Welcome!

Welcome to A Girl’s Guide to Home DIY! Here you’ll find step-by-step instructions on how to complete DIY projects around your house. You’ll find things as small as hanging a spice rack to completing an entire kitchen renovation. I hope we can inspire you to tackle a project you’ve been wondering if you can do on your own. ~Lauren

How to Seed your Yard (Overseeding)

backyard in 2018
Spring 2018 (before aerating and overseeding)

Happy Friday everyone! (And, Happy St Patrick’s Day!) I hope your weather is as nice as it it is here in Northern Virginia! I had breakfast outside on our porch this morning and Sadie chased her ball until she could chase no more. Unfortunately, it’s supposed to rain and then drop back to the 40s and 50s by tomorrow, but I’ll take this glimpse of Spring while I have it! To continue on with Tuesday’s post on the importance of overseeding your yard, today I’m going to talk about exactly how to seed your yard. This is something we’ve done twice a year for the last two years that we’ve lived at our house, and it’s made such a huge difference in our yard. We still have a ways to go to be able to use the word “lush” to describe our grass, but we’re getting there!

backyard in 2019
Spring 2019 before overseeding–so much better, right?!

If you’re using an aerator, I’d plan on saving about 4-5 hours of a Saturday for this project (that includes an hour on each end of the project to rent and return the aerator). Otherwise, all you need is about 2 hours (more or less, depending on the size of your yard) to give your yard a jumpstart this spring!

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. I’ve only linked items I’ve used in the past and would use again (unless otherwise noted). 

Supplies

You don’t need a whole lot for this project. Below are the things I used last week when I overseeded our backyard:

  • Grass seed (duh)
  • Fertilizer
  • Rake (not a leaf rake, but a garden rake like this one. This is not the rake I have but looks almost identical.)
  • Optional: Aerator (see the benefits of using the aerator in my last post)
  • Spreader (either a handheld one like the Scotts Wizz, or a push one)
  • Sprinkler & Hose
  • Gardening Gloves
  • Lawn Mower (hopefully, if you have a yard, you already have this)

That’s it! Not too bad, right? If you have a yard, I’m betting you already have a lot of these things in your shed. We had to buy the rake, spreader, fertilizer, seed, and sprinkler when we started, and I think that cost us about $100 total. If you decide to rent an aerator, we spent around $80 on a full day rental. They have a 4 hour rental window as an option that’s cheaper, but the Home Depot that had it in stock was 30 minutes away, so we didn’t want to feel rushed when we had the aerator at home.

Ok, let’s dive on in!

Step 1: Aerate/Rake up Dead/Bare Spots

As with any project, you need to start your project by prepping your space–in this case, your yard.

Pick up any sticks, dog poop, rocks, sandboxes, or anything else sitting on your grass.

Then, set your mower to the lowest setting, and cut your grass. Make sure you have your lawn mower bag attached, or you pick up the clippings afterwards. Cutting your grass allows the sun to get closer to the soil and the roots, so your soon-to-be baby grass seedlings can get the sun it needs to grow into a beautiful yard.

Next, if you’ve decided to aerate it, great! Run the aerator over your yard once clockwise and once counter-clockwise.

man pushing aerator
Steve took aerating very seriously last year

Otherwise, any spots that are bare or have dead grass, you should rake up so the dead stuff is pulled up and the fresh dirt is exposed. This is the most labor intensive part of the whole process, so don’t get discouraged when you’re exhausted after this step, like I was.

raked lawn
This spot was mostly bare, but a little grass had grown. I raked up all around it to give the new seed the best chance this year.

After you’ve taken care of the dead spots, make sure you lightly rake up the rest of the yard. The goal is to break up the ground so your fertilizer and seed can penetrate the ground to grow (otherwise, when it gets wet, the seed and fertilizer will just run right off). You are going to pull up a little of your healthy grass, and that’s ok. Just try not to pull a ton of it up.

Step 2: Fertilize

Once you’re done raking or aerating, the rest of the steps are pretty easy. The first thing you want to do is apply your fertilizer with your spreader.

