How to Make a Subway Tile Backsplash (For Cheap!)

I am so happy to say this project is done. It looks gorgeous and we actually enjoyed our backsplash project.

IMG_0663backsplashNow, that’s not to say it didn’t take a lot longer than I anticipated. I don’t know where I got the idea this would be a one-day on a Saturday project. Ha. But, as I have been learning on our kitchen makeover, it is best to be patient and do things right. And not go crazy when things don’t get done as fast as you thought lest you will drive your husband insane and he will not want to do this. I wasn’t always sweet or charming, but we worked together. Ah, marriage.

I read a lot of tutorials on blogs about doing a subway tile backsplash before we started. You know, to make sure we could do this. We could. We did. And you can, too.

I measured our backsplash and determined how many square feet we needed. Then I figured that I can fit 8 of the 3”x6” tiles in one square foot and figured I would need around 200 tiles total. We bought the $0.22 ones from Home Depot- Daltile in white. We bought extra in case some broke or we mis-measured. And I grabbed a few bullnose tiles ($0.74 each) for the edges where the tile would end in the middle(ish) of a wall.

  • Tiles (“White modular tile”) -222 tiles $48.84
  • Bullnose tiles- 8 = $5.92

Other supplies we bought for this project:

  • 1/16” spacers- 2 bags at $2.97 ea
  • Thin set at $21.97/gal- white
  • Notched trowel appropriate for our size tiles $2.96
  • 10 lb box of unsanded grout in bright white (to know why I picked white grout read here) $13.47
  • Sealer ad-mix $9.97
  • Grout float $9.97
  • Rosin paper- $11.97
  • Grout caulk, bright white $7.23 x2
  • Sponge $2.47
  • Cheesecloth $3.97
  • Wall repair patch $4.37 to cover old cable plug

Total: $167

Other tools/supplies we used included (but didn’t purchase):

  • Spackel to patch dry wall
  • Power sander
  • Putty knife for spreading the thin set
  • Wet tile saw
  • Tile nippers
  • Level
  • Dry erase marker to mark where to cut tile
  • Blanket for my hubby to rest his knees on
  • 5 gallon bucket

photo_1[1]Whew. So we started by removing our laminate backsplash and sanding off all the pieces that were peeling. Then we spackled over any divets in the drywall and sanded again. This made a HUGE mess. Ugh.  We also covered an old cable outlet with a drywall patch.

photo(14)So there is a little silver metal sliver that was in the corner of the laminate that is unable to be removed without peeling up the counter. I have never seen this in a house before. But, it had to stay. This proved to be somewhat useful in the tiling process as long as we were able to cover it with grout and caulk!

photo_3[1]So, we used it as a resting place for the bottom row of tile, which was actually convenient. We started with the tiles on the bottom and moved up so any short pieces were under the cabinet and not very visible.

In the photo above, the vertical tiles are the bullnosed ones which made for a good end to the row that didn’t abutt the wall.

Our setup was that I spread the thinset and did the notching and gave it to the hubs who placed it and the spacers and made sure they were level and properly aligned. We made sure the brick pattern was even by using a level to make sure the spaces from row to row lined up.

He was also the lucky one who measured and cut for the wonky areas around outlets.

photo_2[1] We found that the nippers were not at all precise, but that was fine for areas that would be covered like under an outlet. But he used the wet saw for cuts that would show, like the end of a row.

photo_3[1]photo_1[1]I used paint stir sticks to make a straight line across the wall in back of our oven to make it easy to place the tiles straight.

photo_4[1]It got tricky on the far right of the photo below since it steps down from the main part of the kitchen. We continued the bottom row of tiles over from the main part, which became the middle of the wall, and then went down. We trimmed the bottom row of tiles to make it fit (which was just like a shaving and barely noticeable).photo_5[1]Laying all the tiles took parts of 3 days, maybe about 20 hours total? It went faster as it went on because we got better, but there were a lot of skinny cuts to make.

After letting the last laid tile set for at least a day, we went for the grout. I don’t have any photos of this because it was a mess. And a lot more difficult than I anticipated. And my camera photo card was missing.

We mixed it according to the ad-mix (it changes the water content added) and grout box. It was about as thick as toothpaste. Then we spread it with the grout float at a 45 degree angle, making sure it got in all the cracks.

We made the mistake of spreading it all over the kitchen before wiping it off. What would’ve made more sense and been easier would be to spread the grout in a small area at a time and wipe it off. By spreading it all over we then had to work really fast to wipe off all the excess grout with the sponges and water before it hardened. This part was harder than I thought too. After we wiped off the excess we let it dry for a few hours and then buffed off the haze using the cheesecloth so the tiles shone.

Finally we used the tile caulk along the bottom to cover up the silver thing, along unfinished sides, and the top under cabinets. It made our work look complete.

IMG_0676Oh and these little rows of tiles? Well see where the previous backsplash was before in a triangle shape? I was at a loss for a while of what to do there. Continue from the same height under the cabinets? Do nothing? Well I decided to do just 2 rows on this wall and the one by the coffee pot so that it look finished and yet not weird to have a half-wall of backsplash with nothing over it.

Total this project stretched over about a week. Like I said, for the most part we enjoyed it. But more than anything, we love how sleek our kitchen looks now!

