DIY Tile Backsplash – How To

P1020191graphic“This is an easy project!” they said, “Retile your backsplash!” they said.

They lied. If anyone with no experience tells you that this is “easy” they are flat-out lying to you. No, seriously. The first day I did the project was easy, but because I needed to cut tiles and have never done such a thing in my life like that, it only got harder.

One thing that did make my life a hell of a lot easier was using SimpleMat. I had found the product at Home Depot, and asked an employee about it. He told me it was awesome, people love using it all those kinds of good things. EASY. I like easy. Easy for someone who has never done something like this is so important.

When I reached out to Custom Building Products, they were totally on board to support my retiling mission, supplying me with all the necessary goodies (SimpleMat, ProFusion Grout and a grout float, as well as an instructional conference call) to ensure I understood how to use the product. However, the instructions in the box are very detailed and I had actually started tiling before we talked. I’m a go-getter, what can I say?

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. 

Here’s what the ugly tile *used* to look like. #TBT

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Ick. Now you can see why it had to go.

So a little history on this house — this kitchen used to be half its size — just where my parents have a table, a baker’s rack and where my new “EAT” sign hangs. The previous owners put this part of the kitchen on as an addition in the early 90’s and they honestly must’ve used the cheapest possible contractor and supplies for literally everything. I discovered that not two of the cabinets were the same size, some pieces had other pieces of cabinet spliced together, one piece actually had brackets for a drawer where the cabinet meets the SINK, yeah. Also, the floor is totally not even around the walls or the door openings or anything and so of course, the tile was CEMENTED to the wall.

No, not mortared. CEMENTED. Like actual, sidewalk cement. I wish I were lying. 

I called my Aunt Karen (the tile expert) in a panic when I couldn’t get the original tile off the walls. She advised me to break a piece, so I could get to the others and pop them off. That worked, but then in spots, I had this:

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A giant hole where the tile used to be.

Good times, huh? All of that ended up needing to be patched, which takes a considerable amount of time to dry, then must be sanded … I didn’t have a lot of time. I got it done, but I’m not going to lie, there are parts of the wall that weren’t totally flat, and I don’t recommend trying to tile over that. Get it flat. Sand until you can’t feel a single bump anywhere, because the new backsplash looks great, but it could look way better, and that’s no one’s fault but my own.

So once that was done, the fun began. Time to make the magic happen with a DIY tile backsplash!

DIY Tile Backsplash

SimpleMat is so stupidly easy to use, a little kid could do this if you were convinced they could put the tiles on straight. I’m not kidding. I don’t recommend you let your small child contribute to your retiling project, but hey, comment vous souhaitez. (Do it how you wish!)

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1.Wipe down the walls to remove any dust/debris.

2. Cut the pieces to fit your wall and around any outlets, etc.

3. Pull off the backing and press to the wall.

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4. Use a clean grout float to press the mat into the wall and remove any air bubbles.

5. When you’re ready to tile, peel off front protective sheet and expose the glue.

6. Stick on the tiles. Press them down with a clean grout flout.

7. That’s literally it. No, I’m not even kidding.

8. Grout when you’re ready, which adheres best with SimpleMat if done in the first 24 hours.

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I ended up adding one more full row of tiles behind the stove here, even though the rest of the counter only needed half tiles. HOW GOOD DOES THAT LOOK?!

I realized that I was so focused on getting this done that I didn’t take a lot of in between pictures, (sorry!) but it’s so straight forward, I promise.

That’s actually the beauty of this product, is that you don’t have to wait for mortar to dry for days and days, all you have to do is grout and you’re done. I was short on time as it was, so this product was literally my lifesaver for finishing in time.

I grouted behind the stove immediately, because I had enlisted my bestie, Sinnet, to come help me put the microwave back up that afternoon (that ugly blank space with the weird bracket). That was a much more difficult project than anticipated (it weighs like 50-60 pounds, at least) and it was so easy to take down, we figured it’d be a breeze to put back up. I still owe her dinner for that. Thanks, Sinnet!