I love my Scotts Wizz handheld spreader. As I’m sure you can tell from the pictures, our yard is pretty small. So, I was planning on hand spreading the fertilizer and seed. When we were picking up our fertilizer, we walked by the Wizz, and gadget-loving Steve had to bring it home. After using it the first time, it’s worth every bit of the $15 it cost us. You fill your fertilizer or seed into the top part.

handheld spreader

Then, look on your bag to see what setting it should be at (every bag of Scotts fertilizer and seed has the setting for the Wizz right on the bag).

back of fertilizer bag

Then you just turn the dial to the correct setting, and go!

handheld spreader

It disperses the fertilizer or seed in an even layer, just by holding the trigger. It requires 2 double batteries, so don’t forget those when you buy it. (This isn’t a sponsored post–just a product a really and truly love and highly recommend!).

Ok, back to fertilizing. You should go around your yard once clockwise and once counterclockwise to make sure you’ve covered the whole area, and then you’re done!

Step 3: Water

If it’s not going to rain in the next few hours, you should water the yard to help the fertilizer work into the soil. Use your sprinkler to soak the yard for a good 20 minutes. After that, you’re set.

A Note on Timing: A lot of experts recommend waiting 1-2 weeks before putting seed down after fertilizing, so I normally but my fertilizer down on the first nice day in February or March, and then put my seed down on the next nice day (usually for us, they’re a few weeks apart at that time of year, so it works well).

Step 4: Apply Seed

Ok–your 1-2 week wait is up, so now it’s time to put down your seed. If your grass grew a whole bunch in the last two weeks, cut it again on the lowest setting and rake up the clippings. (If you’re doing this in the early spring, it shouldn’t have grown much because it’s not warm enough. But, if you’re doing this a little later and the weather’s a bit warmer, you may need to cut your yard one more time).

Then, lightly rake up your yard again so the dirt is ready to take your seed. If you have any uneven spots in the ground (some spots higher than the others), use your rake to help you even those spots out.

Once you’ve raked, you’re ready to apply your seed. Using your spreader, spread seed, once clockwise and once counterclockwise.

Step 5: Water

Once your seed is down, you need to water with your sprinkler immediately. Again, I turn the sprinkler on for 20-30 minutes to allow a good soaking and help those seeds start germinating ASAP.

Step 6: Protect your space

For me, this is the hardest part. You want to give your yard a break for a few weeks-1 month to allow the seeds to start growing and establish a good root system.

Some people swear by applying straw (as our previous owner did), but then you have to remember to pick it up when the seed starts sprouting. That’s one too many steps for me 🙂

backyard with straw
This was our backyard when we moved in–straw everywhere! And do you think we picked that up? Not til we raked up the leaves in the fall.

Our biggest challenge is our dog, so during these few weeks we take our dog for more walks and play with her ball in the dog park, instead of the back yard. There’s no way I’m going to keep her from going outside, but at least I try to limit her racing and back and forth over the new grass.

If you have anything that stays on your yard, like kids toys or chairs, keep them off until the grass seems to be pretty hearty.

Step 7: Water Daily Until Sprouting

This is a super important step–so don’t skip it. You need to keep the ground damp to allow the seeds to germinate. So, you need to water daily (unless it rains that day). I normally run the sprinkler for 20-30 minutes while cooking dinner, which seems to be enough time to soak the yard, but not have puddles of water anywhere.

Once you have consistent grass throughout the yard, I back my watering off to a few times a week. And, when all the grass looks like normal grass, I water weekly.

Step 8: Enjoy!

That’s it! Now you can put your chairs etc back on the grass, and enjoy your new yard! This really is an easy project, but it makes such a big difference in your yard.

As I talked about on Tuesday, if you can do this twice a year, you’ll notice a huge difference in your yard in the longterm. Here’s our house when we moved in and our house this spring (after two rounds of seeding and a long winter)–not perfect, but oh so much better!

P.S. Don’t Forget Normal Maintenance!

After you’ve put all this love and care into your yard, don’t forget the normal maintenance you have to do while it’s growing–watering, moving, picking up dog poop, rotating stationary items, and raking up leaves. Anything that sits on the yard will kill the grass if left for too long, so make sure you’re picking up things that don’t belong (poop, leaves, stones) and rotating the spots of your chairs and toys.

That’s it for today. I hope this post helps get you motivated to show your yard a little love this Spring! Let me know if you have any questions. I won’t be posting on Sunday (we’re having our big St Patrick’s Day party tomorrow, but I’ll see you all back here on Tuesday)!

