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Installing A Pencil Tile Backsplash (And Cost Breakdown)

One of my favorite parts of my new kitchen is the pencil tile backsplash.  A lot of people have asked about it.  It is Golden Select Mediterranean Fusion.  It is made up of Turkish travertine, Spanish marble and glass.  It sells at Costco for $27.99 a box (which contain 5 sheets which are approximately 1 square foot each.)  However, back in February they had an $8/box rebate which brought the price down to $19.99 a box or $4/sq foot!  You couldn't beat that price so I snapped up 10 boxes!

Imagine my surprise I saw this article in the Homes section of our paper.  It feels great to be right on trend especially on a tiny budget.  When I picked it out, I knew it was great tile, but I never thought of it as "high design." That makes me giggle.

Initially when I was deciding on a kitchen color scheme, I wanted to incorporate the color from both the tile and the granite, so I pondered quite a few shades of taupe until I settled on Manchester Tan.  I am super happy with the way it came out.

My backsplashes were in really bad shape.  You could see the damage from where the old white tile backsplash was removed to install the countertops:

The original white tile does still haunt us however, because we did run into it when we replaced the microwave/hood, and a lot of the houses by this same builder still sport it.  Bleck!

I had never installed tile before, and so I wanted to get my feet wet using the simplest product possible.  Enter Bondera.  

Bondera is a tile setting mat that allows you to place, and adjust the tiles without using thin set.  It is sorta like fancy double-stick-tape for tiles.  After 30 minutes the adhesive sets permanently and you can grout.   The big drawback to Bondera is the price.  At $37 for a 10 foot (x12 inch) roll, it is expensive.  But it is still dramatically less expensive than the $5.75/sq foot that the big box stores charge for installation and a great way to get our first experience with setting tile.

To use it, you just roll it out and cut it to length:

Using a tape measure, you need to mark where the outlets are going to fall:

At this point, you also have to make sure you pull your outlets out from the wall to accommodate the thickness of your new backsplash.  You do this using box extenders:

 This is what they actually look like out of the packaging:

The screws are extra long to make up for the thickness of the tile:

They are easy to install, just loosen the outlet from the junction box (TURN OFF YOUR ELECTRICITY OBVIOUSLY) and stuff it through the box extender:

Once your backsplash is installed, you are going to reattach the outlet (or switch) through the hole in the box entender and into the junction box using the extra long screws.  For now, just let them hang out a little ways, so you can install your tile around the opening in the wall:

Once you have the Bondera mat cut to the exact size of the wall, you can use it as a template for cutting your sheets of tile (another advantage of this system vs. thin set):
First cut the tile to the correct length (I bought a tile saw to this, but with thin pencil tile, you could use a tile nippers for all the cuts, it would just take a while):

Make sure your tile mat is UPSIDE DOWN when marking the holes!

After the outlet openings were marked, I peeled up the individual tiles that needed to be shortened and cut them one by one.  This avoided the need for any plunge cuts into the tile.

Once you cuts are all made, and you have done a dry trial run, and everything has fit peel the backing off the Bondera mat and stick it to the wall.  Then peel the front liner off exposing the sticky surface and smoosh the tiles into place.  (How do you like the technical term "smoosh"?)

Once the tile is up and in place, you have 8 hours to grout.  I selected Mapei's Keracolor S grout in Biscuit (who knew there were so many grout color choices?!) I picked the color based on a sample display of similar tile at Lowe's. I knew I wanted the grout to be no darker than the lightest tile and this was a close match to the color of the travertine

Grouting tile is pretty straight forward. Just like when you make up hot mud for drywalling,  pour some of the powdered grout into a bucket and add water until it is the consistency of mashed potatoes:

Using a float, smoosh the mud in between the tiles, making sure you work the mud in both horizontal and vertical directions.   Wipe off most of the grout and let it sit for about 15 minutes before sponging it down, making sure your grout lines are consistent and you didn't miss any spots:

Once the grout is dry, wipe it down until the cloudy film is completely gone.  
The final step is sealing the backsplash.  This is to prevent staining and discoloring of the natural tile and the grout.  I used a Scotchgard spray-on product and evened it out with a cheap disposable paint brush:
After letting it dry for 30 minutes and your backsplash is finished!! 

Doesn't it look wonderful?

Here it how the costs broke down for this project:

  Big Box Store:
28 sq.ft. of tile ($14/each):  $392
Grout:  $13
Box Extenders: $16
Thin Set (3 bags @$13.50):  $40.50
 Tile Sealant: $25 
Labor (28 sq.ft @$5.75/ea): $161 

Total Cost: $647.50
28 sq.ft. of tile (6 boxes of 5 sq.ft.) $20/each:  $120  
Grout:  $13
Bondera Mat (3 @ $37/each): $111
Box Extenders: $16
Tile Sealant: $25

Total Cost: $285


Even if you include the fact I bought a tile saw ($150) and tiling tools ($19) I STILL come out almost $200 ahead.  And now I am prepared for my next tiling project!

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