Project overview: Planning, materials and tools
Nothing packs more style
per square inch than
mosaic tile. So if your
kitchen's got the blahs, give it a
quick infusion of pizzazz with a
tile backsplash. Because the
small tiles are mounted on 12 x
12-in. sheets, installation is fast.
You can install the tile on
Saturday and then grout it on
Professionals charge about $20
per sq. ft. for installing the tile
(plus materials), so you'll save
$20 for every sheet you install
yourself. The sheets cost $8 to
more than $20 each at home centers
and tile stores.
The total cost for our backsplash
was about $200. Our
sheets cost $10 apiece plus adhesive
and grout. For an 8-ft. backsplash,
you could save about $45
by using a less expensive tile.
We chose slate tiles, which
sometimes crumble when you
cut them. Other types of mosaic
tile, especially ceramic tiles, are
easier to cut.
In this article, we'll show you
how to install the tile sheets.
You'll need basic tile tools, available
at home centers and tile
stores, including a 3/16-in. trowel and a grout float.
You'll also need mastic adhesive, premium grout and grout sealer. You can rent a wet saw
to cut the tiles (about $40 for four
hours, or $55 for the day).
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Shopping for Mosaic Tile
Mosaic tile sheets make it easy to achieve a
great backsplash. Layout is a cinch—you can
simply cut the mesh backing on the sheets
to fit the tile along counters and cabinets. In
fact, the hardest part of this or any other
tiling project may be choosing the look—the
tiles come in a variety of shapes and materials,
and many sheets have glass or metallic
tiles built in for accents. To add to your
options, strips of 4 x 12-in. tiles are available
for borders. So you can match the existing
look of your kitchen—or try something new!
Step 1: Prep the walls
Before installing the tile, clean up any grease splatters on
the wall (mastic won't adhere to grease). Wipe the stains
with a sponge dipped in a mixture of water and mild dishwashing
liquid (like Dawn). If you have a lot of stains or
they won't come off, wipe on a paint deglosser with a lint-free
cloth or abrasive pad so the mastic will adhere.
Deglosser is available at paint centers and home centers.
Then mask off the countertops and any upper cabinets
that will have tile installed along the side. Leave a 1/4-in.
gap between the wall and the tape for the tile (Photo 1).
Cover the countertops with newspaper or a drop cloth.
Turn off power to the outlets in the wall and remove the
cover plates. Make sure the power is off with a non-contact
voltage detector. Place outlet extenders in the outlet boxes. The
National Electrical Code requires extenders when the
boxes are more than 1/4 in. behind the wall surface. It's
easier to put in extenders now and cut tile to fit around
them than to add them later if the tile opening isn't big
enough. Set the extenders in place as a guide for placing
the tile. You'll remove them later for grouting.
On the wall that backs your range, measure down from
the top of the countertop backsplash a distance that's equal
to three or four full rows of tile (to avoid cutting the tile)
and make a mark. Screw a scrap piece of wood (the ledger
board) to the wall at the mark between the cabinets.
The area between the range and the vent hood is usually
the largest space on the wall—and certainly the most
seen by the cooks in the house—so it'll serve as your starting
point for installing the tile. Make a centerline on the
wall halfway between the cabinets and under the vent
hood (Photo 1). Measure from the centerline to the cabinets.
If you'll have to cut tile to fit, move the centerline slightly
so you'll only have to cut the mesh backing (at least on
Step 2: Set the tile
Using a 3/16-in. trowel, scoop some mastic adhesive out of
the tub and put it on the wall (no technique involved
here!). Spread the mastic along the centerline, cutting in
along the ledger board, vent hood and upper cabinets
(Photo 2). Then use broad strokes to fill in the middle. Hold
the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the wall to spread the
mastic thin—you should be able to see the layout lines
where the points of the trowel touch the wall. Have a water
bucket and sponge on hand to keep the trowel clean.
Whenever the mastic starts to harden on the trowel, wipe
it off with the wet sponge.
Place plastic tile spacers on the ledger board and countertop.
This leaves a gap so the tiles don't sit directly on
the countertop (you'll caulk the gap later).
Align the first tile sheet with the centerline, directly
over the spacers. Press it onto the wall with your hand.
If the sheet slides around and mastic comes through the
joint lines, you're applying the mastic too thick (remove
the sheet, scrape off some mastic and retrowel). Scrape
out any mastic in the joints with a utility
Eyeball a 1/16-in. joint between sheets
of tile (you don't need spacers). After
every two or three installed sheets, tap
them into the mastic with a board and
rubber mallet (Photo 3).
If tiles fall off the sheets, dab a little
mastic on the back and stick them right
back in place. The sheets aren't perfectly
square, so you may need to move individual
tiles to keep joints lined up. Move the
tiles with your fingers or by sticking a
utility knife blade in the joint and turning
the blade. If an entire sheet is crooked,
place a grout float over the tile and move
the sheet. You'll have about 20 minutes
after installing the tile to fine-tune it.
Step 3: Cut tiles to fit at edges
If you're lucky, you can fit the tile
sheets under upper cabinets and around
outlets by cutting the mesh backing with
a utility knife. If not, you'll have to cut
the tile with a wet saw. Nippers and
grinders cause the slate tiles to shatter or
crumble, although you can use these
tools on ceramic tile.
Slice the backing to the nearest full row
of tile, install the sheet around the outlet
or next to the cabinet, then cut tiles with
a wet saw to fill the gaps (Photo 4). Cut the
tiles while they're attached to the sheet.
Individual tiles are too small to cut (the
blade can send them flying!).
Let the tile sit for at least 30 minutes,
then apply a grout sealer if you're using
natural stone (like slate) or unglazed
quarry tile. The sealer keeps the grout
from sticking to the tile (it's not needed
for nonporous tiles such as ceramic).
Pour the sealer on a sponge, then wipe on
just enough to dampen the tiles.
Back to Top
Step 4: Grout and clean the tile
Wait 24 hours after installing the tile to
add the grout. We used a premium grout
that has a consistent color and resists
stains better than standard grout. Since
the backsplash will be subject to splatters
and stains from cooking and food prep,
we recommend spending the extra
money for a premium grout. You can find
or special order it at home centers or tile
stores. One brand is Prism. Sanded
grout will also work and will save you a
Mix the grout with water until it reaches
mashed potato consistency, then put
some on the wall with a grout float. Work
the grout into the joints by moving the
float diagonally over the tiles (Photo 5).
Hold the grout float at a 45-degree angle to the
tile. Scrape off excess grout with the float
after the joints are filled.
Ten minutes after grouting, wipe the
grout off the surface of the tiles with a
damp sponge. If the grout pulls out of the
joints, wait another 10 minutes for it to
harden. Continually rinse the sponge in a
bucket of water and wipe the tiles until
These slate tiles have a lot of crevices
that retain grout. While most of the grout
comes off the tiles with the wet sponge,
some won't. Most pro installers leave
some grout in slate and other rough-surface
tile—it's just part of the deal with
some types of natural stone. But if you
want the tile completely clean, remove
the grout from individual tiles with a
After cleaning the wall, use a utility
knife to rake the grout out of the joints
along the bottom of the backsplash and in
the inside corners (Photo 6). These expansion
joints allow the wall to move
without cracking the grout.
Two hours after grouting, wipe the
haze off the tiles with microfiber
cloths. Then caulk the expansion
joints with latex caulk. Use a colored
caulk that closely matches the grout.
After seven days, sponge on a
grout sealer to protect the grout
That's it! Now every time your
family and friends gather in your
kitchen, they'll be impressed with
your custom backsplash.