~Lauren

Overseeding the Yard: Where to Start

Our Starting Point this Year–Not Too Bad!

Hi friends! I hope you’ve been enjoying my kitchen projects. While we’re not quite done with the kitchen yet, I wanted to switch gears a little bit to seeding the yard. The weather is not quite Spring-like here in Northern Virginia, but the extra hour of light definitely helps it feel like Spring is on its way. Putting down grass seed and “overseeding” our backyard is one of the first things I try to do in the Spring.

When we first bought our house, we had no grass in the backyard. The previous owner had put some seed down in the middle of summer when we bought the house, as you can see, but nothing ever grew of it.

Our yard was 75% straw and 25% grass

Steve and I spent hours researching online, talking to friends and neighbors, and asking for advice at our local hardware stores on what the best way was to grow our grass, especially with all the big trees we have shading the yard and with our dog. So, before you get started on the process of how to lay grass seed, I thought I’d begin by answering some of the questions I had, from all the great advice we received.

What is Overseeding Anyways?

I kept reading about putting grass down, or ‘Seeding’, and overseeding the yard, but I couldn’t understand how they were different.

Overseeding (or Reseeding) is putting seed down in your yard when you already have grass. So, this is what most of us do to fill in the bare spots in our yards.

Seeding the yard is when you only have dirt, and are starting from scratch.

What some of the yard looks like after raking up the dead spots–healthy soil all ready for seed!

Why does this even matter?

It’s important to follow the right instructions for whichever task you’re doing, because you use a different amount of grass seed, and there’s a few differences in the steps to follow. I’m going to be talking about overseeding your yard in my posts.

When Should I Put Grass Seed Down?

Everyone has a different answer for this. I think it depends a lot on what area of the country you live in. I’m in Northern Virginia, where we have 4 seasons, with hot humid summers and cold icy winters. My aunt and my neighbor, who’ve lived here their whole lives, swear by laying grass seed in February (before the last snow).

Why? It’s too cold for any seed you put down to germinate yet, so it shouldn’t start growing until to warms up. And, if you have some snow in your future, the snow will protect the seed, and the slow melt of the snow will help the seed establish a home in the dirt and moisten the ground for the seed to germinate and be happy when it warms up.

This is my first year trying the ‘put seed down in February’ thing, but last year we did March, and it worked great!

This is what was hiding under all that straw last spring when we finally got around to putting some grass seed down.

Others swear by putting it down after the last frost in the spring (so the new seeds don’t die off when the baby grass roots are frozen). And, still more swear by laying grass seed in the fall before the threat of frost, so the seeds can get established before it frosts.

I think your answer here also depends on your grass seed. We get a mix, which has a couple different kinds of seed. And, we plant it in both the fall and spring to give our yard the best chance of growing. But when you get your grass seed, check to make sure your type of seed isn’t best suited for the opposite season you’re planting it in.

Is this a once a year project, or do you have to put down seed more often?

We put down seed in the fall and the spring for a couple reasons. One, our lawn had a lot of bare spots when we moved in two years ago. We’re still trying to establish a good grass base for those areas. (Apparently, that’s not something that happens in one season, unless you’re putting down sod). And two, we have a dog. Sadie is my absolute favorite, but dog pee/poop is not conducive of a healthy lawn. We made huge progress in growing grass last year, but Sadie helped kill about 20% of the new grass we grew. So, we’ll have to put grass seed down twice a year to try and maintain a healthy lawn.

Speaking of types of grass seed, there’s 74 options at the hardware store–what kind of seed is best for my yard?

Unfortunately, this question doesn’t have a straightforward answer for everyone. It really depends on where you live and what your property is like.

If it’s super hot in the summers and your yard is full sun, you’ll need a different seed than if you’re like me with hot summers/cold winters and a mixture of full sun and full shade in our yard.

My best advice is to ask your neighbors who have a nice yard what they do. We have lovely neighbors who’ve lived in the home next door for almost 20 years. He gave us a lot of great advice on what seed to use, and he helped temper our expectations a bit. We thought we’d put some hard work in one day and then we’d just need to fertilize and drop a little extra seed here and there. Because of our shade mix, he warned us that we’d be overseeding every spring and fall if we wanted to get a remotely lush-looking yard. Don’t get discouraged though! I have friends and family that never put grass seed down and still have beautiful yards. And for us, while the first overseeding was a lot of work, this Spring it took me an hour after work one day, so it’s really not that bad.

