DIY Quick and Easy Backsplash
By Mark and Theresa Clement
Make a Splash
It may not seem so, but a great backsplash can be the difference between a kitchen and a KITCHEN! Whether you’re remodeling the heart of the home from the ground up or looking for an affordable upgrade, look to the backsplash as an important design element.
And as you look, it’s important to think through all the things a backsplash is and does—from how it matches the color scheme to how it gets on the wall. The reason we point this out so specifically is that a backsplash, for some reason, is a deceptively simple looking project. Perhaps it’s because there’s just not that much ground to cover as compared to, say, tiling a bathroom.
But don’t get faked out. While a backsplash is a very doable project, realize that this job takes your kitchen out of commission for the duration, and once you start, the clock is driven in large part by drying times. Also, you have to do about 75 percent of the work hunched over your counter with your arms out in front of you. It might not seem like a big deal at first, but talk to me after three hours of doing it…
Dry times—notably for thinset and grout—are big clock killers. Even if you use quick-dry thinset, you spend time mixing up (then cleaning up) small batches. We knew going in that having a little boy who rarely sleeps all night gave us a limited installation schedule and we would be crunched for time. To that end, we spent extra time in the planning stages to make sure we moved through the project as quickly as possible while still getting high-quality results.
Make sure the substrate (the wall) is clean and in good repair. Wipe it down, especially behind the stove, with a grease-cutting detergent like Simple Green to break up any grease or oils that may be present. If the drywall or plaster is damaged, repair it.
Remove switch plates from electrical devices and store in a safe place where all the little screws won’t get lost, ideally in another room. Apply tape over the devices to protect them. (Yes, you will probably have to plug in the radio in another room—sorry.)
Install “box extensions” that are the same thickness as your tile. These extensions are rubber gaskets that screw into the box and enable you to safely let your plugs and switches out to the new level of the tile. And, because they create a positive stop around the device, they make grouting later a lot easier than not using them.
Apply the Adhesive
This is where we found our biggest saver of time, money and frustration. Instead of traditional thinset mortar we used a product called Bondera TileMatSet to adhere our tiles to the wall—truly making this a weekend project, where in the past a project of our size was more like a three-dayer. Vastly oversimplifying the science behind how Bondera works, it is a double-sided, waterproof tape. Adhere one side to the wall, then stick tile to the other. It’s light, easy to use, and there’s no mixing, mess or dry time as there is when tiling with traditional thinset mortar. This means you can grout the same day, and you’re not scouring off mortar that squeezed through your tile joints.
To apply the adhesive mat, strike a plumb line and apply strips of Bondera the same width as your electrical devices above and beneath. The adhesive mat can be cut with scissors, but we like cutting with a utility knife and using a framing square as a straight-edge.
Next, fill in the wall surface (or “field”) with strips of Bondera between the vertical strips.
Press the Bondera tightly to the wall using a 6-in. drywall knife. We call this process burnishing. This ensures a solid connection between the adhesive and the substrate.
Peeling away the outer liner is simple. If you’re worried about the hassle of getting it started (similar to losing the end on a roll of Scotch tape), Bondera provides a tab you can use to separate the film.