My Super Low Budget Kitchen Backsplash Makeover

For the last 3 years, I’ve dreamt about installing backsplash in our 1920s Craftsman kitchen.

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Kitchen, before backsplash

I, personally, have never loved the look of paint in lieu of backsplash, and I especially wasn’t fond of the orange sherbet hue that came with the house. For years, I imagined how I would install tile backsplash, but there was always something more important to do (nursery, office, light fixtures, etc).

But finally — FINALLY — I decided it was time to bite the bullet and install some much-needed backsplash. I looked at design books, scoured Houzz and Pinterest, and ordered samples. I got all kinds of samples: marble, glass, ceramic tiles of different colors and patterns… and ultimately fell in love with plain white ceramic subway tile. Classic. Also, CHEAP!

I went to a discount tile store and picked up two boxes of tile (I had only about 13 sq ft to cover), one bag of pale grey grout, and a bucket of tile adhesive.

Grand total: $51.44

I was overjoyed! Motivated! Ready to install backsplash via YouTube video tutorials!

Then I got pregnant and, almost 6 months later, had made zero progress on my backsplash project. The tub of tile adhesive and boxes of tile lived in the corner of the pantry, where my toddler enjoyed using them as a drum set.

Thankfully, I have a very handy dad, and he felt bad for me in my increasingly pregnant, consistently backsplash-less state. So one day last week he came over with his wet/dry tabletop saw, trowel, float, and a bunch of other tools, and got to work. I’ll go into more details about what he actually did, but first, check out the AFTER picture:

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Total Cost: $51.44, and 2 days of work

More before/after pictures:

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No more scrubbing grease off of painted walls — the tile is way easier to clean.
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Even I was amazed by how much brighter the kitchen looks with the new backsplash.

Installation Tips

This project took my dad 2 full days to complete. There wasn’t a lot of backsplash to install, but the project required a LOT of cuts. Definitely budget in 10-15% extra square footage of tile to accommodate all the cuts and potential mess-ups.

Honestly, I didn’t do much to help, as I wasn’t really in a good position to do manual labor, but I learned a lot just from watching my dad’s process. He basically followed the steps covered in this tutorial, with a few exceptions:

  • He did not use a deglosser to clean the painted walls, just soap and water. He also did not sand down the surface, except in a few spots where it was a bit bumpy.
  • He did not seal the grout or apply caulk in the expansion gaps — this wasn’t an intentional omission, we just didn’t have the materials on hand, and he said we can apply the sealer and caulk later. (I didn’t have caulk in the right color to match the grout, and he refused to use white caulk with grey grout. My dad is a man of principle.)
  • He did not add box extenders to the outlets and switches — this is a step I regret skipping! It took us an hour and a half to get the covers back on, and the tile and grout cracked behind one of them as a result of the cover not being level with the new surface. So definitely don’t skip this step in your project!
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Midway through the project: It’s important to do one small section at a time

 

Some tips I learned from my dad:

  • The thing about applying grout diagonally (at a 45 degree angle) is really important! If you do it straight up and down, or side by side, you will disturb the grout too much and mess up the grout lines.
  • Have coins on hand to use in a pinch as spacers in tight places. Nickels are especially handy.
  • Don’t freak out if the grout looks too dark when you apply it. It lightens as it dries.
  • Work in SMALL sections! If you have never done tile work before, start with a comically small section (like 2-3 tiles), just to get the hang of it first. Tile adhesive dries fast, and time is not on your side!
  • Make sure to seal off the area (we used cardboard and blue tape) behind any appliances you need to move away from the wall before you apply grout. If grout falls on the ground behind the appliance, it’s a real PITA to remove.

 

I feel like this post is kind of a cheat since I didn’t do any of the hard work myself, but I couldn’t resist sharing in case anyone out there is on the fence about installing backsplash. My vote: DO IT.

But… maybe ask a partner or friend to help you, as it’s pretty labor intensive (it’s definitely not the breeze that certain HGTV shows make it out to be). If I had to do it alone, it would have cost more than $51.44, since I’d have to buy or rent the tools, and it probably would have taken me an extra day. And it almost certainly would not have turned out as nicely as my dad’s work. But I am confident that I could have done it, and, looking at the results today, it would have been one of the BEST home improvement projects ever in terms of visual impact.

Next up, I’m going to wallpaper over the remaining orange sherbet walls in my kitchen (hopefully before I get too far into my third trimester). Wish me luck!

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