Natural stone isn’t just for your kitchen countertops — it also makes for a stunning and really durable backsplash. The unsung hero of your kitchen, it’s these rows of tile lining the wall behind your countertop and stove that protects your walls from all sorts of stains, spills and mold-causing moisture that can wreak havoc on your space. Plus, this is a project that, with a little elbow grease, you can DIY in a weekend, and we just so happen to have a whole bunch of useful tips you’ll need to have the prettiest backsplash in the neighborhood. Let’s get started!
Do I really need a backsplash?
First things first, why have a backsplash? It may come as no surprise that your countertops are where most of the messes occur in your house. Food, liquid, and cleaners are constantly all over this space, bringing with them a whole bunch of sticky, sloppy, soapy and wet substances. While it’s (usually) not hard to clean these things off of a countertop, if the walls behind your countertop are just painted sheetrock, you’re likely in for some trouble.
Over time, kitchen spills, cleaners, and the moisture and humidity that can come with cooking and humidity can seep into the walls behind and below the countertop (particularly if the small gap between the countertop and the wall hasn’t been caulked) and stove and cause damage — and even mold. Having a tile backsplash creates an impervious barrier that protects your walls from all this damage. Plus, the smooth surface of the tiles are much easier to clean than drywall— all it takes is a soft sponge and some soap and water and you’ll be good to go.
So, why stone?
Although many homeowners like ceramic tiles for their backsplash because of their strength and stain-resistance, natural stone can be a great option as well. However, you’ll likely want to stick to granite or sandstone because both are highly resistant to staining and etching. That’s not to say other stones can’t be used, they’ll just need to be sealed more frequently and special attention will need to be paid to any stains made by acidic foods or red wine. Stones like marble can stain and etch if exposed to an acid for too long, which can sometimes be difficult to fix.
Tips and Tricks for the DIY-er
Although it’s certainly a job you can call in the professionals for, many homeowners have enjoyed tiling their own backsplash instead. Most of the big home improvement chains have demonstrations or classes you can take to learn how to tile, but there are also tons of great step-by-step tutorials online as well. Instead of reproducing the DIY here, we’ve instead listed out our top tips for making sure your natural stone backsplash comes out picture-perfect.
1. Plan, plan plan:
Laying out your tiles beforehand is essential, especially if you’re doing a pattern or using multiple colors of tile. This will prevent you from spending too much time looking for the right piece once you’ve got the adhesive on the wall, as it can dry out quickly.
Another important step to take before you even start tiling is to turn off power to any outlets along the wall being tiled and remove any appliances in the area as well. We’re not just talking about the countertop coffee maker here: if you’re tiling behind the stove, unplug it and move it to a different area of the kitchen or in another room. It’ll be much too difficult and stressful to tile around it — trust us.
2. Clean thoroughly and turn off the power
It’s important to give the walls a good rubdown before you start working, as any grease, soap, or other substance that may have gotten on them can prevent the adhesive from sticking to the wall and to the tile.
3. Invest in a laser level
Measuring accurately and ensuring that your tiles are being set in straight lines is essential. Laser levels take out all the guesswork and often stick to the wall, making the job hands-free. Plus, you’ll find tons of uses for it even after the tile work is done: won’t it be nice to never hang a crooked picture again?
4. Work small
Don’t try to tackle a huge section at once. Work in one section at a time, about 2’ worth of space. Otherwise, you’ll be spread too thin and will be more prone to making measurement errors and cause crooked lines.
Will also prevent you from mixing too much mortar or adhesive at once. these materials can dry out if left too long
5. Measure twice, cut once
This old saying is really true: you need to take your time and make your cuts accurately and carefully. That being said, you’ll also want to make sure you have extra tile on hand. Even the most seasoned experts chip and break tiles during cutting and installation simply because the material itself is fragile. Having extra tiles will prevent you from having to run to the store mid-DIY, and you can usually return any tiles you don’t use. However, we suggest keeping any extras in a box in the basement, as tiles can break over time and it’s good to have a replacement on hand rather than risk the store or stone supplier not having the right match later on.
6. Pre-seal natural stone tile before you grout
Sealing is just a fact of life when you choose to have natural stone in your home. Pre-sealing is an added layer of protection that will help prevent future stains, and it’ll also help prevent potential staining from the grout as well.
7. You might need more adhesive and grout than you think
There are lots of free calculators online that can help you figure out exactly how much grout and adhesive you’ll need to buy — like this one here. Always err on the side of having too much rather than not enough: again, it’s all about being prepared and preventing those unnecessary trips back to the store when you’re in the middle of the project, which will just make you frustrated and frazzled. Plus, you can always return any unused, unopened sealant or grout, so do yourself a favor and go for more.
8. Seal and caulk around edges and gaps
This is one of the last steps in the DIY and it’s arguably one of the most important. Caulking between the countertop and the backsplash as well as any other gaps will help prevent moisture damage where you can’t see it — behind the cabinets — which is where it’ll do the most damage. Your backsplash isn’t going to do any good if water, food, and other substances can slip into small cracks behind the countertop, so be extra sure not to miss this step!
Adding a tile backsplash to your kitchen is a beautiful and functional enhancement that will protect your walls from all sorts of spills, messes and water damage. Looking for some tile inspiration? Check out some of what we’ve got in stock right here.