DIY Kitchen Tile Installation Tips and Tricks

by on April 29, 2014RealEstate.com Guest Contributor

When we purchased our first home last summer, I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty with a few projects. And by that I mean renovating the entire house. I managed to complete all of it DIY-style and on a budget!

Allow me to back up a bit: We bought a fixer-upper with the intention that we’d live in it for a couple of years, fix it up, and use it as a source of rental income in the future. We updated with durable materials that we would love to live with but that would also hold up against rental wear and tear.

Kitchen before subway tile additionMy favorite room in the house is now the kitchen. I say “now” because this is what it looked like before the renovation:

Fortunately, I’ve been planning my dream (DIY budget) kitchen for some time, so I was able to look past the dingy appliances and unattractive yellow walls to see the diamond buried underneath all of that rough. And after we knocked down some walls, the feature I anticipated the most was installing my own marble subway tile backsplash.

Of course, I had never actually done this before, but by equipping myself with the proper tools and plenty of research, I felt confident enough to try. There’s no reason why you can’t install your own kitchen backsplash, too!

Here are a few of the challenges I encountered along the way and some tips to help you navigate them like a pro.

Some of the trickiest things to deal with are exposed edges, corners, and cutting tiles to fit around cabinets and under the microwave. Here’s my “after” shot of my microwave wall that incorporates each of these issues.

Kitchen after renovation - subway tile backsplash, granite countertops, new cabinet hardwareWith a long wall like this one with one exposed edge and one edge that merges with a cabinet, start tiling from the left and work your way across so that your tile cuts disappear into the cabinet wall.

Since I decided to go with a traditional brick layout for my subway tiles, the staggered design requires some cuts on the exposed edge: By cutting whole tiles directly in half, you can get two tiles with one cut and ensure they are lined up precisely as you work your way across the wall.

A closeup picture of newly-installed subway kitchen tileAbove is a shot of the opposite corner to illustrate these tiling tips in one compact picture.

  • First, check out the three half-tiles on the exposed edge. The opposite side of this wall has the same corner design, so all I needed to cut were three tiles total to get the six half-tiles I needed to frame out each side.
  • Next, notice how the corner has the tiles that are super skinny. By hiding these cuts in the corner, you can make sure that your exposed edges are featured and precise while your less obvious corner tiles look like they bend into the back wall.
  • Finally, notice how the L-shaped tile that looks like it belongs in a game of Tetris is wrapping around the edge of the cabinet. These are the same types of cuts you’ll need to make if your microwave is installed under cabinets (like mine).

You’ll also notice that there is space between the cabinet and the skinny tiles underneath, as well as in the corner. These spaces are not grouted because they will be caulked instead to avoid cracks when the house settles and shifts.

Closeup of subway tile remodel taping

Before adding the caulk, apply painter’s tape around all of the edges of your backsplash. This will create smooth, professional looking caulk lines and keep you from having to remove any caulk from your freshly grouted and sealed tiles. I taped off all of the tiles as well as the countertop and the cabinet wall.

Although you can use caulk that matches your grout, we selected a clear caulk that blended in with our white tiles and cabinet, our quartz countertop, and the silver-gray grout better than gray caulk would have.

Simply apply the caulk, smooth it down, and remove the tape.

These are the same two processes you’ll need to perform if you are tiling beneath an under-cabinet mounted microwave: Cut the tiles to wrap around the cabinet edges and leave space between the microwave and the tiles to apply caulk rather than grout.

Finished subway title kitchen backsplashIn the above photo, you can see the Tetris L-shaped tile off to the right (there’s an identical, yet reverse tile on the left side) and a small bit of space between the tiles and the base of the microwave in the back.

Tip: Purchase a microwave with a curved door to conceal any larger grout line spaces between the tile and microwave. The modern design of the door also draws the eye away from the tile and back to the microwave itself.

Perfect microwave for subway tile kitchen backsplash renovationBy planning everything out before you begin, you’ll have a more enjoyable tiling experience and more professional looking results. And even though it’s DIY on a budget, you can step back and enjoy the view of your newly enhanced kitchen along with your property’s increased value!

In addition to my rounded microwave door tip, what other ways can you use your appliances to enhance your DIY efforts? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

This guest blog post was written by Rheney Williams, who writes about her DIY home craft projects for Home Depot. She recently remodeled the kitchen in her Charleston, S.C., home, adding new tiling, cabinets, and appliances, including a fridge, electric range and microwave

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica August 3, 2014 at 10:29 am

I wish I thought of using frog tape – brilliant! Here’s my experience so far – http://sheekgeek.org/2014/adamsheekgeek/back-splash-edging-tips

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Lydia July 6, 2014 at 9:47 am

Very nice description of how to cut subway tiles. We haven’t done our yet so I am researching information first and not finding a while lot. This was helpful, thank you! Lydia

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