Starting to think about next steps in this meandering kitchen remodel project we started during quarantine. I have the new cabinetry and appliances in and am starting to think about doing the backsplash.

We have decided it will be tile and it will cover the full height between countertop and upper cabs (the old backsplash was an 8" tall strip of that tract-builder faux granite they make out of aquarium gravel and resin).

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What I'm wondering about is the correct wall covering to go under the tile. I figure I have three options:

  1. Install the tile directly onto the existing drywall

  2. Install 1/4" backer board on top of the drywall and install the tile onto that

  3. Cut out the drywall and replace with 1/2" backer board

Option 1 is what I'd call the house-flipper option and would be fastest, but I'm concerned about the adherence of the tile to the varied surface (there's some bare paper, some fresh compound, some paint, etc).

Option 2 would give a good base for the tile, but I'm concerned about the additional depth it would add.

Option 3 would be my preferred, especially since I can take advantage of the opening and relocate/add some receptacles, but I am wondering how to treat the gap between the backer board and drywall. If I do that, should I leave some drywall exposed just below the cabinets and butt-joint them with tape just like you would with two sheets of drywall, or is there a better way?

BTW - the countertops are concrete that I'm pouring and finishing off-site. I'll drop them in place of those temporary melamine sheets. The backsplash will go up after that.

  • 1
    I think you're fine just installing the wall tile directly over the existing drywall. No need to go the cement board route for this. If this was wet area like a shower surround, then the answer would be cement board (or something similar).
    – SteveSh
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 21:45
  • "how to treat the gap between the backer board and drywall" is to not "treat" it. Just cover those seams with tile, you don't need to tape those seams or do anything with them. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 23:02
  • Why would you need cement board back there? There's not even a sink...
    – dandavis
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 23:12
  • @JimmyFix-it Makes sense. I was just concerned with potential movement between the different wallboard surfaces causing cracking in the grout.
    – Chris O
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 17:41
  • @dandavis True, no sink there, but it's almost as if there is another wall in the room that will be finished the same. ;)
    – Chris O
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 17:42

4 Answers 4


Existing drywall is fine.

Back butter your tiles. If you use something like versabond you get incredible strength. On subway tile when it is still wet you need a lever to pull off a tile. As long as the surface is free of dust then you are good - just give it a wipe with a damp cloth.

Half the time tilers have less than 50% coverage. These are wall tiles - you aren't even walking on them. Feel free to relocate outlets, just roughly patch the holes. Backsplash is likely the least demanding tile install. You won't have people walking on it or leaning on it and it is vertically squished between the countertop and the upper cabinets.


Regarding kitchen tiles:

  • Tiles are easy to clean

  • Joints are hard to clean

Therefore, more tiles and less joints is good. So I used 60cm tiles, leaving only vertical joints. The countertop is covered in the same tiles too. Epoxy or acrylic grout makes cleaning the joints easier. Cement grout is porous, much harder to clean especially behind the stove where it will be soiled with all kinds of food and fat residue.

If you use these large porcelain tiles, you can keep your drywall, no need to cover it or rip it out. It's not a shower. However since there is paint on this drywall you need proper preparation, and you need to clean it to remove any grease or oil from cooking (this is very important if you want it to stick), then a bit of sanding, and a primer that suits the thinset you will use.

The lower cabinets should be properly fastened to the studs, feet should be sturdy, so that cabinets do not move relative to the wall, otherwise the joint in the angle will crack.

The electrical socket right on top of the cooker is well placed to eat lots of steam, fat, and other projections. Steam is bad because it will condense inside the outlet. Fat is also bad because enough of it will eventually motivate someone to clean the outlet, which is dangerous. This outlet needs to go somewhere else, or it could simply be removed and the outlet on the right upgraded to 4 sockets instead of 2.

The joint between the countertop and the cooker also needs some care. If it is left open, it will get filled with crud. And when you clean the countertop with a wet sponge, water will leak down the sides of your gas stove. Likewise for the joint between the backsplash and the cooker. Steam will condense on the backsplash and drip down if the joint is open. I'd suggest high temperature rated silicone.

The joint between the top of the tile and the top cabinets is usually hidden behind the under-cabinet lights, so that's where the cut goes. It's better to use a wet diamond tile saw to make it nice and straight. The uncut end of the tile goes against the countertop.

If you want the countertop to be removable without destroying the tiles then you can use silicone for the corner joint. Epoxy/acrylic joint will be much harder to cut.

If you use large porcelain tiles, these are tough so you can tile over holes in your drywall. So you can move the socket, just leave the hole and tile over it. Of course there should be no wire nuts in hidden junction boxes behind the tile, all wire nuts should be accessible for maintenance.

  • Thanks. Yeah, that outlet just to the right of the range is going to go - it is serving as a J-box right now but I plan to relocate and recable all of those. Good advice on the tile size. I was already right there with you - now just convince my wife! :)
    – Chris O
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 16:27

You're right, option 1 is no good.

Option 2 is a good compromise between strength and convenience. I wouldn't be concerned about the additional 1/4".

Option 3: bear in mind that "half-inch" backer board isn't always a half inch thick. Sometimes it's less. Check the actual thickness. And compare that to the thickness of the drywall that will remain on the wall (I assume it's the wall on the far left of the photo). A transition between two different thicknesses could cause complications if you're not prepared for it.

Another possibility is to replace the old drywall with new drywall, instead of backer board. It's not quite as strong, but it's usually strong enough.

Remember that no matter what you do, you'll be making the wall thicker, so be prepared to make some other changes. The power outlets will have to be moved, or have spacers added. The stove will have to be moved out a bit. So will the range hood (unless you terminate the tiles right below the hood, and that won't look as good).

Good luck - it looks nice so far.

  • Thanks. Yep, the backsplash will wrap around and cover that wall on the right up to the cabinet base so I will have to either bullnose or edge band that section.
    – Chris O
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 16:29

Drywall is fine as Fresh said. Drywall shims will bring the cement board up to the drywall. It's ornamental tile put a good professional sealant bead along the countertop drywall. Install and grout tile. A much better idea is a synthetic Venetian plaster on the backsplash. If it costs less than 80 for a gallon it's synthetic. Which is basically the same product as elastomeric stucco finish coat. Fix the paper or do a couple of the base coat products then finish coat. Most stucco supply houses will have one that's better than the box stores but it will only come in 5 gallon buckets. It takes a few days to dry and cure so be prepared for it to be 5 to 10 shades darker than the selected color for a week. Boy was that a stressfully week after I convinced my girlfriend to let me do that during a bathroom remodel. Boy did it pay off the next weekend when it look better than she could have imagined. Licensed contractor 25 years exp P.s. do NOT decide you want to try real Venetian stucco/plaster. It's taken me a while to get to the point that I'm only really bad at it. Price is that same as stuccoing the inside of your house with the most expensive material in the world. If you do try it just order good like you can slake and get some athletic field marking power. 10 bucks and it's powdered marble, add that to the slaked lime and I I just saved you2-400 a bag. Real lime you want to use will have a number 1.5 2.5 4.5 on it. I think those are the rating, 4.5 being the best. One company I. The US making it and a couple in Canada, expect 50 a 35lb bag.

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