While it is the last thing to be installed in the kitchen, the backsplash is arguably one of the most important parts of the kitchen’s style and design. Unlike any other component of the kitchen, the backsplash serves no practical purpose. It only adds color, detail, and design.
Ceramic tiles can be machine-made or handmade. They come in multiple shapes, sizes, and colors and can be installed in numerous patterns. There is also a wide range of costs to install a ceramic tile backsplash. The national average ranges from $800 to $1,500, with most homeowners spending around $1,200 on a 30 sq.ft. irregular handmade subway tile backsplash installed in a running bond pattern. This project’s low cost is $150 for the installation of a single row of 4” machine-made tiles installed only along the countertop. The high cost is $3,000 for 60 sq.ft. of handmade decorative tile in a mixture of sizes installed on the backsplash area and wall above and around the cabinets.
|Ceramic Tile Backsplash Installation Cost|
|National average cost||$1,200|
Ceramic tiles costs vary depending on the size, thickness, and manufacturing process. These tiles can be machine extruded and machine-cut, which makes them very even. They can be machine extruded and hand-cut with a hand-applied glaze. They can also be hand-pressed into molds with a hand-applied glaze. The more human interaction with the tile, the higher the costs.
Likewise, the tile’s size and decoration also influence the price. Ceramic tiles can be ⅜ to 12 inches. They can be plain or carved, rustic or smooth, or have an inlaid or hand-painted design. Some of these characteristics also influence how much they cost to install. A machine-made tile is more even and therefore quicker and easier to install. A rustic handmade tile is uneven, meaning the installer must use a wider grout joint and go slower, increasing the installation cost.
The following costs are for the tile only, broken down by glaze type and style. All ceramic tiles are glazed during production, but that glaze comes in several finishes:
|Type||Average Costs per Sq.Ft. (Machine-Made)||Average Costs (Handmade)|
|Glazed (Glossy)||$1.25 - $10||$10 - $50|
|Glazed (Matte)||$3 - $15||$15 - $50|
|Glazed (Crackle)||$3 - $15||$15 - $50|
|Hand-Painted||N/A||$20 - $100/piece|
|Metallic||$10 - $30||$30 - $50|
|Large Format||$15 - $50||N/A|
|Mosaic||$5 - $50||$30 - $75|
|Inlaid||N/A||$50 - $100|
The cost of a glazed ceramic tile averages $1.25 to $10 a sq.ft. for machine-made tiles. The cost of handmade tiles averages $10 to $50 a sq.ft. Glossy glazed ceramic tiles are the most common type. They come in many colors, with white being the least expensive. If you opt for a machine-made tile, the glaze’s color should be consistent and solid. If you opt for a handmade tile, you may get color variation from piece to piece and even within one piece. This is true even of “white” glazes. There will be lighter and darker tiles from time to time. This color variation can be subtle to dramatic, depending on the manufacturer. Some companies also make “watercolor” glazes that shift in tone across the tile.
The cost of machine-made ceramic tiles with a matte glaze is $3 to $15 a sq.ft. The cost of handmade ceramic tiles averages $15 to $50 a sq.ft. If you like a flat appearance or want the look of an unglazed ceramic tile, you want a matte-glazed tile. These tiles have a glaze, but it is flat with no gloss or shine. They still come in many colors, but machine-made matte tiles can be more limited than handmade. The color of handmade matte glazed tiles still varies, depending on the company. Many large-format ceramic tiles have a matte glaze.
Machine-made ceramic tiles with a crazed finish cost $3 to $15 a sq.ft. Handmade tiles with this finish cost $15 to $50 a sq.ft. All ceramic tiles - even the matte-glazed tiles - can craze over time. This means that tiny cracks develop in the glaze. Some glazes are designed to craze, which is called a crackle finish. Crackle finishes need to be sealed to prevent staining. This is done before grouting 1 and should also be done at least once yearly. They come in many colors, but your choices may be limited with machine-made tiles rather than handmade tiles. Handmade crackle tiles also vary in color.
The cost of a hand-painted ceramic tile averages $20 to $100 per tile. Many handmade ceramic tiles can also be hand-painted with decorative designs and images. Some may have 3D images embossed on the tile, and these are painted by hand to bring out the details. Others may be flat tiles painted to create a mural that you piece together. You can choose the exact colors you want to use since hand-painted tiles are made to order. If you are creating a Tuscan kitchen and want 3D tiles of grapes in several colors, you can order hand-painted tiles.
