Subway Tile – Tips and Tricks for Installing it Yourself
Subway Tile is a classic, timeless backsplash that you can install yourself with these simple tips and tricks.
Ah, Subway Tile. Isn’t it beautiful? I love subway tile because it seems to be timeless. It works in a lot of different decors and styles and since I started looking around it seems to have spanned over decades. I know this because I
do tons of research and studying see it in TV shows through the years :).
Like most of my DIY projects, I learned some stuff installing this tile. I could go on and on about how much I love tile…and I did here 😉. In my opinion real tile is worth the effort. It does take a bit more to install it, but it’s so durable and beautiful once it’s done.
So, if you need some more info on general tile installation, check out my post here. I’m keeping this tutorial just to talk about subway tile installation.
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First things first, choose your color and layout.
There are many different colors and patterns you can go with with your subway tiles. I went with the most traditional – classic white in an offset pattern with contrasting grout.
Whereas white is used in everything from farmhouse to modern, colors are making a big comeback. Both in modern styles and vintage room, colored subway tile is hot hot hot. This copper tile used in the HGTV Smart Home is too die for.
Or you could go for black like Little Green Notebook did here. I’m so obsessed with this bathroom I want black subway tile everywhere in this house. Once you decide on color, you’ll want to decide on a pattern for your tiles. This herringbone is popular for a farmhouse look, and you can see many more example of different patterns in this apartment therapy post.
Start low, go high.
You’ll want to determine where your tile is going to be on the wall. Map out where all you want the tile to be. Be unique! Just because it’s backsplash doesn’t mean it needs to stop at any sort of point. I went all way up the wall and I’m loving it. I didn’t go all the way because the ceiling is uneven. I painted above the tile the same color as the ceiling to trick the eye and make the over 3″ difference less noticeable. But, no matter how high you want to go, you’ll have to start at the lowest point that your tile is going to go. The tile is going to rest on the lower tiles, so it’s important you start from the bottom and go up. Mandi talks more about this in this great article over at Vintage Revivals.
If you can, Use premixed mortar & grout
Okay, so while I’m all for saving money, there are a few things I’ll pay extra for. I saved so much money installing this tile myself, I didn’t fill bad about using premixed mortar. It made the process go SO MUCH SMOOTHER and faster. I didn’t have to worry about cleaning it or mixing it up. I just popped the top back on for next time.
Watch your lines.
The quickest way to mess your subway tile up is to be “off” on your lines. The most important thing to do is to make sure your first line of tiles is level. If that first line isn’t level, one of two things could happen. First, you can have an entire wall of tiles slightly un-level, or second, you could have uneven grout lines when you try to straighten it out later. You also want to make sure that even if you can’t fit a full tile somewhere, you want the seams to still line up with where they would go if there was a full line of tiles.
In the above photo, you can see that is where the tile would end if the entire opening was tiled. Little details like that will make a huge difference when you are all done.
If your lines being off is the quickest way to mess up your work, the space between the lines is just about equal. I have seen tile work done where I can instantly tell the installer didn’t use spacers. They make them for a reason. They are super cheap, reusable and make all the difference in the finish work.
Make sure to use two spacers on the bottom – one on each end – and two spacers on each end – the top and bottom.I have the white ones on the bottom and green ones on the end in the above photo.
Measure and mark the middle of your tiles so you can keep grout lines straight.
This little trick will keep your subway tiles in line even if you have small differences in tiles or spacers, which is unlikely but does happen. Measure all your tiles and mark the middle (or if you are doing a different pattern, mark wherever you want the grout lines to go). Then make sure to keep that mark right in line with the grout lines.
Make a template for those awkward spots.
The easiest way to get those awkward “wrap around” spaces are to make a template out of a scrap piece of paper.
Pick your grout color depending on what style you are going for.
I’m a big fan of the grout color contrasting the tile color. But it certainly doesn’t have too. Especially for a more traditional space or some farmhouse styles, you can take the contrast out and match the grout and tile colors like in this beautiful kitchen.
Make sure to clean the grout as you go.
If you don’t wipe the grout off as you go, you’ll be sorry later. That haze is a pain in the you know what to get off later!
To sum up, the most important things are to watch those lines! Subway tiles are so popular because of their clean, sharp look and if those lines are off, you’ll notice. Other than that, go for it. Subway tile is totally worth it. Sound off below if you have any questions!
Subway Tile – Tips and Tricks for Installing it Yourself
I love how detailed you are! Thank you for sharing the process of how it’s done. I’m actually thinking and contemplating of installing tiles. They look amazing! Anyways, thank you for this. Cheers!