published Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Glass tile DIY: Yes, you can install your own backsplash (with video)

Tile Stripes on the Wall
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    Step 1: Home Depot instructor Charles Murphy shows how to to apply SimpleMat, an adhesive backing for glass tile that is less messy than Mastic and faster since the adhesive backing doesn’t have to set up overnight.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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    Step 2: After unwrapping the tile square, use scissors or a utility knife to cut the tile to size, making sure to cut the back webbing as close as possible to the tile.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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    Step 3: Peel the film off the front of the SimpleMat where the tile will be placed. Curl the tile forward, as shown, so that only the bottom row dangles loosely.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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    Step 4: Melody Goodwin applies the first tile square on a practice board, starting at what would be the bottom of the backsplash. Place the loose bottom row into position, then unroll the square upward, pressing into place as you go.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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    Step 5: When the tile is in position, use a grout float to press it firmly to the adhesive SimpleMat.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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WHAT YOU NEED

• Glass tile

• SimpleMat Tile-setting mat

• Trowel

• Premixed grout

• 2-inch painter's tape

• Wet saw with glass tile-cutting blade

• Grout float

• Sponge

• Water bucket

• Scissors

• Tape measure/yardstick

• Utility knife

• Safety glasses

• Drop cloths or brown paper

• Clean rags or towels

Melody Goodwin has bought the glass tile to update her kitchen backsplash.

Now she just needs to know what to do with it.

So the Cleveland, Tenn., resident came to a "do-it-herself" workshop at the East Brainerd Home Depot, where she got a hands-on lesson in tile installation from Home Depot sales associate Charles Murphy.

Glass tile has become the must-have kitchen update since its introduction about two years ago. Murphy says as soon as the glittering mosaics hit the market, homeowners began asking how to install it. And there are plenty of folks who are willing to expend a little elbow grease to save a lot of money.

"There's just a whole DIY crowd out there -- where there's a project, you've got your do-it-yourselfers," he explains.

For her part, Goodwin says she and her husband "like to do things ourselves."

"He's more handy than I am, he can build anything he wants to do," she says. "We're going to put the glass tile behind the stove in a backsplash; I figured it would clean up easier."

In addition, "the glass adds shine to her kitchen, adds some light," says Jennifer Wilson, Goodwin's daughter who lives in Chattanooga and talked her mom into driving down from Bradley County to attend the class with her.

Murphy showed participants how to set tile two ways: using either Mastic or the new, double-sided adhesive SimpleMat. Mastic is the traditional adhesive mixture spread on with a trowel to adhere tiles to a surface. It must set up overnight before grouting. SimpleMat is faster -- no overnight wait to dry -- and easier -- just peel the adhesive backing to apply mat to wall, peel the front film to adhere tile to mat.

But SimpleMat does have its limitations. It isn't strong enough to hold tiles larger than 6 inches, Murphy says. Although glass tile can come in 12-inch squares, these large tiles are comprised of many 1- or 2-inch pieces, keeping it light enough to stick to SimpleMat.

Nor can SimpleMat correct imperfections on the area to be tiled. If the drywall has dings or dents, Mastic will be needed to fill in then smooth over the imperfections before placing the tile, Murphy explains.

Here are Murphy's instructions for using SimpleMat to build a tile backsplash.

WORK AREA PREP

• Cover the countertops, floors and nearby appliances with heavy craft paper or dropcloths.

• Shut off power to electrical outlets/light switches and remove the cover plates.

• Make sure drywall is clean and level. Remove any existing wallpaper. Rough up painted walls using 80-grit sandpaper, but don't sand through the paint. Wipe away dust with damp rag and make sure surface is dry before applying mat.

• Before tackling the big project, test a small area with SimpleMat to ensure it will adhere properly to the wall.

• If at any point, you encounter a problem, or have one of those "Is that supposed to look like that?" moments, go to homedepot.com and check the how-to page.

APPLYING SIMPLEMAT

• Place SimpleMat in position and mark proposed cuts. Cut mat with scissors or utility knife. If you use a utility knife, you will not have to stop and clean off adhesive, as you will with scissors.

• Peel the backing cover from the mat. DO NOT remove the film on the front of the mat. Apply mat to wall, making sure it is smooth with no air bubbles or creases. Use a grout float to smooth the mat to avoid creases and bubbles.

• Place all mat needed, cutting around areas for outlets and light switches.

SETTING THE TILES

• Make sure back of tile is clean, wiping off any dust or pieces of plastic covering as needed.

• Peel top film away from SimpleMat only on the area in which you are ready to apply tile.

• Take the first square of tile and curl it forward toward you so that only the bottom row of glass is loose and dangling. Holding the curled tile steady with both hands, position the loose bottom row into place at the bottom of the backsplash area and slowly uncurl the tile, rolling upward, as you push it into place.

• Always build from the bottom of the backsplash upward. If you are using two contrasting types of tile, the heavier tile goes at the bottom of the backsplash.

• Once the tile is positioned, use a grout float to press down the tile and lock it into place. Don't slam the float repeatedly onto the tile. Remember, you are working with glass, so place the float onto the low end of the tile and press firmly. Lift it up, place it on the top half and press firmly again.

• The trickiest part of the backsplash is cutting tile to fit around the corners of doors, cabinets, electrical outlets. For this you will need a wet saw with glass tile-cutting blade. Do-it-yourselfers can rent a wet saw from Home Depot for $65 a day. Murphy advises asking for the glass tile blade when you rent to make sure you get the correct one.

• Apply blue painter's tape along the edge where you will cut. Use the tape as a guideline to make the cuts, but Murphy says the tape also keeps the glass from shattering as it is cut. Watch out for small shards and slivers of glass, which can cut you.

• If this last step just gave you second thoughts about installing the tile yourself, Murphy says professional installation by Home Depot averages $2.50 to $3 per square foot of space.

GROUT APPLICATION

• Once all tiles are set on SimpleMat, you can start grouting right away. Choose a premixed grout that will complement the colors in the glass mosaic. You'll quickly see that grout really pops the 1-inch glass squares (sold in 12-inch tiles) that are so popular right now.

• Use a trowel to apply a swipe of grout to the grout float.

• Holding the grout float at a 45-degree angle, spread the grout completely over the tile, pushing the grout at an angle into each joint. Keep the 45-degree angle or the float could hang up on the tile.

• "Don't grout more tile than your armspan so you can reach it," advises Murphy. "Grout is all about repetition."

• Remove excess grout by sweeping the grout float diagonally across the tile at a steep angle.

CLEANING OFF THE GROUT

• The grout should set in eight to 15 minutes and will have a putty consistency. To tell if it's ready, lightly press a thumbnail into the grout, if it doesn't dent, it is ready to clean.

• Fill the water bucket, have several sponges ready; keep some dry.

• Dip a sponge in the bucket and wipe the tiles diagonally to clean them. Murphy says do not sponge in circles since this could pull grout out of lines.

• After first swipe, lift sponge and make a second pass in the same place and in the same direction. Wring out sponge in water. Repeat this method across the tiles.

• After tiles are washed, use a dry sponge to soak up excess water. Repeat the wet-dry process until tiles are clean.

• Let them sit five minutes, then use dry rags that won't leave stray fibers -- such as cut-up T-shirts -- and buff off again.

• Glass tile does not require sealing.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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