Our neighbor uses a mix of grass seeds, but he encouraged us to get one that was a premixed bag with both full sun and full shade options. We bought Scott’s Turf Builder Sun & Shade Mix Grass Seed last Spring and had great success, so we’re sticking with it for now. It’s a great mix of full shade and full sun because it has a couple different kinds of grass seed mixed together.

If you want to purchase your grass seed online, I’d research best grass seed for your growing zone. Or, if you want to try ours out, you can buy it here.

Is Aerating my Yard Necessary?

Steve looking oh-so-professional with our rented aerator

This is really dependent on your yard and how much damage you’re trying to repair. If you don’t know what an aerater is, not to worry–I didn’t either. But, it kept coming up in all the articles I was reading about overseeding.

Aerating is when you run a machine over the yard and it punches out pieces of dirt (those goose-poop looking things you see in county parks every spring). Those holes allow your seeds and fertilizer to work into the dirt further than just the surface, so it gives your yard more fertilizer, more circulating air, and a better chance for your seeds to germinate.

We rented an aerator from Home Depot the first time we overseeded the yard because it was all such a mess, and it made a huge difference.

Remember, our yard looked like this
And, this is this Spring, after aerating last Spring

Now before you get all worried about renting a fancy piece of equipment, wait! Home Depot makes equipment rental super easy–we reserved it online and then went and grabbed it at the store. It was $75 for the day, but they had 4 hour options available for $40 if you’re better about watching the clock than we are. And, it was super easy to use, just very heavy, so we needed our neighbor’s help to lift it in and out of the car.

I think aerating is worth it every other year if your yard requires a lot of maintenance–$75 every two years for a more healthy yard and a an hour of work doesn’t seem like a huge investment for a beautiful yard.

How Often do I Need to Fertilize?

Most research (and my family and friend experts) agree on about 4 times a year is the best number of times to fertilize. Fertilizer is food for your grass. We like Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food, because as long as it’s dry, kids and pets can run right on it, instead of having to wait several days for it to be safe to play in the yard. If you don’t like the idea of chemicals on your lawn, feel free to check out organic options (i.e. animal poop)!

The fertilizer we use

The best times to fertilize are 1) 2 weeks before overseeding in the Spring (it gives the soil time to absorb the nutrients before it needs to nourish the seeds–like prenatal vitamins!); 2) late Spring; 3) late Summer; 4) 2 weeks before overseeding in the Fall. Each feeding ends up being about 6-8 weeks apart depending on how far apart your seasons are.

How Often do I Need to Water the Yard?

When you first put your seed down, you need to water every day (if it’s not raining) for 20-30 minutes (or until the soil is solidly damp, but not soaking wet) until your seedlings seem relatively hearty. Baby seeds and seedlings are super sensitive to changes in moisture, so if they get too dry or too wet, they’ll die. Once they’ve matured (it usually takes about 3-4 weeks for me), you don’t need to water as often. We just have a a simple sprinkler to do the trick, and we only have to move it once to cover our whole back yard (which we do after 15 minutes).

I know it sounds like a chore to water your lawn every day, but we turn the sprinkler on while starting dinner and set a 15 minute timer. Then we move the sprinkler, set another 15 minute timer. And, that’s it. We’re done caring for the grass for the day, all while cooking.

Are There Any Other Yard Care Tips I Should Follow?

For us, the most important thing is to remember to pick up our dog poop. Dog pee and poop will ruin your grass and leave brown spots. So, picking the poop up frequently (daily is ideal, but twice a week is probably more realistic) and spraying down spots where your dog pees with a hose to dilute the acidity of the urine will help keep your yard healthy.

(For those of you who just got a little squeamish, sorry! I’m a nurse practitioner, so pee and poop is dinner conversation for me 🙂 )

She’s so cute, even if dog poop is gross

The other important thing is to mow your lawn regularly (just avoid it while your seeds are germinating so you don’t rip them up). A regularly cut grass allows sun to get to the soil and let the seeds continue to grow. And, by cutting the grass, your grass roots have less leaf to support, so they stay healthier. ‘Regularly’ for us is twice a week in the spring, once a week in the summer, and every 2-4 weeks in the fall.

