Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Updating a Backsplash Using Tile

This past weekend we added a tile backsplash to our basement bar.  The project came about when I casually asked my husband if he thought our tumbled Travertine tiles (a previous garage sale buy) were the right size to fit in our basement bar's narrow backsplash area.  Ever the good sport, he brought a few tiles out of storage so we could see.  We determined that they would fit perfectly, began discussing options and, before we knew it, were midway through another project.  Yes, it was a bit impulsive.  However, we already own tiling supplies, did not have any major plans for Saturday (aside from watching some Olympics action on T.V.), and the kids were off with friends.  So, we were able to dig right in.

We made just two trips to the home improvement store - for grout, a wider outlet cover, and 12" x 1" crown molding tile.  By Sunday afternoon, we had a beautiful backsplash and an updated bar area.    

Keep reading to see how we did it.

But, First, A Few Notes on Tiling Supplies:
How much Tile?
As I mentioned, we already had tile when we began this backsplash project, it was left over from the two boxes of 3" x 3" tumbled travertine tiles and one sheet of 1" x 3" travertine mosaic tiles at a garage sale earlier this year.  After completing a planter box cover project, we still had 1 1/2 boxes remaining.  So, the only tiles we needed to purchase for our project were three pieces of 12" x 1" travertine molding - used as a finishing touch.
To determine how much tile you will need for your specific project, measure the length and width of the area you want to cover.  Multiply length times width to determine square footage.  Most boxes of tile will specify how many square feet one box will cover.  Be sure to purchase ten to fifteen percent more tile than you need to account for those broken or damaged in transit or during the install process.

Adhesive Tile Setting Mat or Thin Set Mortar?
I've read many, many reviews of tile setting mat products - both good and bad.  A tile setting mat, while more expensive than traditional mortar, is a great choice for small, DIY projects.  It's mess-free to install and allows you to tile and grout immediately (no set up time).

This was our second time using the adhesive tile setting mat.  We've had great results and have never experienced the sagging, peeling and detaching tiles mentioned in negative product reviews.  Based on my research and personal experiences, I offer up the following suggestions to anyone choosing to use adhesive tile setting mats:
  • Properly clean the wall and backsplash surfaces before use.  
  • If you are applying to a wooden surface, or a surface previously painted using with high gloss paint, sand the surface before cleaning.
  • Remove any air bubbles after applying the mat and press the mat firmly with the grout float to adhere it to the surface before you remove the plastic covering.
  • Make sure the backs of the tile are clean and free of dust before applying to the mat.  
  • If using mosaic segments cut from a larger sheet of mosaic tile, be sure to trim the webbing material as close to the tile as possible. And, press the tiles in firmly with the grout float to adhere.
  • Grout within 24 hours of install.
As with any project, consider your specific tile application, do your research, and trust your gut.  If you have ANY doubts, go with the tried and true (though messier) thin set mortar.  As for me, I will absolutely continue to use an adhesive tile setting mat for small tiling jobs.

How to Tile a Backsplash

  • Tile of your choice 
  • Adhesive tile setting mat or thin set mortar
  • Measuring Tape
  • Scissors
  • Level(s)
  • Tile Spacers
  • Premixed tile grout or grout mixture
  • Grout float
  • Trowel (optional)
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Latex or rubber gloves
  • Tile Cutter or Tile Saw
  • Tile Nipper
  • Hacksaw and vice (for thick trim tile)
  • Painters tape and paper/drop cloth/plastic bags - to protect surfaces while grouting
  • Tile sealer
Some of the supplies needed for the job
General How To:
Design and Place Tile
  • Lay out the tiles, or dry fit the tiles, using tile spacers, to verify spacing and quantity of tiles needed.
    Note: This step is very important!  Pay attention to corners, electrical outlets, phone jacks, etc.
Work out design and placement challenges before attaching tile! 
  • Measure, cut and apply the tile setting mat according to manufacturer's directions.
Be sure the surface is clean and dust-free before adhering adhesive mat.
  • Place tiles on the adhesive.
    Note:  Place all the full-sized tiles first.  Then, measure, cut and place the partial tiles.
    Note:  We doubled up tile spacers along the bottom of the tiles, where they met the counter top. 
The first, whole tile placed flush to the backsplash edge.
Tile spacers ensure grout lines are consistent.
  • Measure and cut partial tiles as needed.
    Note:  We used a tile cutter, tile nippers and a hacksaw for various cuts on this project.
    Note:  This is the step at which you will appreciate purchasing extra tiles!
Tile cutter is great for straight cuts on wall tiles.
  • Place partial tiles to complete design.
    Note:  We pressed firmly on all tiles after double-checking the look.  The goal is firm adhesion to the tile setting mat.
Tiles are placed and ready for grout.
Result:  Design and tile placement done.  Or is it?
This is the point at which I thought we were stopping.  And I was happy with the design - straightforward, clean, single run of tile.  Of course, then my husband presented me with the single, 12" x 12" sheet of travertine mosaic.  I forgot we had that.  Hmm...
Travertine mosaic?  Yes, please!
This changed everything.  We still had a few sheets of tile setting mat left, which meant we could add mosaic tile to the backsplash.  We played around with the placement and decided that a triple run of mosaic would meet up with the wall just above the bar counter.  Hmm...
Playing around with placement to add to the design.
The mosaic looked so good, we thought we'd add two more rows of square tiles.  This would bring the tile just to the floating shelf.  Hmm...

