How to Install a Glass Tile Backsplash
Beautiful glass tile makes a memorable backsplash.
Measure from top of counter to bottom of cabinet and plan your tile layout (Image 1). Incorporate any accent tiles that you have planned for the design.
Mark the center point of the wall and, with a level, draw a horizontal line across the wall from end to end. Also measure up from the finished countertop to the bottom lip of the upper cabinets to determine the number of tile rows needed. Make sure to include 1/8” grout lines in your measurements.
If you are keeping a countertop with a pre-built backsplash (common with laminate countertops like in this project), use the top of that backsplash as the base line for your first row of tiles.
Determine whether you will need to cut tiles at either end of the wall or for the row abutting the upper cabinets.
Mix the thin-set mortar according to manufacturer’s directions. Add mortar to water a little at a time while stirring; when ready it should be the consistency of creamy peanut butter.
Wait about 10 minutes after the mortar is mixed to let it set.
Apply thin-set to the wall with a 3/16-inch notched trowel to ensure proper depth. Apply thin-set in smooth, even strokes.
Cover about a 2-square-foot area at a time. Keep a sponge and water handy for cleaning as you go. Thin-set will stay workable for about 45 minutes but don’t apply too much at a time.
A word of caution about glass tiles behind cook stoves: Some glass tiles have a much higher rate of expansion and contraction than do ceramic tiles. Ask the tile retailer (or manufacturer) for a movement joint schedule to help determine if you need to set grout lines slightly wider behind a hot stove. Also, some adhesives and sealants may react with the back coatings of some glass tiles, so make sure the manufacturer supplies you with a list of compatible adhesives and sealants.
Starting with your bottom row of tiles, apply tiles to the thin-set. Press and wiggle each tile to set into the mortar, keeping each flat, plumb and level.
Use 1/8-inch spacers to keep a consistent space between tiles as you go. You can pull out the spacers when the mortar starts to dry.
Add accent tiles or liner bars where you designed them.
Keep an eye on vertical and horizontal lines and use the level to keep you honest.
You can cut glass tiles to size using a manually operated Rubi cutter. Set the tile stop to the correct width, put the cutting blade down and score the tile with one smooth motion. Pull down the handle to snap the tile into two pieces. You may need to practice on several tiles to perfect the smooth motion that minimizes unwanted mistakes.
If the cut end tiles are to be exposed, polish the cut edges with a grinding stone to give the tiles a more finished look.
If you’ve got a lot of cutting to do or several difficult compound cuts like fitting tiles around electrical outlets, it’s best to use a wet saw to cut the tiles. Though it can cost $40 to $50 a day to rent, a wet saw can make the job of cutting tiles go very smoothly.
To avoid scratching the glass tiles, grout with unsanded grout.
After the mortar sets and the tiles have been cleaned of any excess mortar, mix up the unsanded grout to the consistency recommended by the manufacturer’s directions.
Apply the grout with a float, gliding over the tiles at a 45-degree angle . Don’t apply too much pressure or you might sink the tiles into the thin-set or push them out of plumb.
Back off from your work now and again to check that no tiles have moved and everything is in order.
By the time you get to the end of one wall, the first section of tiles should be dry enough to wet sponge. Wipe the grouted tiles clean with a wet sponge, applied at a 45-degree angle, being careful to keep from indenting the grout lines.
When the grout is dry, polish the haze off the tiles with a soft cloth.