Next Steps

Ok, I hope all these tips help! On Friday, I’ll walk you through, step-by-step, how to overseed your yard, just in time to give your yard some love this weekend!

~Lauren

Kitchen Backsplash Day 2: Applying Grout & Finishing Touches

Hi friends! Hope you’ve had a great weekend so far! Today we’re going to finish up the backsplash. And, it’s going to be so much quicker than yesterday. Today you just have to grout and clean up! Ready to dive in? Here we go!

(If this is the first post you’ve found–welcome! Check out our backsplash supplies and the first day of installing a backsplash posts too!

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. I’ve only linked items I’ve used in the past and would use again (unless otherwise noted). 

Oooo, one more thing before you start–if you cleaned up everything yesterday, make sure you recover your counters and use painter’s tape to protect any countertops, cabinets, or walls you don’t want to get grout on.

Step 11: Mix your Grout

This is going to go just like yesterday with the mortar, so you’re basically an expert already. Add the grout mix to a bucket and then add water until you get the famous peanut butter consistency. We found we used a lot less water for the grout than we did the mortar, but yours may be different. Focus on the consistency instead of actual measurements.

Steve is so excited for more power tools

Step 12: Apply your Grout

Here’s the part where you really see your backsplash come to life! Using your grout float, you’re going to apply the grout to the tile in the same manner you did the mortar–in a diagonal or upside down/backwards J fashion. (Basically, you don’t want to apply it vertically or horizontally because it will pull the grout out of the grout lines.)

You need to make sure you get grout into every nook and cranny. Our grout float was pretty good, so I ended up using a paper towel and even my fingers for some of the super small spots (pretty sure that’s not the proper way to do it but it worked!).

Don’t worry about getting grout all over the tiles themselves–that’s totally normal (even if it doesn’t look normal). We’ll handle that problem in the next step.

It does look scary, but I promise it’s ok!

And, don’t worry about getting grout between the cabinets and the tile or the tile and the countertops. This is where your caulk will come in handy tomorrow.

Cleaning Tip

Once you’re done applying the grout, it’s time to clean up your grout bucket and your tools while you wait for the grout to dry for an hour or so. Just like with the mortar, DO NOT put the grout down your drain. You will ruin your pipes and spend all the money you saved installing your own backsplash (and then some). I read a great tip online–let your grout bucket sit for 12-24 hours. The water will settle at the top and the grout at the bottom. Then you can dump your water out and then dump the more solid grout in the trash.

Step 13: Clean off the Grout

After you let your grout dry for about an hour, now’s the time to clean off those tiles. Taking your big sponge and a bucket of warm clean water, wet your sponge and then wring it out a few times. The sponge should be barely damp. Why? Because if it’s really wet, you’re going to be adding water to the pretty grout you just put up, and it will lose its integrity.

Remember this picture, it’s about to be a thing of the past!

Use the same diagonal motion again to try and wipe the grout off the tile surface that you did when applying the grout. If you see water drips on the tile, your sponge is too wet! Wring it out more in your bucket and try again. Once you’ve wiped up some grout, rinse the sponge in a second bucket of clean water. Repeat until you have finished the whole backsplash.

After one round of wiping the grout off.

I had to repeat this step twice more, each an hour apart, to get all the grout off the tile. But, it only takes 5 minutes each time, so it wasn’t any real added work.

Step 14: Clean Up & Let Dry

And, that’s it! You’re 95% done with your backsplash. By now, you can see how pretty your backsplash is going to be, and I’m sure you’re just as in love with yours as I am mine!

Clean up all your mess and relax! You need to let the grout dry for at least 24 hours prior to caulking.

Step 15 (at least 24 hours later): Caulk

When you have 30 minutes in the upcoming days, take the time to caulk your new backsplash to make it look finished. You’ll want to caulk between the cabinets and tile and the countertops and tile. If you’ve never caulked before, it’s super easy. You can use a big can of caulk and a caulk gun, but I find it a lot easier to control the small squeezy tubes like this caulk from DAP, since I have little hands.

How to Caulk

Cut the tip of the caulk container off in a 45 degree angle (this makes it easier to apply). Have a lot of paper towels on hand, and if you don’t like getting your hands messy, have a pair of skin tight gloves to wear.