Note:  Because the tile now goes around a light switch and outlet, we trimmed tile with tile nippers.  Take a look at Tiletools.com for tips on when and how to best use tile nippers.

Tile nippers are good for 'nipping' small pieces off a tile.
Fifteen to twenty minutes of nipping later, we had the tile nicely placed around the outlet and light switch.  Now, how to finish things off?  We opted to add a single run of mosaic, followed by a run of 12" x 1" crown molding.  This brought the tile to just under the intercom speaker.
Note:  We cut two pieces of the12" x 1" crown  molding tile - one for each side of the floating shelf.  The crown molding tile was too thick for the tile cutter, so we held it steady in a table vice and used a hacksaw.  It was the perfect solution for the cut.
A table vice holds tile in place while cutting with hacksaw.
Result:  Tile design and placement done.  Phew.
Except it still was not quite done.  Upon review, the tile seemed a bit awkward around the floating shelf.  We had not intended to move the shelf, but now, we realized it had to happen.
Still not quite right.
So, we moved the floating shelf up approximately six inches, making room for a solid run of both the mosaic and finishing molding.  If we're going this far, we may as well do a complete job.  What a great decision.  It looked much better!
Final backsplash placement.
Result:  Now the tile design and placement is complete.  Bring on the grout!

Grout Tile

  • Protect the area using paper, drop cloth, etc.

Prep area before applying grout.

  • Inspect all joints to make sure they are clean and free of debris.
  • Prepare grout.
    Note:  We used premixed grout, rather than powdered grout, for this small project.  To learn more about choosing a grout, applying grout, and caring for grout, check out the great information on How To Do Things
  • Apply grout with a grout float and, if needed, a trowel.  Work grout completely into the joints.
    Note:  Use the edge of the grout float to gently scrape grout off the tile faces as you go, being careful to not gouge the joints.

Wear plastic gloves - grouting can get messy. 

  • Allow grout to set up, or cure.  Refer to manufacturer's recommendations.  
  • Dampen a sponge in clean water and gently wipe tile surface in a circular motion to clean.
    Note:  Rinse the sponge and change water often.   We changed water three times for this project.   

A large sponge with rounded edges works best when grouting.
  • Gently run the sponge along all grout lines to shape the lines as desired.
    Note:  Most pros shape the grout lines just a scant amount below the tile surface, while leaving the tile edges still covered.
  • Allow the grout to cure completely.
  • Use a dry, soft cloth to buff the tile surface and remove any residual haze.
    Note:  After a couple of days, we'll seal the grout lines to protect it from spills, stains, etc. 
Grouting complete!
  • Reattach the electrical outlet plates/switch covers, adjusting the outlet and/or switch forward as necessary.
    Note:  We purchased a slightly larger switch cover to cover up grout lines.  Luckily, switch covers are very inexpensive.
    Note:  We also rehung our floating shelf at this point.
    Result:  You're done!  Stand back and behold the beautifully completed backsplash!

Project backsplash complete!
Nice transformation.
We love our new backsplash!  This project proved to be low cost and high impact - just our style.  

An Added Bonus:
When we added the final design alteration in the basement, we were left with odd pieces of the 12" x 1" molding tile.  This was not wasted.  We used it to embellish our kitchen backsplash, which features the same tumbled Travertine tiles.  Take a look below:
Kitchen backsplash before...
And, after.
I have a feeling that we'll be tiling again soon.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we've already discussed the possibility of adding larger tiles to the lower wall behind the bar, creating a chair rail and continuing the backsplash design along the length of the wall.  

Hmm...you better stay tuned.

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