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How We Installed Our Subway Tile Backsplash

Guys. It has finally happened. We have a backsplash! Yeah, a backsplash! Who knew a little tile and grout could excite me so much? Let’s face it, nothing completes a kitchen like a backsplash. It brings the kitchen together, adds visual interest and makes everything so much easier to clean!

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

Installing a backsplash has been on my “honey do list” for quite some time… four years to be exact! There just never seemed to be a right time to do it. But with the cabinets refaced and new countertops in, the blank walls were screaming for an upgrade! “J” and I tossed around the idea of installing tumbled travertine, hexagon marble or a glass mosaic, but unanimously decided on classic white subway tile. You can’t go wrong with the classics, am I right!? Little did I know selecting the tile was the easy part, convincing “J” to go with a dark grey grout was the hard part!

After all was said and done, the process of installing the backsplash was quite simple… and it turned out beautifully! Here’s how we installed our subway backsplash.

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to Install a Subway Tile Backsplash:

1. Measure the Area // Knowing how many boxes of tiles and how much mastic and grout you’ll need before starting is key! You don’t want to be running back to Home Depot to grab another box of tiles in the middle of your project! Measure the area and calculate how many square feet you are covering. Adding 20% to what you need will allow you to account for things like broken tiles or cuts that cannot be used.

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

2. Gather Your Supplies & Tools // Before you begin confirm you have everything you need to complete the project. We made sure we had a wet saw, a RotoZip with ceramic bit, 4 boxes of subway tiles, dropcloth, 1/8th inch spaces, mastic, grout, adhesive trowel, a grout float, cheesecloth, grout sealer and caulk.

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

3. Clean & Prep // Ensure the area you’re tiling is free from clutter; remove all large & small items from your countertops before you begin. Protect your countertops by covering them with brown paper or by using a dropcloth. Using a damp cloth, give the walls a quick wipe to remove any dust, grease or debris. We had quite a bit of scrubbing to do, especially in the areas where we prepped food. If you are removing electrical outlets turn the power off before removing the cover plate and pulling the outlets out of the box. Before you start to apply the mastic, you’ll want to find and mark the centre of your wall. Finding the centre is important because you’ll want the tiles to look even.

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

4. Apply the Mastic & Tiles // Using a trowel scoop the mastic out of the tub. You’ll want to use mastic adhesive rather than mortar as it grips the tiles better when applied on vertical surfaces. Spread the adhesive on the wall at a 45-degree angle using the notched side of the trowel. Work in sections that are 2-3 tile rows deep; you don’t want the mastic to dry before you adhere the tiles (although if the mastic does dry simply scrape it off and reapply). Align the first tile with the centerline and adhere it to the wall by firmly pressing the tile with your hands. If you are using spacers, place them between each tile as you go. These spacers can be kind-of a pain… so just bear with them! As you approach corners, walls, the ceiling or outlets you may need to cut the tiles to fit using a wet saw. Once you have the entire backsplash complete leave it to dry for 24 hours before proceeding to grout.

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

5. Mix & Apply the Grout // There are several types of grout on the market including pre-mixed and ready-to-mix. They come in several different tints & colours ranging from dark to light. For this project “J” and I used PolyBlend ready-to-mix non-sanded grout in Winter Grey. If there is one tip we can offer when it comes to using the grout it’s not to listen to the directions on the box. You’ll see it instructs you to mix the entire contents of the box. Yeah, don’t do that. Try mixing the grout in batches; add a small amount of powder to a bucket and slowly add the water, mixing as you go. You’ll want to look for a consistency that is similar to peanut butter. Apply the grout with a float working diagonally. In long swift movements remove as much excess grout from the surface of the tiles as you can. Let the grout set for 20-25 minutes. Using a damp sponge wipe the tiles diagonally. Always ensure the sponge is clean, rinsing frequently in a bucket of cool water. The tiles may appear cloudy, but don’t you fret, you’ll take care of that in step 6. Let the grout dry for 2 hours.

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

6. Clean & Seal // After the grout has dried for 2 hours wipe the cloudiness away using a dry cheesecloth; the tiles should be restored to their original glossiness! Let the grout fully cure for 7 days before applying a grout sealer and caulking the space between the tile and the countertop. We found it helpful to tape the wall and countertop with some painter’s tape before we caulked, it made for a straighter and more even line.

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

How to DIY a Subway Tile Backsplash

Unofficial step #7 in this process is to celebrate!! I think “J” and I high-fived 10 times once everything was complete! Even though this project had its tedious moments (if I never see a tile spacer again I will be happy), thanks to Home Depot Canada it was an easy DIY that I would recommend to anyone who is looking to upgrade their kitchen! You’d be surprised to find how a little tile and grout can excite you!


If you liked this post you might also like these other kitchen posts:

Disclosure: This post was in partnership with Home Depot Canada. As always, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own. Reveal photos by Christine Kufske of Click Photography.

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  • Reply Jordana @WhiteCabana December 22, 2016 at 12:05 am

    Fabulous transformation!

  • Reply Freddy B. March 31, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    since you had more than one wall, You found the center of both walls and started spreading from the center?

    • Reply Britt Stager April 7, 2017 at 1:48 am

      Hi Freddy! We actually had three walls to tile. For the one with the window, we found the center of the window and then worked our way out from there. For the small wall behind the stove, we found the center and worked our way out from there. On the third wall with the fridge, we actually started in the corner behind the stove. We wanted the tiles to be symmetrical to the opposite wall, so we worked from behind the stove over to the fridge. You can see some additional photos of the kitchen in this post here: http://bit.ly/2p7y2mY
      Hope this answers your question! ????

  • Reply Lee April 27, 2017 at 3:56 am

    Looks great with the grey grout. We have just completed the same thing but with white grout. Love subway tiles, just not that fun when your wall are bowed.

  • Reply Trina Taylor December 12, 2018 at 5:16 am

    Hello, beautiful job! We are picking our grout color and I am interested in winter gray. Are you still happy with your choice? It isn’t too dark or too light? We have white cabinets and white quartz counters with fine gray veining, and I think using dark grout will add some interest/contrast. I’m just worried about it being “too much”. Is there a second option you considered? Maybe #542 Graystone? Thanks!

    • Reply Britt Stager December 12, 2018 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Trina, thanks so much for your kind words! We’ve been living with this grout colour for 2 years now, and I still love it! I’ll admit, it ended up being a bit dark than I thought it would (comparing it to the sample on the box), but since I was the one that wanted something darker (my husband wanted something lighter) I think it worked out!

      Your choice of Graystone is definitely lighter than Winter Gray, but with white cabinets and white quartz, I think it will add the pop of contrast you are looking for! Delorean Gray and Cape Gray might also be options to consider. Just be careful not to get something that has too much of a brown or taupe undertone if your quartz has gray veining.

      That said, my #1 tip when choosing grout is to make sure you get a swatch card for the grout colour(s) and prop it up on your countertop with a piece of tile and look at it in every light before deciding. You’d be surprised how much a colour can change when you look at it in-store, on screen, in your kitchen in the middle of the day, and in your kitchen at night with ceiling or under cabinet lighting!

      Best of luck! ?

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