How to Install a Brick Backsplash in the Kitchen

White brick backsplash in kitchen
Angelina Zinovieva / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 6 - 8 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 days
  • Yield: 8 linear feet of backsplash, 24 inches high
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $250 to $350

A brick backsplash in the kitchen is unique and eye-catching, and that's the very point. Kitchen backsplashes tend to run toward ceramic, glass, or stone tile or countertop material extensions. A brick backsplash, on the other hand, grabs your attention and conveys an air of timeless permanence. It's also a project that's easier to accomplish than it may appear, thanks to easy-to-install thin brick veneer.

What a Brick Backsplash Is

A brick backsplash is a hard covering for the wall behind kitchen countertops. It has both decorative and functional uses.

As decor, a brick backsplash creates a solid, classic look. Functionally, a brick backsplash provides a hard, thick covering to protect the wall from damage.

A new brick backsplash is usually made from a molded brick-like veneer masonry unit, not from actual extruded brick. In older homes, a brick backsplash in the kitchen made up of solid brick may be original to the home, not an added feature.

Types of Materials to Use

Veneer Bricks Veneer Panels
Material Masonry High-density polyurethane
Face Size 2 to 2 1/4 inches high by 8 inches long 27 inches high by 48 inches long
Thickness 1/4 inch 5/8 to 3/4 inch
Cost $7 to $10 per square foot $10 to $15 per square foot ($80 to $120 per panel)
Fire Tolerance Fireproof Fire-rated but not fireproof or heatproof
Cleaning Soap and water Soap and water
Water Water-resistant after sealing Waterproof

Veneer Brick

Pros
  • Fireproof (can be used behind stoves)

  • Impact resistant

  • Looks like genuine brick

  • Hard and solid

Cons
  • Must be sealed

  • Difficult to clean

  • Susceptible to chipping

  • Requires mortar and grout

The best material for creating a brick backsplash is veneer or face brick, a type of manufactured stone.

Veneer brick is attractive, cost-effective, thin, and fireproof. It's meant only for decoration rather than for building. It comes in a variety of colors and styles: red, gray, multi-colored, weathered, smooth, and more.

Veneer brick looks like authentic brick because it is a masonry product. Most veneer brick that is available to do-it-yourselfers is not true brick. Instead, it's a type of manufactured veneer stone made in molds and cured like concrete, not fired like brick.

Manufactured veneer stone is made of Portland cement, aggregates, and iron oxides. Since it is not a through-body unit, the coloration lies on the surface. Extruded through-body thin bricks can be difficult for homeowners to find.

What Is Through-Body?

Through-body means that the color and material extend all the way through the building unit. Through-body brick or tile wear well. since chips only reveal more of the same material below.

Veneer brick is light enough that it can be adhered to the backsplash wall without the need for lower support. It is applied with thinset mortar (the same material used for tile) or with glue.

Grout applied to the joints between the bricks is purely for decorative purposes.

Faux Brick Veneer Panels

Pros
  • Lightweight

  • Simple to install with glue

  • Easy to clean

  • Waterproof; no need to seal

Cons
  • Easier to damage than brick veneer

  • May not look authentic

  • Not fireproof

  • Available only in large panels

Veneer brick panels, sometimes called faux veneer or faux brick, can be an alternative brick backsplash. It's perfect for do-it-yourselfers who want to quickly install the backsplash, without dealing with mortar or grout.

Made of polystyrene, these large-format panels contain the impressions of many bricks (around 45 to 55) on a single panel.

As a polymer, veneer brick panels do offer the advantage of being waterproof, no sealing needed. They're so lightweight that they attach to the wall with construction glue.

Veneer panels can be easily crushed or chipped upon impact. Also, though many types of veneer panels are rated to ASTM E84 Class-A fire standards, this does not mean that the product is fireproof. It only ensures that the panel has certain surface burning characteristics.

What About Using Real Bricks?

Full-size clay or concrete brick, of the type used for building walls or creating pathways, is generally is not an option for kitchen backsplashes.

While full-size brick is cheap—the average cost is $1.80 to $3.60 per square foot of backsplash—it is not practical for backsplashes due to its size and weight.

A full-size brick is around 4 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches thick. A full-size brick would eat up 4 inches of a 25-inch kitchen counter's limited depth. Also, because the bricks would need to rest on the counter, their weight (about 5 pounds per square foot) would be too much for the counter to handle.

Durability

As a hard surface, a brick veneer backsplash wears better than painted drywall. Compared to other types of hard surfaces, though, a brick backsplash made of molded veneer bricks can be less durable since chips or scratches remove the top color and reveal the gray cement-like body. Most manufacturers have touch-up paint for this purpose. Extruded thin bricks will not have this problem.

Size and Spacing

A brick backsplash can extend from the top of the kitchen countertop to as high as the ceiling. Or, depending on location, it may stop at the bottom of the wall cabinets.