I also like to line the area with painter’s tape, because I am not good at making clean caulk lines.

Then, gently squeezing the caulk tube, squeeze a medium sized bead of caulk out along the seam you want to caulk.

Next, using your finger, smooth the bead of caulk so it forms a nice even line connecting the tile and the other surface.

If you applied too much and it’s gloopy, wipe it off with your finger and onto a paper towel. If you applied too little, just add a little more!

Continue on until you’ve caulked every service you need to. If you applied painter’s tape, pull it off to reveal your nice pretty lines. Once you’re done, it needs to dry for 24 hours before getting wet.

Step 16 (at least 24 hours later): Put Your Kitchen Back Together & Admire Your Hard Work!

Now’s the time you can remove your ledgerboard, push your appliances back into place, put your outlet covers back on, and love your new kitchen!

Note on Reinstalling Outlets & Switches

If you have any outlets or switches in your backsplash (we have 3), you’ll need to put them back on after the backsplash is completely dry. And, you may find that the old screws are new too short to hold the switch or outlet flush to your new backsplash.

There’s an easy fix–go to your hardware store and buy longer screws! Bring your old screws so you can make sure you get the same width screw that just has a little extra length. Then once your switches and outlets are screwed back into their boxes, you can put your outlet and switch covers back on!

And, if your outlet covers are now too small for the hole you have because of the way your tile fell, also easy fix! Buy an XL outlet cover and you’re all set!

See the gap at the top? Easily fixed with an XL outlet cover!

And, that’s it!

I’m so in love with our backsplash! I feel like it completely pulled out kitchen together with the new kitchen cabinets. And, now I can’t wait for our new appliances to come in a few weeks–they’ll be the icing on the cake for our brand new kitchen!

Look how pretty!

Let me know if you have any questions, or if you have any other tips to offer on putting up a backsplash!

~Lauren

Install a Kitchen Backsplash: Day 1

Happy Friday, friends! Do you need a project for the weekend that will transform your kitchen? Install a kitchen backsplash! Tuesday’s post talked about all the supplies you need, including picking your tile and grout, so start there if you missed it. Once you’ve picked up (or ordered from Amazon Prime) your supplies and set aside a weekend (or two evenings after work) to do this, let’s dive into the first day of installing your backsplash.

A Note on Timing: I’ve mentioned you should set aside a weekend for this. I should clarify–it’s NOT going to take the WHOLE weekend. Rather, you need a few hours over two consecutive days to get this done. We did plenty of other things that weekend (like watch plenty of Netflix, order Mexican takeout, play with Sadie).

The first day is definitely the longest (it took us about 2-3 hours to get all these steps done). And, the second day took us about 1-2 hours. Oh, and don’t forget the caulking after all of the install is done and replacing your outlet covers. You have to do that at least 24 hours after the grout dries, so save an hour on a third day to finish things up.

Remember, Step 1 & 2 are in Tuesday’s post, so we’re continuing on from there.

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. I’ve only linked items I’ve used in the past and would use again (unless otherwise noted). 

Step 3: Plan Out the Tiling

Before gluing the tile to the wall, you need to plan out where you’re going to put the tile. This helps so your pattern (if you have one) doesn’t look weird when you already have your mortar applied and you panic and can’t fix it.

We probably spent too much time planning it out (almost an hour). We didn’t have the space to lay the tiles out on our counter, so we taped off the measurements of the backsplash with painter’s tape and laid the tile out on our living room floor.

In the end, we didn’t even end up following that plan. But, it was super helpful to at least know where we were going to run into tiles that needed to be cut.

Step 4: Prepare your Space

A little bit of preparation will save you a lot of hassle during this project.

Protect your Space

Make sure you cover your countertops–I used contractor trash bags–for when you inevitably spill grout or mortar. I also used painter’s tape to protect my newly painted cabinets and walls. But, learn from my mistake, and remove it as soon as you place your tile or you’ll get tape stuck in your mortar and grout like I did. It’s no fun to try and scrape the tape out with a razor blade, I promise you.

Prepare your Wall

Make sure the wall you are going to apply the tiles to is clean (I used a sponge with soap and water) and dry. Then using your sanding block, sand the wall lightly. This will help the mortar stick better when it’s applied.

