How to Plan and Prep For a Tile Backsplash Project
Choose materials based on whether you are tiling a new wall, a prepared surface or directly onto old tiles.
Planning a Tile Project
The type and size of tile you choose will affect your overall design and how you work. You can use larger tiles to cover an area more quickly, but you may find it more difficult to lay large tiles on uneven surfaces. In such cases, small tiles may be easier to use and be more forgiving. Consider whether to tile the whole room, just up to a border or a specific area, like a backsplash. Because of the grid pattern formed by tiles, you need to spend time finding the best starting point in order to achieve a balanced overall effect and avoid thin slivers of tile.
Tiles are usually applied in a regular grid pattern, but you can use other designs — for example, staggered or diamond patterns or a combination of the two. For complicated designs, drawing a scale diagram will help you to plan your approach.
The majority of ceramic tiles are square, and the most common design is to apply them in a grid pattern. However, tiles can be laid in a brickbond pattern or in more elaborate designs. Beware of using complicated arrangements in small spaces, since the effect can be overpowering.
Choosing the Right Tiles
Size, shape and color are as important as the material from which the tile is made. The standard square sizes are 12" x 12", 8" x 8" and 4" x 4". When possible, buy tiles of one color with the same batch number. Shuffle tiles of the same color from different boxes, so that any slight color variation will not show once the tiles are applied to the surface.
Types of Tiles
Most tiles are ceramic — they are made of clay, have a glazed, smooth surface that is easy to clean, and are very durable. Glazes are generally colored to provide decorative options. Some glazed tiles are prone to surface cracking, which may affect their waterproofing properties, making them unsuitable for constantly wet areas such as showers. Nonceramic tiles are made of materials such as marble or slate, and rather than relying on glaze, their natural texture provides the finish.
These are usually glazed and are available in many sizes, colors, and thicknesses. Ceramic tiles are also easy to cut to shape. Some manufacturers produce ceramic tiles that look like natural tiles (see top left), but are often cheaper than the real thing.
Limestone (image 1), slate (image 2) and marble (image 3) are common types of natural stone tile. Marble tiles are normally larger than standard-sized ceramic tiles and are usually applied allowing for small grout joints to give a continuous marble effect. Natural stone is porous, so in areas where water is used, such as a bathroom or kitchen, natural stone tiles have to be treated with a waterproof sealant after application. Suppliers can provide appropriate sealants for the job.
These tiles add a decorative detail to the main pattern of a larger design. They are usually small and square, but come in many shapes.
Small ceramic or glass tiles are supplied in sheets on a net backing to control the space between tiles and to make them easier to apply. Some have a protective sheet of paper; it has to be soaked off after the tiling adhesive has dried. Sheets can be cut with scissors to size.
These are normally supplied in a sheet and are applied to the surface with a tile adhesive. Never use plastic tiles in areas that will receive direct heat, such as close to an oven or stovetop.
Tiles made of glass (image 1), stainless steel (image 2) and some other materials can be considerably more expensive than ceramic tiles. Check that the material of your choice is suitable for the job. For instance, heat from an oven can crack some types of glass tiles.
Border Tiles, Tile Edges and Corner Trims
In addition to square tiles, you can buy border tiles to decorate the edges of the tiled area and trims to finish and protect the edges of the tiles. Both are available in a wide variety of finishes and designs. Quadrant tiles are a further option, creating a decorative edge where tiles meet a bathtub, sink or countertop. They give a more finished look than regular tiles cut to fit a narrow space. Remember to include trims and border or quadrant tiles when estimating quantities.
Narrow border tiles provide a decorative band that runs through a design or along its top edge. Apply adhesive directly to thin border tiles. If the tile widths do not match exactly the width of the main tiles, use spacers cut down into T-shapes or apply cross-shaped spaces perpendicular to the wall, and remove before grouting. Apply full tiles first, leaving cuts until last.
Tile Edging and Corner Trims
Regular, straight-edged tiles are straightforward to apply, whereas you may have to adapt your technique for those with irregular edges. Trims are usually plastic and applied along external corners. Where the design stops in the middle of a wall surface, they can be used to provide a neat finish and cover unsightly cut edges. Tile edges are often unglazed, and trims may be used to protect the edges of tiles.