Now, here’s the next tricky part and please, if you’re a contractor or an expert, feel free to weigh in. Cutting tiles is the world’s largest pain in the you-know-what! No, really. I held up tiles to where I thought they needed to be, marked them and went on my way to Best Tile, where I was able to borrow their wet saw and cut my tiles. The wet saw was the easy part, it’s marking the tiles that’s hard.

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Some tips? Mark your tile on BOTH sides, use pencil if possible, because it won’t wash off like my PERMANENT MARKER did, and measure more than once.

So long story short, the first trip to cut was mostly a disaster, I think only three of the 20-something pieces I had to cut fit where there were supposed to. On my second trip, I labeled where each piece needed to go when I came home with them, because this is also like the worst possible puzzle you’ve ever tried to put together. That was better, but then I was left with four pieces that still needed another recut — they were all pieces that went around outlets — and those are REALLY hard to judge. In fact, I ended up having to put longer screws in two of the outlet plates to sit on top of the tile. Bizarre.

Then, I broke a piece and needed to recut that, plus, one other piece didn’t fit, so I went back with two pieces.

And then finally, I thought I had it together. The piece that fit behind the window moulding around the light switch fit perfectly … and it cracked.

On my fifth and FINAL trip, I cut two pieces like it because Best Tile was closed for the holiday weekend and if I broke those, I was SOL.

It fit and now I have an extra light switch piece. Whatever.

Grouting with ProFusion (I used Cape Gray), which is meant for SimpleMat is also a super easy process. It’s basically like normal grout, except that instead of letting everything dry, you immediately wipe the excess off the tile.

  1. Wipe tile with damp rag.
  2. Use grout float to scrape a generous portion out of tub.
  3. Working in small sections, apply to tile in horizontal and vertical motion, dragging it and using the edge of the float to push grout into joints.
  4. Wipe tile diagonally to remove large amounts of excess grout.
  5. Immediately wipe tile with damp rag to remove additional grout and using excess on rag to smooth joints and push further in.
  6. That’s it.
  7. No seriously. You’re done.

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I can’t say enough about how easy these products are to use. SimpleMat and the ProFusion grout saved me so much time, and now, after a little more than a week, everything has cured so well. If I didn’t know I had done it, I would think a pro did it.

Like I said, there are little quirks — pieces of tile that aren’t perfectly straight, grout joints that are a little wider than others — but the more I look at other tiling — pros don’t always get it totally perfect either. It will be better next time and because the counter needs to be replaced, I may have retile the bottom row anyway.

Tips and recommendations from my experience:

  • Buy tile spacers for the pieces you cut if your tile is lugged, or self-spacing, like mine was. Cutting the tiles shorter or skinnier to fit, removed the lugs, making it hard to get the grout joints even, something I would definitely invest in next time.
  • If you can get a pro to cut for you, measure a few times and have them do it instead to save time.
  • Try to save the tiles that were cut around outlets from the last time to use as templates for new cuts. Obviously, I had to crack half my tiles to get them down, so that wasn’t an option.
  • Using a mosaic or mesh-backed tile would’ve definitely saved me time and aggravation, but I wouldn’t trade it for the classic subway tile look.
  • The cut pieces that are at the bottom of backsplash should be at the top and “fade” into the cabinets. I learned this after I had already started grouting behind the stove and it was too late to move everything. You live and you learn. They don’t bother me, and my parents didn’t even notice until I pointed them out. I did some Pinterest searching and found a lot of people have cut tiles just above the counter, because there are always appliances and things covering them.

Would I do the project again?
YES. Especially knowing what I know now, and I would still use SimpleMat and ProFusion Grout to complete it. If you’ve got your tiles precut, or have access to a tile cutter/wet saw at home, this project could easily be completed in an afternoon!

 

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