If your cabinets or countertop aren’t level, you’ll also want to draw a level line on the wall to make sure your tile line ends up straight and not angled one way or another. The easiest way to do this is to use a laser level and trace the level line directly on the wall, starting at the bottom corner of where you’re going to apply the tile.

We drew a level line, and found the top of our countertops sloped a little less than half an inch between one corner and the other. We then promptly covered the level line with mortar before realizing we needed to use that to place our tiles. So, in the end we just kind of used extra tile spacers to guesstimate the level line and the final product looks just fine.

If you have an appliance backed up to the wall you’re going to install your backsplash, make sure you pull the appliance out so you can hang your ledger board and reach behind the appliance to tile everything. We had to pull ours out about a foot to reach behind it.

Hanging a Ledger Board

I know–what’s a ledger board? I had no idea it was a thing until I watched a YouTube video. A ledger board is a board you screw into the wall temporarily to provide support for your tiles and mortar as they’re drying. You’ll need this if you have a stove in the middle of your countertop like we do. We just bought a 1″x4″ board at Home Depot and had them cut it to 29.5″ (the length of the gap between our countertops). Then you just screw it in to two studs in your wall at the lowest point you plan on tiling. Once you’re done tiling and grouting and everything’s dried, you can just unscrew it and save the wood for another project down the road. When you push your stove back into place, no one will ever know you had that board there.

Step 5: Precut any Tiles you Can

Once you decide what size you’re going to start on (we decided on the wall behind our sink), you can precut a few tiles so you’re ready to go when you apply the mortar. This is important because the mortar dries fast (30 minutes or so), so any time you can save by being ready with your tiles beforehand helps.

To start our pattern (we did a subway pattern), we precut 2 tiles that were half the length of the whole tile. We could only precut those two tiles, but it definitely helped. And, it was good to get a few cuts under our belt with the tile cutter before we needed to make more complicated cuts around outlets.

Tip: Even if your box says your tile is 12″ long, it may not be exact. Don’t just assume you should cut your tile in half at 6 inches like we did, and then have 2 unequal parts. Our tiles ended up being 11 5/8″ long, so we had to do some math to find the halfway point.

How to Cut Tile Using the Tile Cutter

To cut the tile, break out your fancy new tile cutter and place it on a flat workspace (we used our countertop). Then follow these steps:

  1. Using a dry erase marker (if you’re using porcelain tile), mark your tile where it needs to be cut. The best part of using the dry erase marker is you can just wipe it off after the cut is made. (Just remember to do that before you place the tile on the wall. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to wipe green marker off your white tile that’s all the way up under your microwave. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. . . )
  2. Line your mark up on the tile with the blade on the tile cutter.
  3. Lower the handle until the blade is in contact with the tile and run the blade over the tile to score it.
  4. Then, pull the handle back slightly, so the bumpers are resting on the tile, and press down on the handle gently but firmly. This will force the tile to break (Hopefully right along your score mark).

When we were cutting the tile in half or 1/3s, we had no problem with the tile breaking cleanly. But, some of our weirder cuts (to fit a tile under a cabinet, or to cut around an outlet) wouldn’t break cleanly, so we had to try a few times with new tiles. This is why it’s super important to have extra tile on hand. And best/worst case scenario, if you cut the tile perfectly every time, then you can return your pieces and get some money back!

Step 6: Mix your Mortar

Ok, now that everything’s ready, it’s time to begin! (I know you’re saying in your head, “Finally, Lauren!” But all the prep makes things so much easier once you get started).

Messy messy!

Take one of your buckets and your mortar and add bunch of it in. This is super messy, so wear your eye covers and a facemask if you have one. And if you have the option, do this outside. The powder will go everywhere. Then start adding water a little at a time as you mix it with your fancy mortar mixer and drill.

In terms of the amount of powder we used, we just eye-balled it and used half the bag. We had way more than we needed in the end, but we didn’t want to mix any more in the middle of the job. I’m sure you can take your time and measure out a quantity if you’d like, but we were impatient, and in the end, the ratio of powder to water doesn’t matter–it’s the consistency.

Peanut Butter Consistency

You will read this over and over on tiling instructions and hear this over and over from your friends at your home store. The mortar should be the consistency of peanut butter when it’s ready to be applied. The goal is that it’s still a little wet, so you can place your tiles on it and move them if needed, but solid enough that it won’t just slide off the walls.