Brick veneer is sized to have the same side dimensions as actual brick: around 2 inches high by 8 inches long. This type of brick veneer comes in single units the size of one brick.

Since wall cabinets tend to rise anywhere from 18 to 24 inches above countertop height, faux brick panels are perfectly sized for that gap: usually 26 to 27 inches high. An 8-foot stretch of countertop backsplash could then be covered by just two faux brick panels.

Brick veneer or panels increase the thickness of the wall by 1/4 to 3/4 inch, so electrical boxes will need to be extended outward.

Brick Backsplash Cost

A brick backsplash will cost about $250 to $350 for 16 square feet. Brick veneer comprises the majority of that cost: about $150 to $200 for 18 to 20 square feet.

Another $100 to $150 will cover the thinset mortar, grout, and specialty tools that you may not already have on hand.

Faux brick veneer panels cost about 25 to 30 percent more than brick veneer. But the extra cost might be recouped because few other materials or tools need to be purchased.

Maintenance and Cleaning

One of the downsides of using brick for a backsplash is that it is difficult to clean. Because brick is porous and potentially can soak up food spills, it must be coated.

The joints between the bricks also make cleaning brick a challenge. The joints, too, must be sealed.

Sealing the Brick and Mortar

Several layers of clear water-based sealer are applied to the entire surface of the brick backsplash. If painted brick is your desired look, the paint will itself act as the sealer for the brick.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Cordless drill with bits and drivers
  • Manual screwdriver
  • Wet tile saw, rail tile cutter, or hacksaw
  • Grout bag
  • Brick jointer
  • Square-notch trowel
  • Shop vacuum
  • Tape measure
  • Clean rags
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Tape
  • Paint brush

Materials

  • 18 square feet of brick veneer
  • Thinset mortar
  • Grout
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Electrical box extenders
  • Concrete sealer
  • Caulk and caulking gun

Instructions

How to Install a Brick Veneer Backsplash

  1. Measure Backsplash Area

    Measure the length of the countertop and the desired height of the backsplash. Multiply the numbers, then add 10 percent to account for wastage. So, an 8-foot run of countertop would require around 18 square feet of brick veneer for a 24-inch backsplash.

  2. Cover Countertops

    Cover the countertops with plastic sheeting. Tape the plastic in place.

  3. Remove Faceplates

    At the electric service panel, flip off the circuit breaker to turn off the electricity to the wall area. With the cordless drill or manual screwdriver, remove faceplates from light switches and outlets.

  4. Prepare Substrate

    If the drywall is in good condition, it can be lightly sanded by hand with 80-grit sandpaper to scuff it up. This will help the thinset mortar stick better. Clean the wall with the shop vacuum and a dry, clean cloth.

  5. Apply Thinset Mortar

    Use the flat side of the trowel to pick up and spread thinset mortar on the wall. Then switch to the square-notch side and comb the surface to leave lines of thinset about 1/8-inch high.

    Tip

    Work in 2-foot by 2-foot sections to prevent the thinset from prematurely drying.

  6. Press Brick Veneer in Place

    Begin at the countertop and work upward. Leave a 1/8-inch gap between the bottom of the brick and the counter to allow for movement. Press the brick into the wet thinset by gently wiggling it back and forth. Hold it in place until it is sticking, then move onto the next one. Leave a joint of about 1/4-inch or as desired between the bricks.

    Tip

    A yardstick, or several pre-cut shims temporarily laid flat on the countertop against the wall, will create an even gap between the first row of brick and the countertop. Place bricks on top of wood pieces and press into thinset. Remove the wood before the thinset starts to cure.

  7. Cut Brick Veneer

    As you reach an obstruction or outlet, cut the brick. Use a wet tile saw to cut the brick. You can also cut brick veneer on a rail tile cutter or with a hacksaw.

  8. Finish Brick at Top

    When you reach the bottom of the wall cabinets or the ceiling, decide whether you need to cut bricks lengthwise or leave a gap. Generally, if the gap is greater than half the height of the brick, cut filler bricks. If it is less than half, you can usually leave a gap and it will not be highly noticeable.

  9. Add Grout

    Mix up the grout and fill the grout bag. Twist off the end. Squeeze grout into the joints. Smooth the grout with the jointing tool.

  10. Add Caulk

    With the caulking gun, add caulk to the gap between the bottom of the brick and the countertop.

  11. Seal Surface

    After the grout is fully cured, brush on transparent concrete sealer. Apply two to three coats until the brick surface is fully sealed.

    Tip

    Sprinkle a few drops of water across the face of the brick veneer. If the water beads up, it is sealed enough. If the water soaks in, add more coats of sealer.

  12. Add Electrical Box Extenders and Plates

    Add extenders to the electrical boxes. Then reinstall the outlets and light switches. Finish by reinstalling the faceplates.