How to Install a Stone-Tile Backsplash
Installing a stone-tile backsplash requires basic to intermediate-level skills, and because the project is limited to a small area, the difficulty and cost is also low for a medium-sized kitchen.
This project involves laying ceramic tile over a laminate countertop, around a top-mounted kitchen sink and on both sides of a cooking range.
The first step in any remodeling project of this scale is to plan your layout carefully. Sketching the dimensions and the existing layout of the countertop will help you determine what tile patterns will work best for your situation. Computer programs are also available that provide 3-D images to give you a good idea of what your countertop will look like.
Remove the stove from the kitchen by taking out the bottom drawer and placing the feet on top of a blanket so you will not scratch the floor. Move it out of the kitchen entirely (if possible).
To remove the kitchen sink, turn off all the water supply lines.
Bleed the faucet lines. Unscrew the sink lines from the supply lines (Image 1) and then remove the drain line from the garbage disposal.
Unscrew the garbage disposal flange (Image 2) and unscrew the drain from the sink.
Remove the sink fasteners holding the sink in place, and then just lift the sink out.
Cut away the caulk line along the back of the laminate backsplash.
Use a reciprocating saw to cut the existing laminate backsplash off the countertop (Image 3). The key is not to leave any edge sticking up.
Remove any outlet covers.
To prep the countertop to receive the tile, round corners need to be squared off and the countertop surface has to be sanded to provide a better surface for the tile adhesive.
To square off the corners of the round-cornered laminate countertop, mark a line 3-1/4” in from edge. Clamp the level down to use as a cutting guide (Image 1).
Cut off the end of the counter with a circular saw (Image 2).
To build up a square end to set tile on, you may need to screw a piece of trim (cut to the thickness of the counter) onto the trimmed counter edge (Image 3).
Check for good stability on the countertops. Anywhere the countertop
moves or gives way – like the thin lip in front of the sink -- install a brace or support piece and secure it in place (Image 4).
Countertop laminates are typically made from nonporous materials. In order to make thin-set adhere to that surface, make the laminate more porous by using an electric sander to sand its surface. Use a palm sander or an orbital sander with a 50-grit paper to rough up – without gouging -- the existing laminate countertop (Image 5). This creates more texture on the surface and promotes a better bond for the thin-set adhesive.
Tile around the sink area first. Lay out a few tiles without adhesive. Determine your starting point by starting at the edge of the counter, leaving room for the edge tiles, and placing tiles back toward the backsplash until you end with the last whole tile close to the backsplash. Mark that point.
Draw a line representing the row of whole tiles closest to the backsplash. Draw perpendicular lines representing the rows of tiles (Image 1). Do the same thing from the sink side of the countertop. Where those two points intersect is where angle cuts are needed. You will be transferring these angled lines to the tiles.
Lay whole tiles out along the marks. An easy way to mark the tiles is to use a straightedge to line up with your mark on the countertop and strike a line across the tiles (Image 2).
Use a wet saw to cut along the marks (Image 3). Once your tile layout for a corner has been determined, precut those tiles and then check your cuts to see if they match your layout. If not, there is still plenty of time to get it right.
Use a latex modified thin-set adhesive for this type of application. With the trowel, lay out a thin scratch coat along the counter (Image 4), being careful to keep the lines visible for now.
Begin setting the tiles at the left side of the intersecting (Image 5) line.
With the tiles set to the left of the line you are now able to marry the tiles to the right of the angle (Image 6).
Using spacers in the grout joints of a tile layout helps ensure consistency throughout the entire job.
Set the whole tiles and make necessary cuts as needed. Work your way to the opposite corner to the right of the sink.
The rest of the counter should consist mostly of whole tiles. When you have a straight area to cover, you can spread out the thin-set over the entire area at once. Use the comb edge of the trowel to create grooves in the mortar that run in the same direction (Image 7).
