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Kitchen Tile Backplashes

Tile Stands the Test of Time

Ceramic and glass tile has been a mainstay of kitchens on several continents for centuries, so it’s no surprise that it remains a popular choice today.

As a backsplash material—with the dual purpose of looking great and protecting the underlying wall from splatters and general wear and tear—tile offers a number of advantages. Today’s homeowners have a nearly overwhelming array of colors, shapes, styles and finishes to choose from, which means that whether your new kitchen is Tuscan or techno, urban or country, traditional or ultra-contemporary, tile can add just the right touch. Designs can be simple or highly embellished with hand-painted images and three-dimensional sculpting. Infinitely adaptable, tile is also the building block of mosaic backsplashes, which many homeowners choose to make their kitchens uniquely their own.

You’ll also be able to find tile options at many price points; the sky’s the limit, of course, if you opt for a custom commission from an artist, or if only a particular import will do, but budget-minded homeowners can find considerably more affordable tile choices to do the job in style. Working with a knowledgeable professional pays off here, as you specialist can suggest ways where you may be able to get the effect you’re looking for without paying top dollar. You’ll find plenty of green options made from recycled materials, too, especially in glass tile.

When it comes to maintenance, there’s good and bad news. Experts warn against using unglazed, porous tile in areas near the sink or stove, as they will absorb ambient liquids and grime, and be just about impossible to clean. Glazed tile, on the other hand, is tough, durable, and easy to wipe off.

Grout, not so much. And when it comes to keeping kitchen work surfaces clean, seams are not your friend. Effective sealing is, of course, part of a good installation, but if you expect to be spending a lot of time cleaning errant grease and tomato sauce off the backsplash, you may wish to consider a smoother surface.

One downside of tile is the labor costs its design and installation entails. A backsplash in which every single tile is hand-set will, of course, be more labor-intensive than one that makes heavy use of mesh-backed panels, but quality of workmanship is absolutely critical in any tile-setting project, for both aesthetic and structural reasons.

On the other hand, there’s an upside to all those individual pieces of tile—when a kitchen mishap chips or breaks a tile or two, it’s much easier and cheaper to replace the affected tiles than it would be to make the corresponding repairs in a slab of granite or other seamless material. When you’re ordering tile for your project, be sure to get enough extra pieces in each style that you’ll be prepared for future disasters; even if the tile is widely available today, it may not remain so over the life of your kitchen.

As a material with the dual purposes of looking beautiful and protecting the wall from splatters and wear and tear, backsplash tile offers a number of advantages. Chief among them is a huge array of color and style options to choose from. Here are the facts.

Costs

Installing a tile backsplash depends entirely on the type and quality of tile used, the cost of labor (if you aren’t a DIY’er), and the size of the job. With that being said, expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $100 per square foot, plus the cost of installation.

Pros

Tile comes in a variety of shapes, colors and styles to choose from.

Replacing chipped or broken tile is far easier than repairing a slab of granite or other seamless material.

Homeowners can find tile options at many price points, making it a viable option for any budget.

Cons

Grout around the tiles is a challenge to maintain and keep clean.

Unglazed tile is not suggested for a kitchen because it can absorb ambient liquids and grime.

Tile can be costly and time-consuming to install.

Durability

Tile is a very durable backsplash option, as long as the type of tile used can stand up to the common wear and tear of the kitchen. Avoid using porous, unglazed tile if you don’t want to worry about grease and food stains.

Maintenance

If you want a tile that is relatively simple to maintain, choose a glazed tile that can be easily wiped clean.

  1. With a soft cloth, wipe tile with a soap-free detergent. Avoid acidic and abrasive cleaners to avoid damaging the grout around the tile, and the face of the tile itself.
  2. Routinely ensure that your caulking is keeping the tile free from water damage and mildew.

Common Questions and Answers

Is there a certain design style that works best with tile?

Actually, with a wide variety of tile shapes and colors available, it’s a material that can work with virtually any style, whether it’s Tuscan or techno, urban or country, traditional or ultra-contemporary.

Can a tile backsplash be mounted on fiberboard first?

Fiberboard is very porous and tends to swell, so it’s not recommended. We suggest that you don’t install tile on any type of thin wood.

History

Perhaps one of the oldest home-building and decorating materials, ceramic and glass tile have been a mainstay of kitchens on several continents for centuries.

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