Modern kitchens may feature a combination of sleek, metallic finishes and traditional cottage styling, but there’s one thing that can bring these two very different styles together — glass tile. With finishes ranging from reflective and bold to semi-translucent and soft, it’s no wonder that homeowners from every walk of life consider adding glass tile backsplashes to their kitchen remodels. This isn’t necessarily a job that requires a pro, though. Glass tiles may look like a million bucks, but installing a small backsplash is a great project for the do-it-yourselfer.
Glass Tile is Great for DIY
Traditional tile backsplashes may have bested you in the past, what with all the precision cutting and unforgiving adhesives required to bond the much heavier stone or ceramic tiles to the wall. Glass tiles are the polar opposite of traditional tile — and that’s why they’re setting the DIY world on fire! Instead of being heavy and hard to cut, glass tiles are laid out on a mesh backer that helps to bond these lightweight lovelies to an easy to use adhesive on the wall. The mess is minimal and the project will make your kitchen look like a whole new place in just a few hours.
There are three main parts to any tiling project: surface preparation, tile application, and grout and seal. We’ll walk you through all three so you’ll be more than ready when it’s time for your tile project.
Surface Preparation is Key
You’ve probably been told time and again that surface prep is the most important part of any project; for the most part, this is true. If the wall behind your future backsplash is damaged, irregular, or otherwise weird, you’ll never get the look and durability you’re after. Get your wall ready for glass tile by following these steps:
1. Remove any old backsplashes already in place. With the exception of a very flat sheet of formica that’s the exact size of your future backsplash, you’ll need to take down whatever’s there now. Don’t forget to remove outlet covers and appliances that may be in the way.
2. Carefully sand or scrape any texture off. Take your time knocking down wall textures to create a truly smooth surface. While you’re at it, fill in any holes you may come across so your tiles will have more surface area of which to adhere.
3. Apply a moisture barrier. Unlike with traditional tile that needs thick sheets of cement board to prevent buckling, glass tiles only ask that you protect the surface beneath them. Many of the bonding agents require 24 hours or more for a permanent set — that can be enough to soften drywall and plaster and undermine your project. A plastic moisture barrier stapled tightly to the studs is a great low-profile way to keep your drywall from melting into nothing.
Tile Application Made Simple
Once you’ve got your surface ready, the tiling part of the process will feel pretty underwhelming — after all, you’re likely to blaze through it in half the time it took to get ready to tile. Try to hold on to your disappointment at such fast work, though, as you follow these quick steps:
1. Apply an adhesive. You’ve got several options for adhesives, but most people opt for a fast-setting mastic or lightweight thin set mortar. Mastic is more like glue than thin set mortar, making it easier to handle straight out of the bucket. Apply the adhesive of your choice with a notched trowel, using only enough to set one or two sheets of tile at a time. The warmer your kitchen is, the faster this stuff will dry, so adjust accordingly.
2. Here comes the tile! There’s a little more to applying glass tiles to a wall than just sticking them up there, but it’s only just a little. Align the bottom of your sheet with the bottom of the future backsplash area, being careful to square it as well as you can (this is sometimes pretty tricky in older homes). Tap each of the tiles into the adhesive with a block of wood and rubber mallet to set them tightly, then move on to the next sheet.
3. Clean up the glue. Although you should only be applying the adhesive you need, sometimes a little too much ends up on the wall, and then gets on the tile. Wipe it off quickly and gently so as not to disturb the tiles you’ve already set — adhesive can be impossible to remove if you let it set up on the tile’s surface, so don’t skip this step.
Applying the Final Touches
Once you’ve given your tiles a day or two to setup, you can apply your grout just like you would for any tile project. If you’ve never grouted, it’s an amazingly simple way to make a project really pop. Just apply some grout to your tile’s surface, push it into the areas between the tiles with a rubber float, and repeat until your spaces are fully grouted.
On a big project, you’ll want to clean your grout up with a just damp sponge as it starts to look hazy on the surface of the tiles (don’t stress about this, grouting is a messy process). Some tile installers will make a second pass with the grout to ensure that it’s all packed nice and tight in the seams; grout has a bad tendency to shrink as it dries, requiring a re-grout if you were stingy the first time around.
Once you’re satisfied with your grout job and you’ve got it all cleaned up, there’s nothing to do but sit back and admire your new backsplash. About a week after your final grout application, you’ll want to apply a grout sealant to keep your tile looking new and your grout easy to clean for years to come.