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Beadboard Backsplashes

Consisting of vertical installations of narrow (usually 1 1/2 to 2 inches) tongue-and-groove boards, beadboard has been a mainstay of kitchens, particularly in the English and American country styles, for over a century. Whether painted (usually white or off-white) or varnished, it imparts a simple, homey yet classic quality and adds a rich, handcrafted look. If you’re lucky enough to have an older home with original beadboard, congratulations! If not, never fear, because it’s readily available.

As with other materials requiring meticulous piece-by-piece installation, genuine beadboard can be somewhat labor-intensive. In recent years manufacturers have come up with beadboard-finished panels of wood, plywood, or fiberboard to mimic the look of hand-set boards and reduce installation costs.

There are, however, a few caveats, which go a long way to explaining why homeowners of decades past couldn’t wait to tear out their beadboard backsplashes and replace them with something more “modern” and seamless. Based on anecdotal evidence, some homeowners aren’t bothered by them and others find them complete deal-breakers, so it’s good to be aware of the issues as you make your plans.

One issue, which beadboard shares with tile, mosaic, and other crevice-rich surfaces, is a tendency of dirt, grime, grease and airborne food particles to stick in the grooves and be hard to clean. While some homeowners report that in real life this problem never actually comes up, others find it an ongoing struggle.

Exacerbating this problem is the tendency, in some climates, for the wooden tongue-and-groove boards to swell and shrink as the humidity changes. Over time this can cause warping; it can also cause the gaps between boards to enlarge, creating ever more opportunities for trapping crud. This is one area where panels have a distinct advantage, but if you decide you prefer the look of the real thing, consult with your building professional about possible ways—e.g pre-seasoning the boards before installing them—to minimize swelling and shrinkage. Caulking the seams also helps protect the underlying surface.

Another important issue is preventing moisture from getting through the seams in the beadboard—between the boards, as well as in the areas where the backsplash meets the cabinets and countertops. Aside from the fact that accumulated moisture can loosen the bond of the boards to the wall, it can also eventually weaken the wall itself and/or create a hospitable climate for mold.

Finally, there’s the simple matter that water splashes and grease spatters are no friends to paint and varnish, softening them and causing them to deteriorate, as well as leaving permanent stains.

Experts have come up with some ingenious solutions to address these problems. One popular approach is to use a more impervious material such as tile or stone behind sinks and stoves, or to cover the beadboard with glass or plexiglas in those areas. Another is to use a tough polyurethane finish on the boards to protect them from moisture and grease.

Whether you’re restoring your antique kitchen or designing a new one, be sure to discuss these issues with your building professional in the context of your particular needs. Most problems are entirely preventable with a bit of planning, so be sure to let your contractor know about your concerns early in the design process.

Beadboard has been a mainstay of kitchens, particularly in the English and American country-cottage styles, for over a century. Consisting of vertical installations of narrow tongue-and-groove boards, beadboard imparts a simple, homey yet classic quality, and adds a rich, handcrafted look. Here’s what you need to know about beadboard installation.

Costs

If you’re willing the tackle the project yourself, your beadboard backsplash could cost as little as $100, depending on the materials used and size of the job. But if you don’t have the time to devote to the project, then it’s best to hire a professional.

Pros

Improved materials are available today to combat dirt and moisture buildup.

Beadboard backsplashes can be painted or varnished for a different look.

Beadboard backsplashes lend an attractive, handcrafted look to any kitchen.

Cons

Adding genuine beadboard is a labor-intensive process.

Beadboard backsplashes attract dirt, grime and food particles in their grooves.

Once moisture enters the seams in the beadboard, it’s highly susceptible to mold.

Durability

Certainly less durable than other backsplash materials, beadboard should first be coated with clear polyurethane to prevent damage and then routinely checked for moisture buildup. For a longer-lasting backsplash, you might consider newer materials. There are beadboard-finished panels of wood, plywood or fiberboard to mimic the look of hand-set boards and reduce installation costs as well.

Exacerbating this moisture problem is the tendency, in some climates, for the wooden tongue-and-groove boards to swell and shrink as the humidity changes. Over time this can cause warping. This is one area where panels have a distinct advantage, but if you decide you prefer the look of the real thing, consult your contractor about possible ways, such as pre-seasoning the boards before installing them, to minimize swelling and shrinkage. Caulking the seams also helps protect the underlying surface.

Maintenance

One issue that beadboard shares with tile, mosaic and other crevice-rich surfaces, is a tendency for dirt, grime, grease and airborne food particles to stick in the grooves and become hard to clean. To counteract this, coat your beadboard with top-quality polyurethane. From there, cleaning shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

  1. Spray the area with a mild cleaner and allow to sit for a few minutes.
  2. Use a soft sponge to wipe off the cleaner and a toothbrush to scrub between the grooves.

Common Questions and Answers

Can a beadboard backsplash be installed behind a stovetop?

Yes, although it’s a prime spot for grease buildup. Make sure it’s properly sealed and coated to make cleaning easier.



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