet! Sweet deal!

5. Adhere the tile to the wall. We started at the corner of the wall, on the lower part of the area (where the tile met the counter) to be tiled and worked outwards so that if the tiles needed to be cut, they would be shorter at the door jams/window, instead of in the middle of the pattern. We tried to use the spacers that we purchased, but they weren't quite the right size, so we ended up just eyeballing it.

We did the side by the sink first to get the interrupted areas out of the way (the required more cutting, fitting and wiggling into place). Once we got all the full size sheets of tile in place, we went back and cut the sheets to fit the upper parts. We discovered that our cabinets slope a little, and so the sheets that fit perfect in the corner, ended up being smooshed together a little bit in other areas. This isn't especially noticeable and we've decided this is our practice house anyway, so no big deal. In your case, you may not want to be as lazy as we were and just go out and buy the tile cutter apparatus to begin with. Cutting class tiles is pretty easy, and we had a few spares to practice on. We didn't get perfectly clean edges because we used a handheld tool like this

6. Grout. Once all your tiles are in place and you're feeling pretty comfortable with their spacing, it's time to grout. This is not as easy as the rest of the Internet says it is. In fact, while I was researching backsplashes, I read on numerous forums about how "grout is so simple" and it's a "piece of cake". Poppycock. Stuffing grout into 1/16" gaps is not easy and it is not fun. And ultimately, I ended up using my hands to push the grout between the tiles and then I used the float to smooth it out. If you do this, please, be smarter than me. Use gloves. Not only is grout very difficult to get off skin (and other stuff) when it dries, but it's very rough on your hands. I'm pretty sure an entire layer (or two) of skin got peeled off in the process. I am not a wise woman.

Meanwhile, Matt was scooting along behind me with a damp sponge, wiping the excess grout off the tile. If only we knew then what we know now. He was pretty darn good at cleaning up my mess, but if we had known how difficult it was to clean them off the next day, we probably would have been a little more diligent about it.

6. Let grout cure 24 hours and then clean the haze. The "haze" is the residue left by wiping the grout from the tile. You can do this with a scrubby and some elbow grease, but I'm of the school of thought to work smarter, not harder - otherwise known as: I started looking for shortcuts to help cut down on the effort. A few resources recommended vinegar. This worked decently on glass, but because of the acidic nature of vinegar, do a little of your own research if you choose a different type of tile. Vinegar could potentially damage other materials.

Warm vinegar might have worked a little bit better, but Matt isn't a big fan of the smell and my hands were so cut up from the grout that he did most of the leg arm work. He dipped the scrubby in the vinegar, wiped it on and the begrudgingly scrubbed it off again. See? I did work smarter. I made my handsome fella do it for me!

7. Caulk and/or trim the edges. You don't necessarily need to do this, and it will probably depend on where your backsplash ends, but you certainly can. There are various options when it comes to edging, such as the ones listed by Home Guides, but in our case, I decided just to caulk. I sanded down the grout on the edge of the tile and then lined both the tile and the wall with blue painters tape. I then ran a line of caulk down the seam of the the tape and smoothed the line with my finger. I pulled the tape off while while the caulk was still damp and let it dry. It gave the edge a nice finished look. I will probably go back and paint it eventually (but for right now, it'll do).

Looking at all the steps, it seems kind of complicated - but it's definitely not! Time consuming, certainly, but overall it was a fairly simple. If we can do it, so can you! Besides - it's just a practice house, right?

'Til next time.


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