Planning Your Kitchen Remodel – Choosing A Backsplash
Like the ever-classic subway, tile, in general, continues to be the most popular material for backsplashes. Within the tile grouping though, there are a number of variations broken out here by tile material and method of manufacture.
- Ceramic tiles are a mix of clay, minerals and water, fired at high temperatures. These unglazed tiles are often referred to as Quarry tile. Quarry tiles add a different beauty to your home. They are solid colored all the way through and do not have a top layer of glaze. This is often referred to as through-body construction. Ceramic tile is typically affordable, durable, easy to install and comes in a nearly endless array of colors and designs. Pricing: $2-$7 per square foot.
- Glazed Ceramic styles are ceramic tiles that are treated with a liquid glaze and fired again. The liquid glaze is prepared from a glass derivative. The glaze is applied by either a high-pressure spray or is poured directly onto the tile. When you look at a glazed tile from the side you can see 2 layers. The body of the tile is thicker, topped with the glaze on the surface. Glazed tiles have a hard non-porous, impermeable surface after firing. They are more stain resistant than unglazed tile and are easy to clean. Pricing $2-$7 per square foot
- Handmade (Ceramic) tiles can often be made to your specifications. Each tile is cut and designed by hand. Quality control at this level is unmatched by any bulk production. If you cannot find what you seek, then tiles made to your specifications may be the way to go. Expect the price tag will be in accordance. Pricing will vary but expect in the range of $20-$40 per square foot
- Porcelain (Ceramic) tiles are made from super-fine porcelain clay, fired at a higher temperature than standard ceramic. They are dense and very tough; most often used commercially. Available in glazed and unglazed, high-gloss, and textured (to resemble natural stone). It is less porous than regular ceramic, making cleaning easier. Pricing: $4-$8 per square foot
- Glass tiles are made from glass and color mixture brought to a molten state, that is then poured over an iron table and pressed with a form to create the tile. Once cooled, the pieces are separated and the tiles can be assembled into sheets that are easy to install. These tiles are colorful, reflective, and easy to clean. They can be sold individually or as a mosaic on a mesh backing. Because the tiles are transparent, the adhesive is visible through the tile and requires an experience tiler for application. Pricing: $7-$30 per square foot
- Cement (encaustic, hydraulic or Cuban tile) are handmade of natural materials. Cement tiles are not fired; there is no glaze layer on the surface. They are made with a dehydrated, ground cement (thus deriving their name) and sand. The pigment layer is hydraulically pressed into the surface and becomes a part of the tile. Appreciated for their resiliency, the variety also offers many bold patterns. They are, however, prone to etching by harsh detergents and must be sealed on installation and resealed periodically. Pricing: $9-$17 per square foot
- Stone tiles are made of natural stone, including – granite, slate, travertine, marble, onyx, and sandstone. Stone tile has a rich, unique look. Most stone tile can be damaged with exposure to acid or pigment so be prepared for extra maintenance. Should be sealed on installation and resealed every ten years. Pricing: $6-$15 per square foot
Source: Decorpad; Brick Backsplash
Brick Veneer comes in different patinas and sizes. It can create an old world feel or mimic a modern loft. This porous surface easily absorbs spills, possibly making a stove backsplash a messy undertaking. Because of the textured surface, the cleaning is more involved than a simple swipe. However, brick is timeless, and a part of our history. It can invoke nostalgia and create a soothing environment without our consciousness knowing why. Pricing $10-$25 per square foot
Panels or Slabs
- Glass panels are typically constructed as one single sheet that has been custom cut to fit into a specific area. If a backsplash covers a large area or multiple walls, it can be cut in smaller sheets and then laid flush. Color can be backpainted onto the clear glass, resembling reflective glass tile, but without the fragmentation you get with tile. Alternatively to painting, some opt for the clear glass to be applied over a favorite wallpaper or mural. You can also opt for variations in your glass like frosted, patterned, or opaque. If it is to back a stovetop, make sure to let the manufacturer know this- a tempered glass should be specified. Pricing: $19-$35 per square foot
- Countertop Materials (as the backsplash) are now finding their way up the wall. Like the above mentioned glass sheets, some are opting for long slabs of countertop material, like granite, marble or quartzite. These solid slabs can provide continuity and simplicity that tiles or other fragmented wall coverings cannot. These backsplashes can be used seamlessly when chosen together with the very same countertop or they can be used separately to compliment any countertop surface. In choosing the same surface for both countertop and backsplash, a very clean, polished, minimalist look is achieved. Refer to Choosing Countertops for pricing.
