Things I learned while tiling my kitchen solo

I spent a good three days this past month tiling my kitchen backsplash, and I’m not sure as of today whether, given what I know now and a second chance, I would have done it myself or hired someone to do it for me. But, what’s done is done! I finished it, and I suppose I’m proud of myself because I finished it. Hopefully, my experience can help others who are contemplating their own project. This will be most helpful for those working without a team of helpers.

First, a little description of the space and project. I have a one-bedroom condo, and the kitchen is open to the living area–the kitchen area is about 9′ long. The backsplash area is about 1’6″ high, though that varies across the entire space, given the cabinet heights, the microwave drop, the stove rise, and so on. There are three groups of outlets: two single-gang outlets, and one three-gang collection. After installing under-cabinet lighting (ikea, I love you and your plug-in transformers with expandable puck-lighting!), I wanted to tile the backsplash with big square panels of glass tiles about 1/2″ high and different lengths–3″, 5″, 10″ (give or take)–that I found online about a year ago. Yes, I actually bought all the tiles, the grout, and other tools online a year ago, and kept them under my couch until I decided to tackle the project…. Anyway, the tiles are glass, they’re dark grey in two different finishes–one shiny, one matte, and varying lengths–though, had I thought about this then, of course they could be vertically oriented, too. But more about that, later. I did not have/rent a diamond saw, instead deciding to hand-cut the individual tiles.

I must say that if you are not confident about your skills you can try Reborn Renovations. As I was confident, I decided to remove the tiles from their mesh backing because I’d be doing the project on my own, and I was unsure about whether I’d be able to ensure an equal distance between the tile panels that matched with the tight, regular spacing of the tiles within the panels. Does that make sense? I didn’t want to have panels of perfectly-spaced and regularly-patterned tiles, unevenly placed next to other perfectly-spaced and regularly patterned panels. I also wanted to minimize the number of cuts I had to make, and taking them off the mesh backing allowed me to do so–I could fit them in as they came to me. I don’t know if this was an error, though the expressions on peoples’ faces, when I tell them about my process, suggests it may have been. I think my biggest error was my decision to orient the tiles horizontally, rather than vertically. Needless to say, it took me 11 hours to tile, then another 5 to grout. I had to throw away half of the mortar and mix it anew, because it took so long! The grout made it, but only just. Of course, I forgot about the outlets, and the fact that the 1/4″ tiles required an extension ring on each of the outlets to bring them up to the surface. So, here’s what I learned. In an easy-to-follow list.

1. Smaller tiles mean more “character.” It’s just a fact. Don’t try to fight it, or your attempts to be regular will look odd. Because you will get tired and sloppy.

2. If you have long tiles, consider doing them vertically. Horizontal tiles show unevenness more visibly. Yes, you may have to cut more tiles, but that won’t really be a problem if they’re thin–later caulking will take care of it. Also, orienting the tiles vertically will also allow you to stop tiling when you get tired. Uneven horizontal tiles mean you can’t really stop mortaring, and thus have to continue for a solid 11 hours. Ugh.

3. There is this gutter installation company suggests to remove the outlets completely before you start. Draw a box around the hole as a guide, and make sure there’s at most 1/2″ of space between the edge of the drywall and where you start the tile. Outlet covers cover more than you would think, and this ensures that you don’t mortar/tile over necessary bits.

4. Make sure you don’t over-mortar. If you over-mortar, it will bubble up through the spaces between the tiles. If you don’t remove it immediately, it will be problematic and can eventually causes a flood, which can be a mess later on. It can even result in molds, which then must be removed by mold professionals. Especially if the grout is a dark color. Be sure you don’t have lots of mortar between the tiles! I had to use an x-acto knife to chip it away.

5. Tacoma painters uses painter’s or masking tape to mark off/protect cabinets and walls. I didn’t, and it took forever to get the mortar and grouting off. I will also need to sand and repaint.

Do you have experience with solo home improvement projects? What are your tips?

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