A couple weekends ago Trey and I undertook what was for us a pretty epic home renovation project. We had decided to tile our kitchen backsplash ourselves. I thought it would be fun to share how it went, some resources and a few tips from our experience.
We had been thinking we'd use white subway tile because it's classic and relatively inexpensive. However, we fell in love with these marbled beveled edge tiles as we were shopping for supplies (they're from Home Depot in case you're curious). They were certainly more expensive than subway tile, but since we've been keeping most of our home renovations relatively inexpensive so far (which I realize is pretty subjective), we decided to splurge and get the pretty tile we wanted.
In case you didn't see what my kitchen looked like before we moved in, here it is:
So this was the state of the kitchen backsplash area once we moved in. There had been a brown granite backsplash that matched the counter tops that was removed at the same time, leaving behind some damaged walls. The wall behind the sink area needed new drywall because it was so damaged.
Before we got started, we watched a few videos and read up on installing tile since it was so new to us. We reviewed Josh's beginner's guide to laying tile from our Habitat project house last year. (Josh—we miss you buddy!)
Once we felt like we understood what supplies and tools we needed, we measured our wall space and found we had right around 38.5 square feet to cover. We ended up buying 40 square feet of tile just so we could mess up a few since we had never used a wet saw before, and we also have extra we can store and use if we ever need to replace some (or at least, that was our thinking).
After gathering all our supplies, we started off by prepping the walls (cleaning and priming the discolored wall). Then we made a plan for tiling in sections and drew light pencil marks on the wall just to have a game plan for when we started. Third, we prepped the area by taping off cabinets and covering everything in drop cloths.
A few tips:
-The tile we ended up loving came on mesh backing. This made it a lot easier to plan and also at times easier to cut with the wet saw (that we rented). If you're tiling a backsplash for the very first time, you might consider looking into tile that comes on mesh just to make it easier on yourself.
-We also decided to try out premixed mortar and grout (more on that in a second). This made the process faster because we didn't have to measure or mix anything. You just open up the bucket and get going. I don't know how it might compare, since this was my first time tiling, but I did love how this helped speed up the process a little bit (it is a three-day project anyway once you account for all the drying times).
Next it was time to lay the tile. This was easily my favorite part! I really liked smearing the mortar on the walls and also setting the tiles in place. Since Trey and I worked on this together, I mostly did the mortar and he cut and pressed on the tiles. This helped us move faster, although it still took us most of a Saturday to lay all the tile. Also, we bought spacers but ended up not using them. Again, since our tile came on mesh, it sort of spaced itself. Plus with the beveled edges, we pretty much just wanted the tiles to be as close as possible (like they were on the mesh). So we ended up not using our spacers. I think generally speaking, spacers are really important, but due to our particular project, they just didn't come into play for us.
Another, I guess, special step for our project was that the sealer we bought (made for natural stone like marble) recommended that you seal the tile after laying it but before adding the grout. Then you seal it again after the grout is fully dry. This was supposed to help with grout haze, so we tried that and I think it worked. But I guess I'm not 100% sure since I didn't try it without this step.
Tip: Buy gloves that fit you well. Sounds obvious, I know. But I didn't do this. I just picked up whatever gloves they had on the shelf at the store and they were way too big for me. This made it more difficult to work with the mortar. Rookie mistake, I'm sure!
The next day I worked on the grout. Here's what I learned really fast: I don't really like working with grout. The process of rubbing it all over the tiles is fine. But we picked tiles that were beveled, so this meant cleaning the grooves out more. And since we chose marble tile, everything I read suggested that I needed to avoid grout haze as much as possible because most cleaners don't work well with natural stone. I found the whole process pretty frustrating because I felt like I just couldn't get the grooves or tiles as neat and clean as I wanted. I'm still happy with how it turned out, but grout is not my favorite part. 🙂
Next time I tile (which will probably be a while, but still), I will for SURE be looking into using a grout bag during this step of the process. I can't say how it might compare, but I didn't realize that was an option until we had already completed our project. My guess / hope is that using a grout bag might make the grouting process a little less messy which could be really helpful if you're working with natural stone and are worried about grout haze. Also the beveled edges on our tile made digging out the extra grout a real chore. So, again, I suspect a grout bag could really help with this as well.
We had to wait about 24 hours before we could seal the marble and grout. Then we added caulk to the seams and edges where appropriate. Caulk was surprisingly difficult too and I've used a caulk gun before! I'm still not 100% happy with our caulk job so I'm considering redoing it. The good news is that it isn't all that hard or expensive to redo caulk—thankfully.
So, what's my conclusion? Is tiling your own kitchen backsplash worth it? Well, it depends. If the difference between you being able to afford the project or not is doing the labor yourself instead of using a contractor, then I would say it's totally worth it. It's certainly something that can be accomplished by an amateur, but this was probably the hardest and most physically demanding project I've ever done, and I can't say I'm jumping to tile again anytime soon. But, is it worth it? I guess it's up to you, but I'm super happy with the look of our kitchen backsplash and I sort of like that we'll always know that we did it ourselves. But that's just me.
The project still isn't 100% complete. I have a few areas around the tiling that need touching up with paint (including the door trim and this strip of outlets that hangs above the counter). I'm also dreaming of some kind of DIY counter top for the cabinets just adjacent to our kitchen (see above where the copper backsplash peeks out). So we've still got a little of this and that to do in this part of the house before it feels "done". But as most of my fellow homeowners know, it's never really "done" anyway. 🙂
Thanks for letting me share! Hope I didn't scare any of you off from giving it a go if you're interested. If you do go for it, be sure to check out some more comprehensive tutorials as this is really more of an overview with some tips. 🙂 xo. Emma
Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Janae Hardy, Emma Chapman, and Trey George. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.