This blog, “A Tile Guy’s Journey” has been more of a “vlog” lately, so I’ve decided to put out an article that is sure to help you, if you’re thinking about a new back splash. This will be your comprehensive guide!
Back splashes are the centerpiece of a homeowner’s kitchen. They are a functional, piece of art and an expression of your personality. Functional, by being a hard surface that is easily cleaned around a busy area. Art because they are aesthetically pleasing; we all enjoy looking at beautiful things!
In this article I will be writing about back splashes in the context of RESIDENTIAL REMODELING. This model will work best if you are hiring a tile installation company directly or if you are working with a builder.
When you’re preparing for your new back splash, get a rough idea of what you want. Use Pinetrest, Houzz or Instagram to help you narrow things down. Realize, the pictures you see on those sites are installers’ BEST WORK.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, find a reputable store to source the material. Ask about price and availability. Heck, maybe you’ll get some alternative ideas from the store!
Stay away from the box stores, the warehouse style spots; admittedly, I believe in Main St. over Wall St. When I look at tile made in Bangladesh, Turkey or China, I think about the advanced manufacturing capabilities and social capital needed to produce quality tile. The cheap tile from those places usually doesn’t cut the mustard. Stick to Italian, Spanish or AMERICAN tile. Buy an American tile and support your fellow citizens! You can save a few bucks buying from the third world, but at what cost, really? Not to mention, much of the material from China, Bangladesh and Turkey will not have an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) tag on it, so we have no idea what we’re getting, and the quality is questionable. Think “lead in toys from China.” The example serves my point. You’re spending lots of money for material that is supposed to last the lifetime of your home, Dot your I’s and cross your T’s! I digress!
Have the person who is going to do the install arranged before you purchase tile. A great place to start is on Google, looking for a detailed website that has examples of their work and photos or videos of them performing their work. People who document themselves working, not just the finished product, take pride in their work! It also helps you verify who is ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK. That’s the guy you want to vet, not the guy who sells you the job. Look for reviews. They’re hard to get so, if you’re installer has a bunch of detailed testimonials, you’re part of the way there. Feed back from other installers on their social media is a great sign. A tile guy who is active in the tile community will also be up on the latest installation methods and products. Look for certifications and credentials. You wouldn’t go to a Dr. without a PHD you shouldn’t hire a tradesman without some degree of credibility. “Experience” is just a word and “Quality” means nothing with out a detailed explanation of what that means.
I recommend paying extra to allow for your tile installer to handle all aspects of the tile acquisition. It’s tempting to think that it’s no big deal to pick up the tile. It’s more complicated than that. The installer will make sure you get consistent dye lots; They will make sure the tile isn’t damaged and that you have the right amount. Is this a nominal size tile? Have you ever walked into Home Depot and been turned around not knowing up from down? That’s what the tile store will be like, in overdrive. If there’s anything wrong with the tile or if anything unforeseen happens (likely) it’s the installer responsibility NOT YOURS. You have better things to do with your time, trust me.
Get his or her opinion before you buy any tile. Is the tile you’re looking at a quality tile? Are there any stipulations involved with the installation of your desired tile? Does the purchase of the tile you want change the scope of the job?
We send our clients to a specific shop to speak with our designer. You walk in, tell them you’re with Hamilton Tile, work with the designer to find what you like. We handle the rest. Other companies will have their own system, but that’s ours and it works great!
There are infinite choices for your back splash depending on what you like and what tile fits your budget; but here are three major differentiators that matter to tile installers. Is the tile:
Glass is the most technical install because, IT’s GLASS. We use a fancy-Dancy thin set, specifically engineered for glass and specialized saw blades, for instance. It takes an excess of skill and precision to install to a high standard of finish. What does a high standard of finish look like? I talk more about it in the video below. Glass is going to be your priciest option.
Natural Stone is the second most technical install. A tile guy must eliminate the use of time saving “snap cutters” with this material. That can add a lot of time and effort running to the saw, which will be set up outside the home. Imagine the distance between your kitchen and the garage, we’ll be making that trip for EVERY CUT. It will likely have to be sealed which adds another step to the install and a small amount of extra money. As far as functionality, natural stone is not as easy to clean. Imagine spaghetti sauce on a tumbled stone. Yuck! There can be added maintenance. The material is, on average, more expensive to buy and install.
Porcelain is your most installer and homeowner friendly material. A good installer can put it up efficiently; it’s the least number of headaches. For a homeowner, it’s tough and maintenance free. An example of porcelain tile would be traditional subway tile.
Sometimes, certain mosaics combine all THREE! Yay!
Tile is as varied as the rainbow! The type of material matters because many types of tile have different installation requirements and standards. Many tile can have different installation techniques that are required. Similar principles, but distinct practices.
If you like detailed back splashes that look like a lot of work to put in, expect a higher price from the installer. What does “a lot of work” entail?