- Metal sheets of zinc, copper, or stainless steel can be cut to the dimensions of your backsplash. Like the glass option, smaller sheets can be laid flush in order to fit a large space. These shiny surfaces can provide visual counterpoint to both traditional and more modern cabinetry. These metals are non-porous, can be wiped down with just soap and water, and are attributed with anti-bacterial qualities. Except for the Stainless, the other metals – Zinc and Copper – are living metals, meaning they will oxidize over time, creating a patina. You can maintain the original look by polishing, but that’s a significant commitment. Most owners are actually anxious for the patina’d look; however, if you seek predictability in your backsplash, these metals may not be for you. All these soft metals are malleable and can dent or scratch; so if you are looking to maintain the pristine original surface, it need be treated with care. Pricing: Metals generally cost marginally less than granite, approximating about $150-$200 per square foot
Stainless Steel – will not patina. Commonly associated with chef’s kitchens for its hygienic attribute, it is also very durable -impervious to high temperature. Bleach and chloride-based cleaners can damage the surface.
Copper – Polished, copper will maintain its rosy gold or left to patina, its surface will turn a reddish brown with green flecks. With certain chemical solutions, patination can be achieved early and can differ greatly, solution-dependent . A deep turquoise patina is frequently sought after. It is slightly softer than stainless and subject to denting.
Zinc – Left alone, Zinc’s white-silvery-gray appearance will develop a blue-gray patina. It has a lower melting point than copper or stainless and can warp or be distorted if warmed above 300 degrees.
You may be overwhelmed by all the backsplash materials from which to choose. Tile, alone, has hundreds and hundreds of varieties. However, it doesn’t end there. When choosing your dream backsplash, give thoughtful consideration to the following.
- Wall Area of Application
- Height of Backsplash (there are varying thoughts on where it should end)
- Full or Partial Window Surround
- Stove Backsplash to be same or varied backsplash material
- Tile Arrangement – horizontally, vertically, at an angle, in a pattern (ie., herringbone)
- Multiple Backsplash Materials (small mosaic meets subway tile)
- Substitutions – wood-like tile may be used in place of real wood
A kitchen showroom can provide you with a variety of styling options for different backsplash materials. That is the benefit of specialization; the designer has a wealth of information in this category. If going it on your own or working only with the general contractor, be sure to run options by he/she and inquire about feasibility and price to get the look you imagine. Everything has a price tag; just try to get a reasonable idea of what that is beforehand.
Where to Buy
A kitchen showroom has likely worked with all mediums and can give you some valuable input about their merits and drawbacks. If working with a kitchen designer on your remodel, you should inquire about his/her ability to source your selected backsplash. Know that whatever you choose for material, that is only one component of the price. The other is installation.
Though tile stores and showrooms will sell to anyone; you really want to have a professional weigh in, to help figure the amount of tile you’ll require as well as to discuss the ease of application. Tile can be readily purchased online, at tile showrooms, big-box stores, or tile clearance centers (if working on a tight budget). Your designer can take care of these details but if you opt to purchase your backsplash material directly, do consult a tiler or contractor for help with these details.
Glass Panels and other Slab Countertop surfaces are often ordered through the kitchen showroom. Glass panels are sold directly by specialized glass companies which also oversee the install, as is the case with stone countertop surfaces like granite and marble.
Source: Josh Mogal, Ecohistorical Homes; Glazed Subway tile
The Bottom Line
There are countless options and price tags for backsplashes. Do use the resources available to you. An online search for backsplash will give you an idea of the breadth of those choices. Don’t scoff at Pinterest; many have been down the same road you’re now traveling and they’ve done some of the leg work for you. Use it. Take a quick look at all material options online, then when you think you’ve narrowed it down to a broad aesthetic, drill down further. For instance, if you’ve decided you like the tile look, then start to explore those various materials. Some of the materials or finishes can look similar with subtle differences. If you really love a handmade tile look but cannot justify the cost, consult the tile expert at a nearby showroom. Most are versed in the various offerings and can help you get closer to the look you’re after.
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