DIY – Installing a Kitchen Backsplash

Constantly varied right? Ok, so here’s a blog post that has nothing to do with Paleo, CrossFit, photography, or the outdoors. Installing backsplash in the kitchen. It’s something we have wanted to do for over a year since we moved in, but just never got around to it until this past fall. (I never said this was a recent project) 

I’m not an expert in construction/building/home projects, but I do consider myself a quick learner and willing to put in work if it means saving a buck or few hundred in installation. So after a few Youtube videos and other blogs, we went for it. The tile we got was a mosaic style, made from glass and stone tiles. You can buy them attached to a mesh backing, so although it looks like a lot of work to lay hundreds of tiny tiles, it’s pretty easy when they’re attached to 12″x12″ mesh. I think it was about $9/square (midrange) and the area to cover was about 30 sq.ft. so tile plus grout/grout tool/nipper/SimpleMat was somewhere between $300-$400. If we wanted it installed we would have paid another $250.  Luckily this project was in DIY range. Here are the steps Ditty and I took:

1. Turn off the electricity. Don’t need any surprises. Take faceplates off outlets and pull oven away from wall about a foot or two. 

2. Wash the wall – make sure there aren’t any globs of food or things that could get in the way of good adhesion. Good adhesion is the name of the game.

3. Stick SimpleMat on the drywall – this made the project a lot easier and quicker. SimpleMat is basically Tyvek paper with glue on both sides. You peel plastic away from one side and stick it to the wall. Then whenever you’re ready you peel the plastic off the other side and stick the tiles on. You should do the whole area (or at least big areas) with SimpleMat first. Unlike cement, you can afford to do the whole area first before laying tile. Be sure to plan out the SimpleMat pieces (18″L x 12″H) and cut out spaces for electrical outlets. 

3. Lay the tile – Lay down tiny spacers where the countertop meets the wall. Then peel the plastic away from the SimpleMat, exposing the other glue side. Place your whole 12″x12″ tiles onto the wall. The spacers will allow for you to caulk later on. Generally you want to caulk wherever the wall meets a a new surface like countertop. When going across the space behind the oven, you won’t have any countertop for reference, so use a level as an improv countertop. Having two people really helps here. Or a third arm.

4. Continue Up – After laying down the entire bottom row of tile, start with the next row up. For us, it meant cutting the 12″x12″ tiles in half because countertop to cabinet was exactly 18″. Your kitchen will probably be different, but be sure to work from bottom to top.

5. Odds and Ends – For any odd places like electrical outlets or the edges, we used nippers to cut the individual tiles. Luckily we had materials that we only needed these scissor-like nippers. We did not need a wet saw, which would have cost more and taken up more time. You’ll have to consult with an expert as to what you’ll need, but we had a mix of glass (you can definitely use only nippers on glass) and stone (not exactly sure what kind, but it was soft enough to use the nippers). After cutting individual tiles in halves or thirds, we would stick them in the spaces needed. I would say this took a good amount of time, but it helped to have two people working at the same time.

6. Grout – I think purists will tell you to mix your own grout, but I got the pre-mixed and it was fine. The consistency is very much like wet sand, and just like the beach, be prepared to get dirty. There’s just no easy way to grout the tile and keep your countertops clean. I kept plastic on the countertop, but the grout still got all over the place. The good thing is that it’s easy to clean up as long as you get it when it’s still wet.  I also found that it was easier to apply with my hand first, then swipe the grout tool over the tile to make sure it got in spaces. You’ll want to work in sections and go over the tiles with a wet cloth to prevent the grout from drying directly on the tile face. My recommendation is to wipe a section clean several times, not just once. It will save you a ton of time later so you don’t have to chisel dried grout off the tile. 

7. Caulk – Like I said, anywhere the wall meets the counter, you’ll want to caulk. Laying down painter’s tape first allows for that nice clean line. Once you lay out the caulk, use a wet finger to smooth out the line. I’m not sure if I needed to, but I also caulked up underneath the cabinets; basically I did the whole perimeter of the backsplash.

8. Reconnect faceplates to outlets – some people find that they need to buy new outlet boxes or extenders since the backsplash adds about 1/4″ to the wall, but I found the screws were long enough to get the faceplate back on. If not, you may have to get longer screws or replace the outlet back that goes into the wall. I think the latter option is too much and unnecessary. 


Total time was 8 hours and 14 minutes from start to finish with breaks, including time to let the grout dry. We took our time with each step, so doing it again would probably take 6 or so hours, improving our backsplash WOD time. (there’s your CrossFit reference, ok) I had put in undercabinet lighting and a few weeks later rearranged the wires to be more hidden. That might be a future blog post, but at this rate, you won’t see it until the summer!

If you have any questions, just hit the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.


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