Splish, Splash, Tips for a New Backsplash

April 30, 2018

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You’ve been watching HGTV again and you’ve been inspired to do something about that dated backsplash in your kitchen. It’s not exactly a small job, but certainly one an adventurous first time homeowner can do with just a few tools. Installing a backsplash is a pretty straightforward process, with a few caveats. Just make sure you’re really ready before you put mastic to wall.

Choosing Backsplash Materials

Anything you can glue to the wall can be used as a backsplash. How effective it will be, on the other hand, is a point you really need to consider. Sure, that wine cork backsplash you saw on Pinterest is cool, but how well will you be able to clean it the first time you splatter spaghetti sauce on it? Remember that backsplashes are exposed to tough conditions, including:

High heat.
* Steam.
* Water.
* Food splatter.

Even though you may love the idea of making your kitchen backsplash out of old newspapers, ask yourself how you’re going to address these issues. If, for example, you somehow transfer the images from a newspaper onto a piece of tempered glass, you might be on to something. On the other hand, just taping newspaper to the wall is going to result in a very short-lived mess.

What the backsplash is made of is almost the most important question there is to answer. Many homeowners choose tile because it’s easy to install, universal and, hey, it’s what’s in the bathroom so you know it’s great with moisture. Before you rush out the door to buy supplies, consider the pros and cons of the materials you’ve been imagining as you cook dinner every night.

Prepping the Space

Changing out the backsplash in the kitchen isn’t the hardest job out there, but it can be an incredibly gross one, especially if the old backsplash was tile. You’ll want to move all the appliances out of the way (don’t just dodge around them, people get hurt this way), don’t forget to take the range hood down for access behind it. At the store, you’ll want to pick up some heavy drop cloths, either thick plastic or the reusable canvas ones. Also nab a respirator for each person who will be helping. You really don’t want to breath in the dust you’re about to generate.

Turn the power to the kitchen off, and with a heavy metal putty knife or small claw hammer, lift the first tile off the wall. Just shimmy under it and give it a twist of the wrist. Also have a bucket or something nearby to toss the tile into. Repeat this until all the tiles are gone. You’ll also need to have a plan for leveling the wall afterward — it should look nearly new, in a perfect world.

Depending on what was used to attach the tiles, you may be able to just knock the ridges down with your putty knife and sand the rest out or you might be able to go over the top of old, existing mastic with new mastic and tiles. Ask your home improvement store for specific help on this because the combinations and solutions are nearly limitless.

If you’re dealing with a formica backsplash (the same material as many countertops and a common backsplash choice for homes built and remodeled in the 1970s and 80s), you’ll need a heat gun to melt the glue, but you can essentially just peel it off as the glue is heated. The same applies to any other glued-on materials, short of wallpaper. Don’t heat that with a heat gun unless you like kitchen fires.

Is it Prepped Yet?

You’ll know your kitchen wall is ready for action when there’s no sign of anything behind the new material, including bumps, discoloration and the like. For glass tiles, for example, this might mean you’ll need to go over the drywall with a thin coat of white mastic for consistency, false tin tiles might look better after you’ve completely stripped any evidence of old backsplashes down to the drywall.

If you neglect this very important step your backsplash will look awful. It might even fall off. So prep like crazy. If you spend half the time on your project doing prep work, you still might be better off prepping a little more. Ultimately, the quality of the project is primarily determined by the quality of your preparation.

Tips for Doing a Great Install

The worst feeling in the world is reaching the end of a project only to realize that it looks nothing like you had imagined. Pinterest (and pre-Pinterest) fails are common in home improvement projects, but you can avoid the worst of them with a little pre-planning. Consider these tips before you go back in with your new material.

Ensure your backsplash actually fits. Laugh all you want, but sometimes people are drawn to particular materials or tiles and can’t be swayed otherwise. Measure your space and then measure it again. Not all materials are easy to cut down, keep that in mind as you make the final decisions.

Consider grout color choices as a part of the process. If you’re going with tile, grout is not an afterthought. Grout colors can completely change the way a tile backsplash looks in the space. If you use black grout with a white subway tile, it’s going to pop like mad, but that might not work in a kitchen that’s otherwise pretty calm. The reverse is also a problem, a white grout with those white tiles is going to make a kitchen with a lot of energy feel sterile and lifeless.

Plan your cuts ahead of time. This applies to any material you can cut. When you’re making cuts, you’re changing the pattern just so much and sometimes that little bit matters a lot. For example, if you’re using a piece of heavy acrylic that has fish silk screened onto it, you don’t want to lob a head off or cut a fish in half. Consider where you’re going to place each piece of material, where it’ll be cut and how it’ll all fit together at the end and your backsplash will steal the show.

Number your pieces. Use an oil pencil (or a Sharpie works if you’re using tiles) and label each piece on the back, in order of application. It can get very confusing when you’re in the middle of an install, there are a lot of things to keep on the brain. Labeling everything and drawing out even a crude diagram to show yourself where they go will make your job so much easier.

Remember, it’s not a race. No matter what type of backsplash you’re installing, slow and steady is the way to go. Going too fast ultimately means sloppy work. You don’t have the experience of a pro, you can’t expect to have the speed. Just put one tile, panel, or chunk of glass in front of the other as you move across the kitchen.

You Could Dream Big and Have a Pro Bring it to Life

One of the most important skills any homeowner can develop is realizing when they’re in too deep or when it just makes sense to hire a pro over DIYing a project. Often, you’ll end up saving a lot of time and frustration by using someone who has already been there and done that hundreds or thousands of times.

If you decide your backsplash project is a bit too much for your experience level, your HomeKeepr community has your back. Your Realtor can recommend home pros with the right skillset to totally nail that fantasy kitchen look.