IMG_0663IMG_0665 IMG_0666Our kitchen makeover is almost done, we have been working on painting the cabinets and picking a color for the walls. We are heading to Chicago this week for a conference for my work and the hubby is tagging along so we can have a little vaca as well. I bet we will be excited to finish up the kitchen when we get back!

IMG_0683 IMG_0679 IMG_0678What do you think of our backsplash? Pretty awesome look for the price ($167) don’t you think? Are you wanting to re-do your backsplash? I would love to hear about it! If you have any questions about our process feel free to comment!

Kitchen Makeover: Our New Counters

Have you been following me on Instagram? If so, you know that we have made major progress on our kitchen. Whew. That’s why I haven’t been showing up much here lately. But be prepared to see lots of updates soon!

counterI told you about our plans to use the Encore countertop kit in Onyx here. I ordered it online from Ace Hardware for $267 and used a 10% off coupon which covered the tax.

We started by removing the laminate backsplash and sink.

photo(14)Then the hubby cleaned the counters with a degreaser (TSP) while I taped off and put up the drop cloths around the counters and on the floor (we are messy folks).

We watched the video included in the kit and then jumped in!

However we were stopped short in our tracks to head to Lowe’s to buy several items we didn’t already have, like a 6” putty knife, mixing containers, sand paper, measuring cups, drop cloth, foam rollers, and foam brushes. So in addition to the $267 on the kit, we spent about $60 on supplies.

photo 2 (74)Then we jumped in. The box comes all organized to keep things separated by each day- 3 days total.

Day 1, step one was a little nerve-wrecking, because it looks awful. It’s all thin and doesn’t cover well. But it said “THIN” layer. Don’t quit there. Thankfully, Day 1 step 2 looked much better. It was so much easier to apply and turned out much smoother.

photo 1 (74)We sanded with a 100 grit sanding sponge after each application to get the ridges and globs. photo 2 (76)Thankfully, the Day 2 steps were a lot quicker and saw more progress toward what the end result would be. Remember how this was supposed to actually be a 3 Day project? Well, by the time we finished the Day 2 steps we had been working on it (or not working on it due to some puppy-related issues) for 5 days. Gulp. This was taking longer than we expected. But when we both have full-time jobs and don’t get started until the evening and things take longer to dry and you don’t want to stay up ‘til midnight to wait for it to dry… well, this is what happens.

Fortunately it doesn’t truly have to be a 3 day job, as long as you haven’t mixed anything. And, pretty much everything comes in individual bags to mix so it’s easy to drag it out as long as you don’t quit mid-step. Whew.

So Day 2 had us mixing the color stain, water, and cement. This consistency was much thinner than Day 1, like coffee creamer since it had some viscosity.

photo 4 (56)After sanding with 100 grit and wiping it off, we poured it onto the counter and spread it around with rounded movements with our 6” putty knife. We found that the best way to do the edges was with a foam brush. So the hubs (so kindly) would do that while I started on the tops and then he would jump back in.

photo 3 (67)After it dries, which is pretty fast,you can really see the variation. We were so excited! This time you sand lightly all over with 220 grit sponge. I also used a metal putty knife to get off globs and try to flatten ridges- especially on the edges.

Two more coats of the color stain with sanding in between and that’s it! We really enjoyed this part and loved to see how each coat brought more depth.

And we finally and actually did both Day 3 steps on the same day. The mixing was simple enough but it sure was smelly! Gloves at a minimum are a must for this step, but we wore them for each one, and I donned a mask and eye protection for this last one.

The process is the same for both Day 3 steps- you pour it on and use a foam brush to “cut in” and for the edges, and a foam roller for the top. Then roll back over lightly to make sure there are no bubbles, ridges, puddles, or drips. It dries 4 hours in between, and it’s ok if it’s a little tacky before doing the next coat. It looks milky when applied but dries clear, which reminds me of using Polycrylic sealer.

photo 5 (50)After drying overnight, you are done! It had to cure for a whole week but it was nice to clean up the kitchen. At first the finish was pretty glossy looking which I was not a fan of. But over time it has developed a matte finish which really brings out the dimension.

IMG_0668I think it really looks like soapstone which I LOVE.


IMG_0667We didn’t achieve a perfectly smooth finish, especially on the edges, but I think it makes it feel more like a poured cement or stone.

My overall thoughts:

- This is a great, relatively cheap way to completely transform your countertops, and use can use it on laminate (like us) or even over tile

- Remove your stove when doing the entire thing- we taped off but had a difficult job getting it off the stove since we had effectively cemented it on by that point. We scored it with a razor blade and were able to move the stove but when I pulled the tape off a little piece on the edge chipped off. But I was able to glue it back in place. Completely user error.

- The process is pretty simple. You could do it alone but doing it with someone else is easier of course. Especially with all the sanding.

- Be prepared to be without your counters for 10+ days. This was a bit of a hassle especially since we removed the sink, but we are glad we did it right! Thank goodness for our big ol’ laundry room sink.

Overall we LOVE LOVE LOVE it. Wanna see it again?

IMG_0667What do you think of it? You got a sneak peak of our backsplash too. More deets on that soon!