Steel, aluminum and copper tiles make dramatic, high impact kitchen backsplashes. They're also easy to install, last forever and don't require any grouting.
Stainless steel, aluminum and copper tiles are available in many styles, in brushed or shiny finishes, and embossed or plain. Some tiles are even bowed to create a basket-weave look.
You can mix different patterns and sizes.
Stainless steel tile is available from several online sources. Once you find a tile size and style you like, decide on an installation pattern. You can combine different shapes to form a design or install the tiles in a traditional stacked or subway style like ours. Most stainless steel tiles have a backing that makes them easy to install. Some even have a peel-and-stick back. You can choose from cork, hardboard and cement board backing. Cork is good for backsplash installations. Use cement board in wet areas like showers.
Use graph paper or a computer drawing program to plan the pattern and calculate how many pieces of each size of tile you'll need. Order several extra tiles in case you miscut one or miscalculate the amount. We decided on a subway pattern using 12 x 2-1/4-in. tiles. If you have an open end on your wall and you're installing the tile in a subway pattern, make sure to order half tiles to start every other row (Photo 2).
Hang the tiles with masking tape to determine the best layout. By shifting the tiles to the left or right, you can avoid cutting small slices of tile to fill in at the ends.
Before you get started, find a long straight board or metal straightedge and use it to determine whether the walls in the backsplash area are flat. If the walls have humps or depressions, the tile will be uneven. For a great-looking job, you should fix these problems now, either by filling in the low spots with a layer of joint compound or by filling alongside humps and feathering them out to make them less pronounced.
Next, plan the installation to avoid skinny tile cuts if possible. Photo 1 shows one method. You can also make a scale drawing and sketch the layout on paper, or make a template of your backsplash with butcher paper or cardboard and lay the tiles over it. The idea is to adjust the layout for the most pleasing look.
It's dangerous to work around live outlets with metal tiles. Before you begin the installation, turn off the power to the kitchen outlets and lights at the main electrical panel. We removed the outlets and switches in the backsplash area and capped the wires because we planned to replace the ivory-colored devices with gray ones. If you plan to keep the same outlets and switches, wrap two layers of wide blue painter's tape around the entire device to cover the face and terminal screws. Then twist the device so that you can push it partially into the box where it will be out of the way. Leave the power turned off while you install the tiles.
Before you reinstall the outlets and switches, add box extensions to bring the face of the electrical box flush to the face of the tile. You'll find plastic box extensions at home centers and hardware stores.
All it takes is a small dab at each corner. If you use too much, the glue will squeeze out between tiles. Place cardboard shims under the first course to provide space for caulk.
Hold the tile in position to mark both sides of the electrical box. Then remove the tile and measure the distance from the tile below to the bottom of the box and mark this on the tile.
Clamp the tile and cut the notch. Cut notches with a rotary tool. Don't worry about the protective film on the tile; it will loosen along the cut, but it won't melt or burn.
To avoid mistakes in measuring, hold the tile in place and mark it instead. For accuracy, use a fine-tip permanent marker. Hold a border tile in position and mark where it intersects the next full tile. Draw a level line across the tile at the mark.
Make straight cuts with the wet saw. A dry diamond or abrasive blade will cut stainless steel, but the heat buildup may damage the tile.
The cork-backed stainless steel tiles we used are held to the wall with construction adhesive. You can leave spaces between the tiles and grout them just like ceramic tiles, but they look better set tight together. Grout lines detract from the metallic look. Peel off the protective plastic coating after you're finished installing the tiles.
The best way to cut stainless steel tiles is with a diamond wet saw. Cut the tile face up so that any lip that forms is on the back of the tile. Handle the tile carefully. The cut metal edges are very sharp. It's difficult to cut notches with a wet saw. A rotary tool fitted with a metal-cutting disc is a good tool for cutting notches and other intricate shapes (Photo 4).
Rest the first row of tile on thin cardboard shims (Photo 2). Cardboard from the back of a legal pad is the right thickness. This leaves a space for caulk under the tiles and allows you a little room to adjust the tile if the countertop isn't perfectly flat. When you're done installing the tile, fill this gap with a very thin bead of clear silicone caulk.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You'll also need a wet saw with a diamond blade and a rotary tool with a metal-cutting disc.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.