Tile back-splash is one of the most eye catching elements that helps create a beautiful kitchen. It's kind of the "icing on the cake" - It can add so much additional beauty and texture, further enhancing the cabinets and counter-tops. It's also one of the kitchen's components that causes the most frustration and anguish during the remodel process.
There is an expectation of perfection when it comes to tile back-splash and at the same time it's also one of the most difficult areas to achieve it. This blog is not about the beautiful tile installations that we've all seen but about the ones that may have some details that make you question the material or skill level of the installer.
First there is the challenge of walls and sheetrock. I'm not trying to offend you when I tell you that the walls, ceilings and floors in your house are warped, out of square and out of level. Get used to it. Mine are too! All of our homes are comprised of imperfect rooms sitting on an imperfect foundation with imperfect finishings. Sometimes the waves created in the back-splash begin long before you see it.
Studs can be bent or warped leading to sheetrock having the same issue. However, it often goes unnoticed until the wall gains a visual texture that highlights the flaw. Sheetrock mud can only do so much and most people would prefer not to go through the trouble of rebuilding walls to eliminate a small bend in a wall.
Hand formed tile is supposed to provide a certain texture that a machine formed tile can't. They're all different, they're uneven by design, they're beautifully imperfect. Given the deliberate imperfection they can still cause quite a stir when installed. They achieve more of a "living" texture instead of a smooth and level surface that other tiles may offer. We've seen more than one homeowner panic at the site of these tiles once installed. The good news is that grouting often remedies any issues and brings a continuity that is desired.
Glass tile is great looking until you try to cut it. The way it was fabricated should be the way it's installed - A straight pattern works best. I would never say that glass can't be cut or installed in a herringbone pattern but the issue tends to be the tiny chips that can occur and grab hold of the grout. It can lead to an unsightly, messy result.
Many of the intricate patterns and smaller tiles come on a mesh sheet. The assumption is that the tiles are placed on the sheet with exact precision. Whether it's from an uneven tile or uneven placements, the mesh sheets are almost never perfect. The problem here is that the uneven tiles have to be individually removed and re-installed. Not the great time saver that you might think the mesh provides.
Efflorescence - What the what?!? It's pretty darn complicated but as far as we're concerned this is referring to the discoloration of grout due to the crystallization of salts within a stone or substrate. Essentially it turns grout white and is not always something that can be controlled. Different batches of grout contain different salt content. I have no doubt that grout manufacturers test to maintain certain standards but efflorescence still happens. It's something we do our best to avoid but can still show it's ugly head.
There is an entire psychology to tile back-splashes. We've seen clients that have jumped for joy at this stage and some that have jumped right off the deep end. It's destroyed lives! Annihilated civilizations! Also sent people into pure ecstasy. …Ok, maybe none of those are true. I'm taking it to an extreme that reflects the passion encompassed by the topic being discussed. The point of this blog was not to make excuses for back-splash installations, but to educate. We are aware that we get to see more types of tile and more installations than most people - It's part of our job. With almost anything, there are always elements that can be controlled and some that simply can not - No different than life itself.