Cutting around light switches and electrical boxes.
Patterns like herringbone.
Kitchens that are difficult to access (upstairs.)
Difficult material (glass, mosaics, natural stone)
Tiles that are not square or rectangles. Circles, arabesque, etc. These make it hard to cut a square edge!
Are there inside or outside corners? How many corners?
Will the installer have to climb a ladder to install the tile on the wall? Over cabinets, or around a vent hood?
Moving on, without a doubt, the most difficult part of a back splash is the tear out or demolition of an old back splash. (if you have one.) We don’t just show up and start going to town. Hours are spent protecting your home. Covering countertops and cabinets, covering the floors, putting up zip walls and preparing for dust containment. A demolition is a huge liability for a tile company. We are working inside your house around finished plumbing and cabinets, finished floors and walls. Not to mention, what is buried inside your walls when we are cutting and hammering out the old back splash. There are horror stories of people cutting through water pipes and gas lines. We’ve been close ourselves! Don’t think it doesn’t happen, because it does! Your installer also must dispose of the material from the demolition. Don’t sleep on the demolition and be sure the people who are working in your home are conscientious and respectful.
After the demolition is complete, which usually takes one full day, we fix any framing. This means straightening and sistering in studs to give a place for our new backer board to be secured. It’s very important to have flat walls with no bumps because this will affect the overall look of the back splash. After all that is done, the old backer board is replaced with new. Some people use drywall, we prefer an engineered, foam board, like Kerdi or GoBoard. Foam board is more expensive, but it is an upgrade because it’s waterproof. It also cuts down on the dust inside your home.
All the corners and seams get seam tape and we have ourselves a fresh pallet to install your new tile. The prep stage is the most important part of your back splash install, before any tile is set. This part dictates how the whole job is going to go.
Once the prep is complete your tile guy will do a rough lay out. You’ll want to be on site for this part to discuss your options. Options like:
Mirrored or wrapped corners. Click here for informative article.
Inset placement, any other feature placement.
Where you want to stop the tile.
What kind of pattern will you use? Straight set or brick set? Diagonal or herringbone? Click here for descriptive article.
Be on site for the different stages of the back splash install. Tile is permanent, and there is nothing worse than having a back splash complete and the homeowner wanting to make changes. If you see something wrong or something you don’t like, TELL YOUR INSTALLER, IMMEDIATELY. The next day it comes out with a hammer! Many choices that tile installers make are completely subjective. There is no objective way to do certain design features with tile, so, it all needs to be discussed PRIOR to the tile going up. If you have complete trust in your installer (preferred) great, but if you have strong preferences in how you want things done, be involved. We prefer customers to be invested in what we are doing, rather than having issues once everything is done.
Realize that your home is probably not constructed perfectly. You will have to make compromises if you don’t want your whole kitchen torn apart and redone to accommodate for imperfections out of the remodeler’s control. Why are some things out of the remodeler’s control? Whenever your house was built, it was put together, presumably, below par! Be flexible and open to unorthodox solutions. An example, your granite counter tops may not be level. That means irregular cuts under the cabinets, your walls out of plumb may mean angled cuts! Aside from rebuilding your whole house, compromise is key! A truly skilled artisan will produce, regardless of circumstances.
The average back splash takes one or two days to install the tile, depending on the size. We take our time with back splashes. My favorite saying is this: “A fatigued tile guy is a careless tile guy”. The one thing you don’t want your tile guy to be, is careless!
When we do a back splash, we go step by step, utilizing a tried and true system that produces quality, great looking work and a long-lasting finished product. Tile guys will decrease their price by cutting corners, working long hours and combining steps. Using ‘speed set’ is one example of how they will accomplish this. “Speed Set” is a thin set that is used to stick the tile that sets up quickly. We only use ‘speed set’ if it’s absolutely necessary and in my opinion, it is rarely necessary! Cement gets its strength from the curing process! Speed set quickens the curing process so, it’s an inferior product, in my mind.
We put each part of a back splash into multiple days because we allow for each step to dry completely. We don’t set and grout a back splash in the same day. We set tile, let the thin set completely dry according to manufacturer specifications, and then we’ll grout.
A five-day job for a conscientious installer, will be cut to two days by a blow and go guy. If you’re not picky and you just want a project to be done quickly and cheaply, that two-day guy is your candidate; but remember, tile is a PERMANENT FINISH and the Cheapest tile job is the one you only have to do ONCE!
Once all the tile is set, we’ll grout. You’ll have to determine what color you like. Pick your grout once all the tile is up, so you can compare colors in the natural light! I recommend using the highest end grout possible. People are usually unhappy with grout getting filthy. There’s an easy solution. Buy a quality grout. It costs more, but it’s denser and has built in sealer, so dirt won’t penetrate it as easily. We use a product by Custom called Prizm or, when we can, a product by Mapei called Flexcolor.
