LESLIE: So, backsplashes are the panels above sinks and stoves that protect your walls from splashes and food. They’ve been around as long as kitchens but in the last decade have seen a leap in unique patterns and designs.
TOM: Well, among the most popular looks are tile backsplashes, which add sophistication at a fraction of the cost of most major design upgrades. This Old House general contractor Tom Silva is here with tips for adding a tile backsplash to your space.
TOM SILVA: Nice to be here, guys.
TOM: So let’s start by talking about some of the practical considerations for deciding whether a tile backsplash is for you. What do we need to think about?
TOM SILVA: Well, you’re going to think about is that tile backsplash going to blend in with your feature of your kitchen or is it going to be an accent piece? And you also want to think about the type of tiles that you’re going to be using. There’s different types, like ceramic, porcelain or even natural stones. And then you’ve got to think about, “Well, I’ve got to clean this. This is going to be behind my stove.” It’s going to get dirty.
TOM: Yeah, that’s got to be one of the greasiest places in the house.
TOM SILVA: Yeah.
TOM: So, cleanability has to be a major consideration.
TOM SILVA: Cleanability. That’s a good word. I like that, Tom. Cleanability.
So, a natural stone, for example, or even a brick or anything like that, it’s porous.
TOMSILVA: It’s very hard to clean. So that’s when you want to start thinking about ceramic or porcelain that you can wipe clean easily.
TOM: Now, when it comes to getting those tiles up on the wall, you’ve got to choose the right kind of adhesive. There’s many different types of adhesive today. What’s your preference?
TOM SILVA: Well, you know, there’s mastics, there’s thinset, there’s epoxy with thinset that basically set up pretty quick. I’ve got to say I’ve done a couple of backsplashes recently and I’ve actually tried that mat. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s like a two-faced tape.
TOM: It’s like contact paper with adhesive on both sides almost, yeah.
TOM SILVA: Yeah. Stick it to the wall, then you peel it off. Then you stick your tile to it.
TOM SILVA: It works pretty nice. I did find out that I don’t want to go pressing my tiles on it too hard until I’m sure that I’m lined up. Little tough to get them off right away.
TOM: Yeah, absolutely. And the other advantage there is that you don’t have to wait for the adhesive to dry. You can grout right away.
TOM SILVA: Grout the same day. That’s nice.
TOM: The stick-on mats are a great option.
Now, when it comes to grouting, there are different types of grout. And cleanability, again, plays in here.
TOM SILVA: Mm-hmm. Yeah. There are different types of grout. There’s sanded and unsanded. Now, it depends on the size of the joint that you need to fill. So, obviously, if you have a larger joint between the tile, you’re probably going to want to use a sanded grout because the sand is like a filler. If you have a fine line and you really want to get that grout in it, use an unsanded grout.
TOM: Now, what about the cement-based or the epoxy grouts? Are they suitable for a kitchen?
TOM SILVA: They are suitable. In some ways, the epoxy grouts are – basically, they will set up a little quicker, they will seal a little better. And that’s really what you need, in some cases, because you want that grout sealed.
TOM: And they seem to be less porous.
TOM SILVA: Yeah, they are less porous.
TOM: Yeah. And that makes it easier to care for. Now, if you’re using one of the sanded or unsanded grouts, what’s your feeling about grout sealing? Is that important?
TOM SILVA: Well, if it’s on a backsplash and it’s an area behind the stove or something that has to be cleaned, then you may want to seal it. But it’s tricky; you’ve got to seal just the grout. You don’t want to get that sealer on the tile.
TOM: It doesn’t wipe off very easily?
TOM SILVA: Doesn’t wipe off easy at all.
TOM: We’re talking to Tom Silva, the general contractor on TV’s This Old House, about adding a tile backsplash to your house.
Let’s talk about cutting tiles. I think that’s a part of the project that would intimidate a lot of homeowners. What are some of the best ways and easiest ways to cut tile?
TOM SILVA: I think the easiest way to cut tile is usually with a wet saw. The diamond blade, you’ve got to keep putting water on it, you can just cut your tile. But there are a lot of areas, a lot of times, that you don’t need a wet saw. You can use a simple, snap tile cutter where you score the tile and you push down or pick up on the handle and it pops the tile right away.
TOM: OK. Now those wet saws, they’re pretty inexpensive these days, aren’t they? You could probably buy one just for your project.
TOM SILVA: You can get them for under 200 bucks.
TOM: And then, finally, when you get down to the nitty gritty, you’ve got to just take a little bit off, you could use a nipper. It’s kind of like a plier?
TOM SILVA: Yep. The nippers are great but you’ve got to go a little bit at a time. Because you will split the tile if you don’t do it right.
TOM: That’s why they call it a “nipper.”
TOM SILVA: That’s why they call it a “nipper.” I wondered why they called it – all these years, I never knew that.
TOM: Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House. Thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
TOM SILVA: Always nice to be here, guys.
LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.