The cost of ceramic tiles with a metallic glaze is $10 to $30 a sq.ft. for machine-made tiles. The cost of handmade tiles averages $30 to $50 a sq.ft. for this finish. Many ceramic tiles come with a metallic glaze. This gives the tiles the appearance of different metals, including steel, copper, and bronze. These can vary in appearance from polished to distressed and aged. Depending on the manufacturer, some of these glazes may contain actual metal like copper. When using these on your backsplash 2, keep in mind that copper is reactive with lemon and other acids. If you accidentally splash your backsplash with lemon juice or tomato sauce, it discolors.
Large-format ceramic tiles cost $15 to $50 a sq.ft. on average. While not as common as porcelain, large format ceramic tile exists. This tile is usually available up to 16-inches square, and it may be ⅜ to ½-inch thick. A few companies may also make larger sizes. It requires special installation to prevent the tile’s corners from sticking up. This means it can be difficult to cut and install. Large format ceramic tiles are only available machine made.
The cost of mosaic tiles averages $5 to $50 a sq.ft. for machine-made tiles. The cost of handmade ceramic mosaics averages $30 to $75 a sq.ft. The cost of Mosaics are tiles measuring 2 inches or smaller. There are many mosaic ceramic tiles. Some can be one color, others a blend, pattern, or small handmade decorative tiles. The more complex the pattern, the higher the material cost. Mosaic tiles come mounted on a sheet, with most ceramic tiles netted on the back. This makes for an easier installation. You can also cut the sheet into strips to use for borders. Some companies allow you to choose the color blends for a mosaic sheet.
The cost of inlaid ceramic tile averages $50 to $100 a sq.ft. If you want a special and unique backsplash, consider getting inlaid ceramic tile. This is a handmade tile with sections carved from the wet clay. These sections are added back with a different colored clay. Then, the entire tile is given a clear glaze so that the colorful patterns show through. The effect is full of depth and dimension and can give you a backsplash with personality. Because these tiles are so costly, you can mix them with plain tiles to lower the cost of the entire backsplash.
Ceramic tile is great for its range of shapes and sizes and can be installed in countless patterns. However, there are several common sizes, shapes, and patterns that most people use. Depending on the tile and pattern, you need to order at least 10% to 20% more to account for breakage and cuts. Complex patterns require a minimum of 20% extra. Always have a few extra tiles left over for future repairs:
Subway patterns are one of the most popular patterns for backsplashes. This pattern is a running bond and can be created with square or rectangular tiles, although the 3”x6” rectangle is the most common. The tiles are installed off-set from one another by half a tile. Because the 3”x6” tile is the most common, and the backsplash is 18” high, you can get 6 courses of tile into the backsplash with minimal cuts.
The straight-set pattern is the least expensive. You can use square or rectangular tiles for this pattern and a single color or blend of colors. You can also use two or more colors to create a color pattern within the shape pattern, such as a checkerboard or using rows of tile to create stripes. The number of courses you can fit into a backsplash depends on the tile’s size. Most backsplashes are 18” high, so the most common way to install straight-set tile is to lay one course of 4” tile at the counter, then install a 2” border, followed by 3 more courses of 4” tile. The same applies to a 4”x8” tile, while a 6” tile could have 3 full courses, and a 12” tile would have 1½ courses in this layout.
Many people also like to install backsplash tiles diagonally. This gives the backsplash a more decorative look than a straight-set square tile. This pattern requires cuts on every tile on the backsplash’s sides and cuts at least every other tile at the top and bottom. Depending on how the installer starts the pattern, there may be cuts around the entire perimeter. You pay considerably more money for this installation, and you need considerably more material to account for the cuts.
The herringbone pattern is made out of rectangular tiles. The most common size for a backsplash is 3”x6”, but 2”x4”, 4”x8”, and mosaics of 1”x2” can also work. The tiles are installed set at 45-degree angles, with the short ends abutting the long ends. This creates movement in the backsplash. It is most common to see this pattern installed behind the cooktop, with a subway pattern on the countertops. A chair rail tile or a border tile can be used as a picture frame around the herringbone to set the two apart.
A cut-corner pattern is not as common on the backsplash as on the floor, but it is still used sometimes, particularly in tone-on-tone patterns. For example, if you use two sizes of white tile, the pattern creates a subtle dimension. In this pattern, the larger tile corners are cut, and the smaller tile is set in that place. An octagon-and-dot pattern is an example of a cut corner pattern, but not all corners need to be cut. The pattern can also be created by cutting just one corner of each tile and aligning the cut corners. This pattern takes a lot of time to properly put together, with the necessary cuts. For this reason, these patterns cost more.