Lay the rest of the tiles. It is important to set the tile into position and slide it into place by gently pushing it in the opposite direction than the notches are running. Repeat the process by adding spacers in the corners and between the tiles along the sides. This will ensure consistency in the width of the grout joints.
Due to the rounded (half-bullnose) edges of the countertop, place 1/8” x 2” shims underneath the tiles along the perimeter of the countertop (Image 8). This will allow for a slightly thicker layer of adhesive to be laid under the counter edge tile.
When you install the edge tiles (Image 9) be sure and fill all voids between the tile and the laminate with mortar. The shims keep the edges from moving once you set them in place. Once the thin-set cures, the edge pieces will not be going anywhere.
Now that you have finished the critical corners around the sink, it’s time to finish setting the rest of the tiles. It is easier to set the tile when you get to the other corners because you have a 90-degree turn. You may have a few special cuts to do, like the small notch (Image 1) in the corner tile.
You may have to adjust the height or placement of appliances to avoid difficult tiling, or, even worse, moving cabinets. For instance in this project, bringing the tiles up to the edge of the stove area (Image 2) meant not having to wrap the edge tiles around the corner of the stove area. Instead the stove is raised slightly so the tile dead ends into it. This way the stove still fits into the hole in which it fits, and no cabinets have to be moved.
The counter between the stove and the refrigerator in this kitchen is treated as its own entity. Center the tiles on the countertop keeping the front tiles the same size as the rest of the counter. Place the shim supports and mortar and set the edge tiles.
The jagged-edged tile chosen for the backsplash in this kitchen is the same color as the tile for the counter. Its jagged edges, however, separate it from the surface tile and make for a nice border along the wall.
Use a level and a long straightedge to locate the lowest point on the back of the counter. Mark the wall at a height of two tiles from the lowest spot on the counter. Then use a straightedge and level to extend a reference line at that height all the way across the area where you'll be installing the tile (Image 1). Since you will be spanning the space for the stove, this line will provide you with a guide to spread the mortar on and to set the tiles.
Dry-fit a run of tiles to determine where the backsplash should naturally end.
It is a good idea to place kraft paper on the countertop before you begin to prevent mortar from going everywhere. Normally, you could just wipe it up, but since the countertop has not cured yet, covering the counters is the best solution.
Mortar should be applied with the grooves going in the same direction as the tiles (Image 2), that is, horizontally.
The tile for the backsplash in this kitchen comes in 12" x 12" sheets. Above the full sheets use as many tiles as you can to fill the area. Cut the tiles to fit the last row underneath the wall cabinets (Image 3), which is the most inconspicuous place.
When you reach the outlets, turn off the power to the circuit and remove the switch plate and outlet covers. Remove the receptacles and switches from the outlet itself. This will enable you to cut the tiles to size so the outlet can rest on top of the tiles (Image 4).
You may have to use longer screws when attaching them back to the box (Image 5). The cover plates will go on fine.
Along the whole wall, you may need to cut rows of tiles off the sheets and set them in place. For instance, underneath a window, the tiles can be stair-stepped around the trim to fit the space as needed.
Grout the backsplash first. Mix up the grout according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Fill the joints with grout using a hard rubber float. Pack the joints and then remove the excess grout by going back over the tiles at a 45-degree angle (Image 1).
Pack the grout along the top of the jagged tiles with the end of a trowel and then come back across the top packing it in and smoothing it out.
Once you have grouted the backsplash, grout the countertops. Remove the spacers that are lying flat between the corners of the tiles. A utility knife works great for removing spacers.
When everything is grouted, dress the joints by pushing the grout around the tiles in a circular motion using a damp sponge (Image 2). Wipe across the tiles in a diagonal line to keep from pulling the grout out of the joints. Keep rinsing the sponge and wiping diagonally across the tile with clean water.
To reinstall the sink, use the necessary fasteners to ensure a snug fit. Hook up the water lines. Connect the sink drain (Image 3), and reinstall the garbage disposal and drain for the disposal. Turn the water back on.
Put caulk around the sink where the sink meets the new tile. Place the stove back in place.