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Kitchen Revival – Installing a Subway Tile Backsplash & Wall I

After months and months of deliberating and debating, I picked a backsplash. I picked it. I bought it. AND I installed.

  I wanted a clean, white kitchen with stained wood and bronze accents to contrast. Dark wood floors, glass globes, and white subways made up my daydreams.

So here’s the space I was working with.

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When the drywall was redone in our kitchen, I had them leave these walls flat because it would save us some money and be easier to tile over. Texture it another variable that can throw a wrench in backsplash installation.

Here are the tools needed to install a backsplash:

  • Tile (enough to cover the square footage of your space + extra )
  • Trowel (click the link to see one similar to what I used.  They make trowels with large gaps between the spikes and small gaps. Small tile = small gaps. Big tile, like floor tiles= big gaps)
  • Float
  • Tile spacers (if you’re using tile connected to a sheet like I did, make sure your spacers will space each sheet the same distance as each tile is spaced. Otherwise you’ll see the lines where each sheet of tile was placed. The easiest way to figure this out is to open some bags of tile and test it out in the store. )
  • Grout, I chose white (this is the stuff that goes between each tile)
  • Mortar (this is the stuff that goes behind the tiles)
  • Buckets
  • Grouting sponge
  • Drill
  • Mixing arm
  • Wet saw

The first step was to prep the space. I took off all of the outlet covers and put them in a baggy for later. I also unscrewed all of the outlets, as they’d need to be pulled out with outlet spacers to fit on top of the tile.

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I also checked the counters for level. They weren’t. So, I knew I would need a space to make the tile level all the way across. Normally, you’d want to start in the middle of the wall to ensure that you have evenly cut tiles on both ends. But i didn’t want to risk things not lining up in the corner when the tile transitioned from one wall to another, so I started on that end, leaving a space at the bottom between the tile and the counter.

The next step was to mix the mortar in a bucket. You’re aiming for peanut butter texture. The mixing arm makes things a lot easier. It attaches to your drill and makes the mixing go a lot faster. Follow the directions on the back of the mortar bag for best results. PS-I’d recommend using white mortar vs. dark gray like I did.

I started under the cabinets to get the feel of things.Using the trowel, I applied the mortar then scraped through to create ridges. When mortar dries, it’s a pain to get off and will mess up the rest of the installation, so only apply as much mortar as you can install tile.

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I used the spacers to adjust the tiles and the spaces between the sheets as I went along. Always step up and look at what you just installed to make sure everything is spaced correctly.

Use the float to push each tile down into the mortar to ensure that it’s all level on the wall. This is an important step, so don’t forget it! Tile may slide after it is installed, so be sure to go back and take a second look every now and then.

I worked my way around the corner onto the large wall. I made sure that the tiles in the corner lined up to create a seamless transition. I had to get creative with the space at the bottom, which is why there is a piece of flooring underneath the tile 😉

I planned to caulk the seam in the corner.

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Before moving on to the big wall, I drew a straight line as close to the side cabinet as possible. There wasn’t room for the tile to fit behind this cabinet, so I wanted to get it as close to the cabinet as possible without causing a problem when opening the cabinet.

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The window was tricky. I decided to start above and work my way down, though this created some difficulty down the line. In hind sight, I should have started this wall at the top of the window, and worked down either side to make sure it lined up correctly. When I got down the bottom, I had to readjust many of the sheets I had just installed to make sure everything fit together around the window.

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Even though these tiles come in sheets with pre-spaced tiles, not all of the tiles were spaced evenly. When they weren’t, I cut them apart with a sharp knife and replaced them, adding spacing at the bottom, top and sides.

Next, it was time to make some cuts. Okay maybe a lot of cuts. Each tile on the edges would need to be cut in half with a wet saw. This is a messy step, and a little tedious, but oh so important to ensure a professional finish. I pre measured each space and marked each tile. I found it easier to measure, mark and cut many tiles at the same time vs. measuring and then cutting and then measuring and then cutting, etc.

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Some of the tiles chipped at the end of the cut. Going extra slow helped, but I simply couldn’t get them all with a perfect cut. Since the space between the tiles and the window framing would be caulked, this didn’t matter so much. For the ones that would be more obvious, I tried to redo the cut until it was clean with no nicks.

I backbuttered each tile for this step. Backbuttering just means that you apply the mortar to the individual tile rather than the wall. Make sure to push these down with the rest of the tile with your float to ensure that it’s level.

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For the outlets, I used outlet spacers to pull the outlets to fit on top of the tile. When cutting the tile around the outlets, it’s important to make sure that you cut the tiles so that the outlet covers will completely cover any gaps around the outlet fixture, but not block the screw hole where the outlet is attached to the wall.

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At long last, we had a backsplash, and the vision I had nearly a year ago was really coming to life.

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Read Next: Kitchen Revival – Installing a Backsplash & Tiled Wall II