Step patterns combine two sizes of tile in a backsplash without all the cuts. This is a more modern way of mixing sizes than the cut-corner pattern and works better in contemporary settings. This pattern is made with two sizes of square tiles. The smaller tile is installed at the top, side corner of the larger tile. The next course of the larger tiles are offset by the smaller one, so they move across the backsplash in a series of “steps.” The placement of the tiles creates movement across the area. If you want to make the pattern interesting, substitute the smaller ceramic tile for a glass tile to pop out against the larger ceramic tile.
Ceramic tiles come in many sizes. They also come in circles, thin “stix” of ½”x8” inches, diamonds, beveled edges, and multiple sizes of rectangles and squares. You can find ceramic tiles up to 18”, but these are rare and made for flooring. Most backsplashes are made of tiles ranging from 1 to 4 inches in height. You can also blend the tiles in different sizes to create a unique look. Below are some of the average cost ranges for the most common sizes:
|Size||Average Cost Range per Sq.Ft. (Material Only)|
|4 Inches||$1.25 - $30|
|3x6 Inches||$1.25 - $30|
|2x4 Inches||$5 - $50|
|2 Inches||$5 - $50|
|1 Inch||$20 - $75|
Ceramic tiles come in several sizes and shapes. Many companies make their tiles in several shapes to mix and match to create different patterns. The tile’s shape does not impact the cost as much as the type, size, and color. Some shapes may lend themselves better to certain patterns, increasing labor costs, but the shapes themselves have little impact on the tile’s cost.
Of the various available shapes, rectangular tiles tend to be the most popular. They can be installed stacked straight on top of one another horizontally or vertically. They can also be installed in a running bond or off-set pattern, which is frequently called a subway tile 3 pattern, or they can be turned on an angle to create a herringbone. This gives rectangular tiles some of the most options for pattern and design.
Square tiles can also be popular with those who want to focus on color or material. Like rectangular tiles, they can be straight-set or off-set. They can also be turned on an angle to create a diagonal pattern.
For those wanting something more decorative, there are many other options, including diamond shapes that create 3-D looks and mosaics that come in many different shapes, sizes, and patterns. You can use mosaics in repeating patterns, random colors, or to create a full mural on your backsplash.
For those who want to create something fun and whimsical in their kitchen, there are also circular tiles. These come in all one size like penny tiles and in a range of different sizes up to 3-inches in diameter so that you can create fun effects in your kitchen.
Labor costs are generally priced per square foot but vary depending on a few factors. For example, a machine-made tile is easier to cut and install. Thinner tiles are also easier to cut and faster to install. The thicker and more rustic the tile, the more difficult and time-consuming the installation is, leading to higher costs. Typical labor costs for a tile backsplash installation range from $5 to $10 a sq.ft., although they can go as high as $15 a sq.ft. for some mosaics. For the average 30 sq.ft. backsplash, you could spend $150 to $450 on labor, with the average 30 sq.ft. handmade tile backsplash costing around $300 in labor out of the $1,200 total.
|Type||Average Labor Costs per Sq.Ft.|
|Machine-Made||$5 - $7|
|Handmade||$7 - $10|
|Mosaic||$10 - $15|
Installing the tiles generally proceeds in the same way regardless of whether they are machine-made or handmade and what shape and size they are. These things play a role later on in the installation, but generally, the first steps are the same.
The backsplash is measured, and an area is marked off of equal size and shape on the floor nearby. The positions of the outlets are noted and marked in the floor layout. The tiles are now laid out in this area, called a dry fit or dry layout. This is important for handmade tiles because the glazes must be mixed for an even look, which will take longer than simply laying out the machine-made tiles. Any cuts are made, and then the tiles are returned to the dry fit for quality control. Outlet box extenders are installed to allow the covers to fit over the new thickness of the backsplash.
A thin layer of mortar 4 is applied to the wall and keyed. This is the process of dragging the mortar to a consistent depth with a trowel. The tiles are pressed into the mortar in the same pattern determined in the dry fit. If necessary, grout spacers may be inserted between them. The tile can sit undisturbed for about 24 hours. At this point, if the tile is crazed or textured, it will be given a grout release sealer or a coat of oil soap to make cleanup easier.
The grout is applied to the backsplash, and caulk 5 is added to the corners and 90-degree angles. The grout needs to dry for an additional 24 hours, and your new backsplash is ready.
