Give your kitchen a fresh look with a tile backsplash. Lowe’s has lots of tile to choose from, including mosaics on mesh backing, which makes the installation easier. Quick tip: a tile backsplash in your kitchen can go right over drywall since kitchens are not considered wet areas, like a shower. Begin with a little prep: turn off the power, and remove the outlet covers. Tape off the outlets, cabinets, and countertops. Move your appliances and attach a temporary ledger board where the backsplash ends. You may have to tuck the outlets into the boxes. Your walls should be clean—a quick wipe-down with TSP and water is a good idea. And glossy surfaces will need to be sanded or deglossed. Also, check that the wall is relatively flat. Apply joint compound to any dents, dips, or ripples deeper than 1/16-inch. Let it dry, sand smooth, and prime. When the prep’s complete, plan your layout. Tile backsplashes need a 1/8-inch expansion gap around the perimeter, and some patterns look best when centered, either in the work area or behind a focal point, like the stove or faucet.
Find your center and mark a vertical line. Using this reference line as a starting point, dry lay the tiles along the wall and check the ends. If the cut tiles will be too thin, you can adjust the layout to get wider pieces at the sides. Check the vertical layout too. Cut tiles are best hidden under cabinets, but you might also have to cut a little off the bottom row if your countertop isn’t level. Here’s how you know how much to cut off. Use a level to find the lowest point on the counter. Hold a tile at this spot–accounting for 1/8-inch expansion at the bottom–and mark the top. Now use a level to extend this line along the work area. This line will be your guide when cutting tile to fit along the counter.
To see where the tile will end up at the top of the installation, make a jury stick. Mark a straight board using the tiles and spacers in the vertical layout. Hold it up to the wall to check. If you’ll have tiny slivers of tile at the top, move the layout down a little bit, and adjust your reference line. When your layout looks good, you’re ready to install. Mix thinset following the directions. It should be similar to the consistency of peanut butter. White thinset is best for glass tile since it might show through. Spread a little bit on the wall and don’t cover your reference lines. Comb over the mortar with a notched trowel. Grab the first piece of tile and press it onto the wall with a little twist.
Gently press against it with a rubber float. If you need to make a cut to the second piece, mark the tile, and cut it with a wet-saw–mesh-side up. Be careful with the sharp edges. Use nippers for small cuts. Apply the next piece the same way, and use spacers if needed. Keep installing the tiles working in small sections and make sure to check level frequently. Remember to leave 1/8-inch gap at the countertop. Let the thinset dry for 24 hours. Another installation option is to use adhesive mats instead of thinset. Just press, peel, and stick. Then it’s on to the grout. Mix the grout according to the directions, usually a cake batter-like consistency. Using a rubber float, apply it diagonally across the tiles, pressing it into the joints. After ten minutes, wipe away the excess with a wet sponge. Be careful not to wipe the grout from the joints. A haze might form, but it will come off with a haze remover.
Before following up with a grout sealer, allow the grout to dry according to your specific sealer’s instructions. Remove the masking, and fill the expansion gaps with caulk or silicone sealant. And add box extenders to outlets and switches. And the installation is finished. A little bit of tile can add a lot of style.
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