Here’s a part many tile guys skip to save money and you’ll want to have your antennae up during the recruiting phase to hear if your tile guy mentions this. We caulk all plane changes. A “plane change” is where the granite meets the tile, or in corners or under cabinets. Why do we do this? We’ve all seen the cracked grout joints between granite tops and tile splashes in many homes and businesses. That’s because it was grouted in tight and didn’t allow for the small amount of movement in the structure. Every house moves because that’s the nature of wood structures. Good installers will allow for that by using “soft joints” to compensate.
Installing ‘soft joints’ will add one more trip to your house to use high quality, silicone sealant that matches your grout. We don’t silicone the same day as the grouting because it’s best practice to allow the grout to completely dry, come back the next day, do a final buff, getting any grout dust cleaned up. The product we use is 100% silicone and not the “siliconized” stuff (JUNK!) packed with latex. It has a slightly different shade than your grout, because one is cement and one is silicone, but it helps to make a lasting, issue free back splash. The silicone is also cleanable, so when you’re cleaning your counter tops you can scrub it without a problem. The soft joint step is usually a couple hours, but we’ll also adjust your outlet covers which can be quite a feat because of the added thickness of the tile. We have our ways!
Our tools are long gone after the setting stage, the cardboard was taken up after the grouting, so when the caulking is done, we pick up a final check and we’re out of your hair. This hypothetical back splash took about five days.
Wow, all that for a back splash. People will call me telling me about the square footage of their back splash. I always tell them; SQUARE FOOTAGE DOESN’T MATTER. Back splashes are billed based upon time. The average backsplash takes a setter and a helper 40hrs. When you get a bill for your custom, one of a kind back splash, think about the price like that; Two guys, working inside your home for 3-5 days. Plus, the cost of setting material, tile, any other business expenses as well as profit. (So, we can stay in business and do your next project.)
On average one of our back splashes will cost from $1,000-$5000. If we have to tear out an old back splash, it will certainly be over $1000.
A few points for you to think about:
· Many counter tops have a small 4” granite splash that was installed by a granite company. That piece of vertical granite is more than likely covering a large gap between the granite top and the back wall. Framers build wavy walls and granite guys don’t cut their granite to conform to the wall. If you take that granite back splash off, there may be a large gap that the tile will not cover. If you put tile on top of that granite back splash, in my opinion, it’s not ideal. If you’re having granite put in and you KNOW you’re putting in a tile back splash, make sure the granite guys cut their granite to conform to the wall it is going up against, or you may not be able to use the tile you want, or get tile at all.
· Think about edging for your splash. Anywhere that a tile is going to end, where it’s not butted against a cabinet or another wall, you need to edge it. That may be by flipping a tile vertically, while the field is horizontal, or my preferred method is using a Kerdi profile in brush nickel, for example, to match the fixtures. A fine little detail. The raw outside edge of a tile is a quite unflattering and sloppy look!
· Back splash lighting is important. Most electricians will slam their lighting against the back wall, which is against national standards. (who’s keeping track?) When this is done you get an effect called “wall wash” where the light hits the tile back splash at an unflattering angle, accentuating every flaw. This isn’t the tile guys fault! If you’re in the planning stages, have your back-splash lighting brought out to the middle of the underside of the cabinet and this will solve the problem. CLICK HERE FOR AN ARTICLE ON THIS TOPIC!
· Think about buying new face plates for outlets and switches! New plates will look amazing! If your outlets and switches are old and worn, think about having an electrician replace them!
· Be onsite to supervise the moving of appliances. Your stove very often needs to get moved. It’s wise to be around to help, if needed and consult with the tile installers.
· Electricity may need to be shut off to the outlets on the back splash to prevent the installers from getting shocked.
· Your tile installer will also be responsible for adding electrical outlet extenders so your outlet plates go on the way they should!
· During a demolition, put things away and take things off the wall that could fall due to vibration. There is going to be a lot of hammering! Wouldn’t want to break Granna’s China!
· You want to be the person that has their counter tops completely cleared of all ‘STUFF’. Make the space ready to work in for the people who are doing your splash. Have a space that is out of the way ready to accept things like coffee pots, dish strainers, etc. Have your island cleared as well if you have one! We’re tile installers, not movers.
There is a lot that goes into a back splash. They are certainly a luxury item and when you’re ready to off load your home, a nice one will sell the place for you. I always warn against shopping for back splashes based on price. We’re usually lured into accepting undesirable treatment or results because the carrot of low price was dangled in front of us. Don’t accept it! This is a permanent finish and something you’ll have to live with as long as you’re in your home. These people will be working in a FINISHED SPACE with your valuables and everything you’ve worked your whole life for. Drop the extra money to have it done beautifully and professionally.
Now that you’ve made it through this post, I sincerely believe you’re ready for anything that comes at you.
You now have the knowledge, which will be transferred into the power to realize the kitchen splash of your dreams! Good luck!