Like any material, ceramic tile backsplashes have positive and negative attributes to consider. Ceramic tiles are lightweight, attractive, and easy to cut and install. They come in numerous colors, patterns, sizes, and styles so that you can create a custom backsplash for your home.
Ceramic tiles are easy to clean, so any splatters do not harm the tiles. Most ceramic tiles are also easy to remove and replace. So if you choose to have a new backsplash in a few years, this is not difficult to accomplish.
Ceramic is a clay tile covered with a glaze. Any glaze may craze over time, meaning getting thin cracks in it. Sometimes this is a design choice, but even solid glazes may craze, especially those installed above the cooktop because heat can contribute to crazing. Crazed tiles must be sealed to prevent staining and can be higher maintenance than other materials.
When using a handmade tile, your grout joint is probably wider than with some other materials. Some grouts can stain, which means choosing a pre-sealed or epoxy grout that is harder to install or choosing to seal the grout yearly.
If you choose to use a hand-painted or decorative ceramic tile, these can become dated quickly and the same with some colors. While white and other neutrals can be enduring, using a brightly colored ceramic tile can date your backsplash or lower the attractiveness of the kitchen at the time of resale.
While the names sound similar, a ceramic and porcelain backsplash look, perform, and install very differently. Ceramic tile is a glazed tile made from wet clay. It may be fired, then glazed and fired again (bicottura), or glazed and fired once (monocottura). While there are floor-rated ceramic tiles, most backsplash tiles are designed for wall use. They may have bright colors, different shapes, and the glaze may be matte, glossy, rustic, watercolor, or crazed.
Porcelain tiles are made from compressed clay dust that has been fired to high temperatures. They are not usually glazed, but they can be. The tiles usually come in 2”, 6”, 12”, and larger sizes, so there is less size and shape variation. The tiles may be textured, smooth, or polished, but they lack the decorative nature of the ceramics. A porcelain tile is usually longer-wearing, so they are designed for flooring.
You can use porcelain on the backsplash, and some porcelains have color variation between the tiles. This can give your backsplash the look of stone, wood, glass, or fabric, rather than the look of tile. Porcelain can be highly polished and installed in very large tiles that can give your backsplash the appearance of a contemporary slab backsplash for less.
Porcelain has starting costs higher than some ceramics, but it is generally a more moderately priced option. There are no handmade tiles or decorative designs, so the total costs and installation can be lower.
Both materials have similar maintenance, although you need to seal any ceramic tiles that may eventually crack or craze. Below are the average costs to install 30 sq.ft. of each material.
|Material||Average Costs (Installed)|
|Porcelain||$600 - $1,200|
|Ceramic||$800 - $1,500|
Backsplashes are relatively easy to remove and change out, so it is common to replace them when the kitchen needs updating. Backsplashes are removed with a pry bar and can be done DIY. Or, the installer can remove the old one for around $1 to $3 a square foot.
If the drywall is damaged, it may need to be repaired or replaced before the new tile can be put on. This costs between $60 and $100, depending on the repair’s extent. Very minor damage can often be covered by the new backsplash and may not always require repair.
When giving your kitchen a new look with a backsplash, you may also want to replace the countertop. New countertops cost between $1,500 and $4,500, depending on the material, with an average cost of $3,500 for granite countertops.
Costs range from between $5 and $15 a square foot on average for installation, depending on the type of tile. The tiles average $1.25 to $50 a sq.ft., making total costs $6.25 to $65 a sq.ft. for a ceramic tile installation.
The tile itself can go up in just a few hours, but it takes 24 hours before grouting can occur and an additional 24 hours for the grout to cure. The total time depends on the tile and backsplash size.
Yes, ceramic tile makes an excellent material for kitchen backsplashes due to the many colors and patterns available. It is also low maintenance and easy to care for.
Clean a ceramic tile backsplash with your favorite cleaner unless the tile has a green glaze. In this case, use a pH-neutral cleaner to avoid discoloration because green glazes frequently contain metal. Also, use a pH-neutral cleaner on any metallic glazes.
If you have wallpaper or paneling where you want to install a backsplash, you need to remove it first. The ceramic tile is only as stable as the material behind it. Adding the weight and the tile’s wet mortar to another substrate like wallpaper could cause that substrate to delaminate off your wall. This would cause the tiles to fall off, along with bubbling wallpaper or peeling paneling. Always install tiles on drywall or cement backer board and not on wallpaper or paneling.
Cost to install a ceramic tile backsplash varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.