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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tiling Over Tile: Subway Tile Backsplash

tiling over tile

This weekend, I finally got around to tiling the kitchen backsplash. I tiled right over the existing tile, which was a beige stone-look porcelain. Even before I grouted you could already see the difference: 

The cream-painted cabinets and backsplash have muted the pinky undertones of the granite in a way that the old beige cabinets and backsplash didn't. Win!

Before                                                                                             After
The method I chose to use when I tiled over tile is unconventional, so I want to talk about that.

As I mentioned before, my DIY of this kitchen is a temporary fix. We plan to gut renovate this kitchen at some point, perhaps taking down the wall behind the sink and range. However, we live in a co-op apartment in New York City, so renovations of this scale will require engineer's reports and architect renderings and a whole approval process, all of which will take time. In the meantime, there are quick fixes that will make this kitchen not only "livable" but beautiful. Tiling this backsplash, however temporary, is one of them. Quick and inexpensive. But could it also be easy?

I found inspiration in this YouTube video by Terry Fahy:

Terry's method, while unconventional - evidenced by some of the the harsh reprimands from professional tilers in his YouTube comments - is, as he says in his video, goof-proof. What I like about his method are: 1. It is neat and tidy and 2. allows for foolproof tile alignment and 3. allows me to tile around the cuts and save them for another day.

You see, my plan is to save all of my cuts for a single afternoon, when I will rent a professional tile saw and take care of them all in a few hours - making most economic use of the tool rental time. Afterwards, I will pick up my tile installation where I left off with no messy mastic to scrape away.

Because instead of mastic, I am using silicone adhesive. Yes, you heard right.

Why not silicone? No one blinks an eye when they hear you are adhering ceiling tins or beadboard, or what have you to a backsplash using adhesive. Why not tile?

There is very little risk, in my opinion, to using adhesive on a kitchen backsplash if the surface you are tiling over is sound. Sure, I might think twice about using the method in a bathroom - unless I was completely certain that the preceding tile job was water-tight. But a kitchen backsplash, especially MY kitchen backsplash, is unlikely to encounter a whole lot of water. Ross and I are both neat cooks and clean up artists.

So, how does one go about tiling with silicone adhesive? Like this:

The little plastic Xs are spacers. I have to give Terry Fahy credit for using them on the back as well. It's pretty ingenious. By applying spacers to the adhesive, you keep the surface of the tiles level. That is, you can't push one in more deeply than another.


I didn't have to break out the leveler once during this job. And as you can see, my tiles are uniformly placed in the traditional brickwork pattern. They line up quite nicely:

After making my cuts and finishing up the tiling, it was time to grout.

I chose a color called "linen" that closely matches the color of the "almond" subway tile.

So, how did it go?

It had been a long time since my last tile project, so I'll share what I'd do differently and maybe it will help you.

The two challenges in my opinion are stirring the grout to the right consistency (some say peanut buttery) and getting the stuff into the grooves without a lot of drying grout to clean up.

Next time I will spring for the more expensive pre-mixed grout and I'll apply the grout between tiles using a pastry bag, the kind that cake decorators use. This will really cut down on cleanup afterwards. It will also waste far less grout if that is a consideration.

My project took a few days. One day to adhere the full size tiles, another to make my cuts and adhere the trimmed tiles, and an additional hour a few days later to grout after I was sure the adhesive had dried.

All in all, I am very pleased with the outcome. For little expense and not a lot of time, I was able to achieve my objective: The cream cabinets and subway tile backsplash have successfully muted the pinkness of the granite. It's still not a stone that I would have chosen myself, but I can really begin to appreciate its beauty.