Glass Tile Backsplash: Planning and Installation Guide

Fresh fruit in red bowl with a glass backsplash

 

Nancy Rose / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Yield: 1-inch glass mosaic tile backsplash
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $300

A glass tile backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom announces itself with shimmering light and rich colors. Glass tile is a favorite material for backsplashes because of its beauty, versatility, and durability.

While installing a glass tile backsplash takes a little bit of time and effort, it brings a pop of color and adds a new dimension to the wall and room. See what it takes to do this project yourself. Here are some tips, step-by-step instructions, what materials and equipment you'll need, costs, safety considerations and more.

Choosing Your Glass Tile

Glass tile is translucent in appearance, which gives it a beautiful shine and depth. There are many colors, shapes, and sizes of glass tile available, and selecting what you like and what goes best in your home all comes down to personal preference. Some backsplashes might have glass tiles that feature long rectangular pieces amongst shorter rectangles, while others might have a vertical pattern. The assortment of colors and designs can be overwhelming so take the time to prepare yourself and decide what shade and hues you're looking for before going into the store to make a selection. This decision will help narrow down your choices, and hopefully not be quite so mind-boggling.  

Before You Begin

Check if your wall is smooth and flat with no ripples, uneven spots, or gaps. If there are, you will need to either apply a skim coat of drywall compound to level out the area, allow it to thoroughly dry, and then sand it; or install a backer board over the area of the wall you are going to install a backsplash. Doing this will ensure that the tile will have a solid and even surface to adhere to and not be wavy or jut out in places. 

Safety Considerations

Turn off circuits to all outlets in the backsplash installation area. To do this, locate your main circuit breaker box (usually out in the garage area) and find the circuit breaker for the electrical outlets in the room you are going to install the backsplash. Doing so shuts off the power for that area of your home. After shutting off the breaker, use a circuit tester to ensure the power is off at each outlet. Even though the breaker is shut off, be careful not to touch any wires within the open outlets with your fingers or any tools. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drywall knife
  • Laser level
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Notched trowel
  • Hammer
  • Rubber grout float

Materials

  • Glass tile mosaic
  • Pre-mixed thinset mortar
  • Drywall compound
  • Scrap cardboard
  • Painter's tape
  • Scrap one-by-two or one-by-four lumber
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Grout
  • Caulk

Instructions

  1. Repair and Clean the Wall

    Cover the countertop in plastic sheeting and tape down the plastic. The wall should be perfectly flat and free from bumps or depressions. Sand down bumps with a drywall sander fitted with a drywall sanding screen or sandpaper. Fill in depressions and cracks by smoothing them over with drywall compound.

  2. Create a Countertop Spacer

    The bottom row of glass tiles will require a space of 1/8-inch between the bottom of the row and the top of the countertops. A single layer of scrap cardboard taped to the counter with painter's tape works well as a spacer.

  3. Create a Temporary Ledgerboard

    For areas outside of the countertop area, create a ledgerboard by screwing scrap one-by-two or one-by-four lumber directly to the wall. Make sure that the ledgerboard meets the height of the countertop cardboard spacer, not the countertop itself.

    What Is a Ledger board?

    A ledgerboard is quite simply a piece of wood that gives you a straight and even line to set up the first row of tile.

  4. Establish the Tile Centerline

    With the tape measure, determine the center of your tile installation field. Shoot the laser level's vertical line at this spot.

  5. Dry-Fit the Horizontal Dimensions

    Lay out the tile on the countertop. At this point, you want to establish your horizontal spacing. Avoid placing cut tiles in visible places as much as possible.

    For example, if there is a corner on the left side and a refrigerator on the right side, begin with full tiles on the left and end adjacent to or behind the refrigerator, again with full tiles. With outlets, you have a bit more tolerance because the outlet faceplate provides up to 1-inch of coverage in all directions.

  6. Cut the Mesh Backing

    With scissors, cut the mesh backing that holds the tiles together.

  7. Dry-Fit the Vertical Dimensions

    In most kitchens, the distance between the top of the countertop and the bottom of the wall cabinets is 20 inches. Two mosaic tile sheets stacked are 24 inches high, total. So, this gives you plenty of working room.

    Hold up one section of tiles to the wall, resting on the cardboard spacer. Hold the second section so that it is 1/8-inch below the bottom of the wall cabinet and overlapping the bottom section. Determine where you want to cut the tile sheet.

    Similar to the previous step, use scissors to cut the tile to its correct vertical dimension, plus make any cut-outs for electrical outlets.

    Tip

    It's usually fine if you need to increase the upper 1/8-inch expansion space to 1/4-inch or even 1/2-inch. This area is not very visible since it is under the cabinets.

  8. Spread Thinset on the Wall

    Working in 2-foot square sections to prevent the thinset from drying on you, add thinset to the wall in a three-step process:

    • With the notched trowel, pull out thinset mortar and fan it across the wall, using the flat edge of the trowel. Maintain a thickness of around 1/4-inch.
    • With the notched edge, pull across the thinset horizontally. Excess thinset will stick to the trowel or fall to the countertop.
    • Flatten down the grooves in the thinset with the broad, flat side of the trowel.

    What Is Thinset?

    Also known as dryset mortar, thinset is a sticky, adhesive mortar made from cement that is used to secure tile or stones to a wall.

  9. Place the First Tile Row

    At the centerline, press a sheet of tiles into the thinset, resting on the countertop spacer. One edge of the sheet should be on the centerline. Tap the sheet with a short scrap piece of one-by-four and a hammer to set the tiles in place.

  10. Fill in the Tile Field

    Continue setting more tile sheets within the tile field, from side to side. Once you finish the bottom row, move to the second (top) row. Occasionally tap the tiles with the one-by-four and the hammer to flatten them, especially where tile sheets meet.

  11. Grout the Tile

    After the tile has fully cured in the thinset, apply grout with the rubber grout float. Run the float diagonally across the tiles to avoid digging out the grout. After the grout has dried, clean off the haze with grout haze cleaner.

  12. Caulk the Tile

    Caulk the corners of the tile. Replace the electrical outlets with extenders, if needed. Extenders are used to allow cover plates for your electrical outlets to sit flush on the surface.

Tips for Installing a Glass Tile Backsplash

  • A laser level is helpful, though not necessary, for installing a tile backsplash. The laser line keeps your centerline in check, plus it ensures that the tile rows remain level.
  • Spend ample time dry-fitting the tile on the countertop before installing it on the wall. It's better to have all spacing issues worked out ahead of time—well before working with the thin-set mortar.
  • With glass mosaic tiles, it is usually possible to avoid cutting tiles entirely with careful space planning.

Cost and Installation

Glass tile is one of the more expensive alternatives for a backsplash. Although the upkeep is minimal, these tiles can be harder and trickier to cut since they are made of glass. Prepare your budget accordingly before starting this project and decide if it is a task you want to try on your own, or have it done by a professional. Glass tile, depending on the color and design you select, will cost approximately $3 to $15 per square foot, for the materials. The average cost to have glass tile professionally installed is around $20 to $30 per square foot.