With a straight, flat, obstacle-free wall, it can be quite easy to tile a kitchen backsplash. Tiling a backsplash is one of the most straightforward tiling jobs you can take on. In fact, backsplashes are a great way to learn how to tile in the first place.
But when you add an outlet to the wall, backsplash tiling becomes more complex. A hole must be cut into the tile or the tile must be worked around the outlet. Since kitchen walls are required by electrical codes to have electric outlets, it is important to know how to tile a backsplash around an outlet.
Lay the Tile to the Edge of the Outlet
Should you run the backsplash tile up to the electrical outlet faceplate or under the faceplate? Electrical outlet faceplates present a unique challenge when tiling the backsplash because they are one of the few kitchen tiling obstacles that touch upon a building code: in this case, the electrical code as adopted by your community.
Avoid spaces between the kitchen backsplash tile and the outlet faceplate. Instead, bring the tile close to the faceplate and outlet box perimeter. This will allow you to lay the faceplate over the outlet. Just make sure that the tile isn't so close that it covers up the outlet's screws or hampers its removal. Mark a border with the pencil, then bring the tile just within that border, or about 1/8-inch.
Install an Electrical Receptacle Extension Ring
The electrical code requires the outer edge of the electrical box and the backsplash tile to be flush. The electrical box should not be inset in the wall.
But adding a backsplash to the wall creates an inset: the outlet can be 1/4-inch or as much as 1/2-inch inset into the tile. The solution is to use an approved electrical box extender ring. This inexpensive plastic item brings the outer edge of the electrical box closer to the room, flush with the wall. A plastic electrical receptacle extension ring costs $1 to $3.
Extend Mesh-Backed Tile to the Outlet Without Cutting
Mesh-based mosaic tile can usually be brought up close to an edge without the need to cut the tiles. Mesh-based mosaic sheets can be cut between the tiles with scissors. The tile needs to be close enough to the outlet so that the faceplate will fully cover the tile edges.
But you cannot rely on mosaic tile perfectly hitting the mark every time. Much of the time, you will need to nip mosaic tesserae in half to bring them closer to the outlet for proper coverage.
A tile nipper costs $10 to $15 and is essential for working with mosaic. Larger mosaic tesserae can be cut on a wet tile saw or on a rail-style tile cutter.
Use an Angle Grinder to Cut Larger Tiles
Large tiles that need to be cut in the middle can be cut with an angle grinder equipped with a diamond stone- or tile-cutting disc.
- Measure the position of the outlet on the wall, using a tape measure.
- Transfer the measurements to the face of the tile.
- Trace an outline of the outlet on the front of the tile.
- Cut the outlet's lines with the angle grinder. Start at the middle of the line and avoid the ends of the line.
- Turn the tile over.
- Continue the cut lines so that they meet.
4 Tips for Installing Tile Backsplashes
Protect the Countertops
Lay floor protection paper, found at your local home center, on your countertops to protect them during tiling. Lay the paper about 1 inch from all edges, then secure the edges with painter's tape. This paper, found in 36-inch by 100-foot rolls, will be valuable for other home improvement projects. Alternatives include sheet plastic, flattened tile boxes, or contractor's plastic bags flattened and taped to the countertop.
Use Painter's Tape as a Guide
Other than holding down the protective paper, low-stick painter's tape is a great way to define a straight edge when you are not using border tile.
You can use the outer edge of your countertop as a guide and run a strip of tape straight up the wall, checking the line with a ruler and level. This tape then becomes a visual guide to make sure that you have straight edges and that you are keeping within the lines.
For painted walls that you do not wish to mark up, painter's tape provides a line that can easily be removed after the tile has been installed.
Use Tile Spacers
For any vertical tile application, tile spacers are invaluable. Add space between the bottom row of tiles and the countertop, then later fill in that space with caulk.
Next, space the subsequent rows as you work upward. Because tile spacers are cross-shaped, they also help you space tiles horizontally. Spacers are not always necessary with certain porcelain and ceramic tiles. They often have small bumps on the edges that space them properly.
When tiling a backsplash or heat guard behind or around a stove, the best course, if at all possible, is to move the stove away from the wall. With electric stove-oven ranges, it is fairly simple to slide the range forward or tip it forward to access the plug and unplug it. Protect the floor with towels and slide the stove forward and off to the side.
Gas ranges, larger electric ranges, and cooktops built into countertops are more difficult to remove from the work area. Some display consoles have an eased edge in the back and sides that may allow you to bring the tile close to the stove without touching it.