Retailers’ guide to tile & stone: Tips for choosing, installing a backsplash

Home Inside FCNews Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Tips for choosing, installing a backsplash

October 12/19; Volume 30/Number 9

(Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

From classic subway tiles (replicas of the 3 x 6 rectangular white ceramic tiles used in the New York City subway) to large-format glass wall tiles and mosaics, today’s tile options can make a bold fashion statement on a kitchen or bathroom backsplash.

Industry experts offered the following tips for choosing the right tile and installing a fashionable backsplash.

Choose the right material

According to Curt Shewmake, director of operations at Great Floors in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the same material used for a countertop (tile or granite) works for backsplashes. “With some surfaces, like solid countertops, the transition from the countertop to the backsplash can be seamless. This is helpful from a maintenance standpoint. Granite, marble or other natural stone tiles, as well as ceramic or porcelain tile and mosaics, work as well.”


A backsplash should not be treated as a separate entity to the overall space; instead it should work together with both the floor and countertop for an even, balanced look.

Evaluate the walls

Before tiling, check the soundness of the wall. It should be dry and firm enough to hold the tile weight. If condensation is evident, experts recommend waiting for the area to dry before tiling or replacing the drywall with a cement-type backer board. A dehumidifier can speed up the drying process. If the area is not dry, the tile will seal in moisture, causing the wood in the wall to rot. In that case, the damaged drywall would need to be repaired or replaced.

Go over the details

Decide how far up the wall the backsplash should extend. A backsplash usually extends at least 4 inches up from the countertop and sometimes all the way up to the bottom of the wall cabinets, according to Shewmake.

Estimate the amount of tile needed

Measure the length and width of the backsplash area. Wall tiles are typically available in square or rectangular shapes as well as mesh-mounted mosaics. A standard space of 10 feet by 18 inches will require at least 15 square feet of tile.

Plan the layout

If the countertop is tiled, plan the layout so the backsplash grout joints line up with the countertop grout joints. If there is not a tiled countertop, start the first tile in the center of the base of the backsplash. Also, the substrate needs to be suitable for tile. Any area that may come in contact with moisture should be covered with ¼-inch backer board.

Use proper adhesive

While mastic is often an easy alternative to mixing thinset mortar, experts said this is an unwise choice for the longevity of the tile installation as mastic will not bond properly in any area that may be susceptible to moisture.

Grouting for DIYers

The final step in tiling a backsplash is applying the grout. When grouting, keep the grout somewhat on the dry side and pack it well into the grout joints before wiping clean. Experts advise not to use too much water when cleaning off the grout haze, which forms on the tile after the grout dries. The haze should be loosened with a dry towel and the remaining dust must be swept off. After the grout has dried completely, seal the grout to prevent stains.

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