A few weeks ago, I showed up at the shelter kitchen we revealed earlier this week to make sure the mosaic tile backsplash was getting installed by a skilled volunteer, but unfortunately the tile guy never showed up. We never got an explanation as to why he didn’t show, he just didn’t. With an inspection looming, Warren (our partner at COTS) and I looked at each other and decided we would just get ‘er done ourselves that day.
Installing a tile backsplash is not difficult, and it involves following just a few steps from prepping the wall to applying the thin set adhesive, cutting and setting the tiles, and then grouting and sealing. The more challenging part is tiling around a window with mesh tile so that the grid stays perfectly aligned. At first glance you’d think it all lines up easily (basic math right?) but we learned that’s not the case – here’s how we got it just right.
First, I’ll apologize for the quality of some of these in progress photos! I had no idea on this day I’d be tiling when I showed up to the house so I didn’t bring my good camera. Many are shot with a cell phone in bad light, but hopefully they will be illustrative. The project took two days, with me working one side of the kitchen, Warren working on the other, and then we paired up to tackle the feature wall together.
There are plenty of detailed tutorials online for installing a simple glass mosaic tile backsplash, including this one from This Old House, but I’ll do a quick review. What you’ll need: paper or drop cloth to protect countertop, tile, thin set mortar, V notch trowel, tile saw, grout, grouting sponge, level, acrylic caulk.
First, prep your walls so they’re smooth and ready for tile and double check you have enough tile to complete the project. (It’s good to have 10% more than your square footage for horizontal or mesh installation, more like 15-20% extra with diagonal installation due to all the cuts.)
Make sure your outlets are extended to accommodate for the thickness of the tile so the plate will be flush with the new backsplash.
Choose a bottom corner to start (unless you’re doing a unique feature behind the range, then use that as your starting center point). Cut your first grid of mesh mosaic tile with a tile saw to get a clean edge so you can start in corner of wall. If you are using square tiles, obviously this isn’t necessary since you already have a clean edge.
Apply a layer of thinset mortar and notch it with the V edge, then layer the tile on top.
Double check your mesh pieces as you work down the row, making sure they stay level.
Working across a spans of wall with no countertop support, it’s best to install a temporary support so the tile doesn’t slip while the thin set dries. We used a scrap piece of wood screwed into the wall studs for the space behind the range for support which was later removed once the thin set mortar dried.
For tiling around the window, we found instead of starting in the corner of the wall, it was better to start in the bottom corner of the window. We cut the edge of the first piece then lined up the first row of mesh tile directly underneath.
We worked up the left side of the window, making the first round of cuts and checking each row as we went up with the level. Next we established a row across the top of the window to guarantee a straight even pattern above the window.
We found it’s important to establish a straight and even pattern above the window first before making the second round of cuts on the right side of the window.
Here’s a diagram of the order we followed during the installation. Note, if you do step 3 before step 2 you could run into problems getting the pattern to match up above resulting in an awkward seam.
Allow at least 24 hours for the thin set mortar to set, then mix up nonsanded grout and apply it with a grout float. Wipe it down with a large grout sponge. Once it’s dry, apply acrylic caulk to the bottom or corners of your backsplash where necessary.
Ta-dah! A perfect seamless installation of glass mosaic tile around a window!
I’m a huge fan of this design element we’re seeing more and more in modern kitchens, with backsplash tile carried all the way up to the ceiling. I was inspired by some of these favorite looks:
Are you a fan of this “tile to the ceiling” look too?
Do you have any tips to share when installing backsplash kitchen tile?