So, you keep adding water a little at a time until you get there. Or, if it’s too wet, add more mortar mix. If you think it’s ready, put the mortar on your trowel and hold it vertically over your bucket–it shouldn’t fall right off and it will indeed look like peanut butter.

Step 7: Apply Mortar

Once you have your mortar all ready to go, it’s time to put it on the wall and get to tiling! Using your trowel you want to apply the mortar to your wall in a diagonal way–this provides more surface tension with the wall and helps prevent it from sliding off.

Just like painting, you’ll want to work in smaller sections (I did about 2-3 feet at a time). You don’t want to apply mortar to the whole space and have it start to dry before you even start putting your tiles on.

Once you have the mortar on the wall, you need to use the edges of your trowel and score the mortar in a diagonal pattern (or an upside down backwards J), again to provide more surface tension for the tiles to stick to.

Backbuttering the Tile

You’ll read a lot about backbuttering the tile in some posts. This basically just means spreading the mortar directly on the tile, just like you would peanut butter on toast. You want to spread a nice even coat, not too little that it won’t stick to the wall and not too much that it glops off. And, once you apply it, score the back just like you would if you apply the mortar to the wall.

I ended up backbuttering most of my tiles because it was too hard for me to work in the tight spaces I had with the size trowels I had. And, I used a larger tile (3″x12″) so it was easy to apply the mortar directly to the tile. But, for the larger open spaces (the space behind the sink and behind the stove) I applied the mortar directly to the wall.

I would definitely recommend doing this for individual tiles in tight spaces, but otherwise give both a try and see what works best for you.

Step 8: Place your Tiles & Spacers

Now’s the biggest moment–placing your tile! Start in your chosen spot and you’re going to want to start at the bottom corner. Leave about a spacer’s height of space between the countertop and the tile (you’ll cover this later with caulk). Press the tile into the wall and then in and up (like you’re drawing a horizontal J with your fingertips). This will help the tile stick. We started with a full size tile, so the next tile on top was a half size tile to keep our subway pattern. We applied a half-size tile, then a full size, and repeat until we got to the top of our space.

You can see the upside down J strokes in the mortar.

Then apply your tile spacers between the tiles. You want to press them between the tiles enough to keep the space between the tiles but not enough to stick to the mortar if you can. You’re going to apply tile spacers in between every edge of the tile where it’s going to touch another tile or the counter top. If you do this right away, you’ll still be able to move the tiles a little bit so that you can even out the space between them all.

Why are Spacers so Important?

Spacers are important for two reasons.

  1. Spacers help you get your tiles lined up properly, so they all have equal amounts of space between them. This makes your backsplash visually pleasing (look at that fancy phrase I used there). Imagine if you placed your tiles haphazardly, and some tiles had 1/2″ gap between them and others had none. It would look super weird.
  2. Spacers provide room for a grout line. The grout line isn’t just for pretty contrast. It provides support for the tiles in case the wall or house moves or shifts (not just talking earthquakes here, but dropping something heavy, hammering a nail in the wall can all cause the wall to move). If the wall moves, it could loosen the mortar. The grout helps support the tiles, so even if that does happen, things won’t just start falling off your walls. Now, if you have a big earthquake or you’re lifting your house, I make no promises that the grout will hold for all that.

And, Does Size Matter? (I’m sure you all already have opinions on that, but we’re talking tile spacers here, people!)

The size of the tile spacers does not matter in terms of providing support. But, it does matter in terms of how your finished product will look and how much work you will be doing. Smaller spacers means you won’t see the grout lines as much, but you’ll be doing more work to get grout into all the nooks and crannies. Larger spacers means less work but much more visible grout lines. We used 3/16″ spacers–right in the middle size–because we wanted our grout visible since we were using a contrasting color. I definitely wouldn’t go much bigger than that for our sized tiles because as you can see, you get plenty of visible grout with these.

Uh Oh. . . I Need to Cut a Piece of Tile

No worries! You remember how to do this from your practice precutting a few pieces. Mark on the tile where you need to make the cut, line it up with your scoring wheel, run the wheel across the line you want it to break along, and press down. Then place the piece where it needs to go.

If you don’t have a straight cut to make, and instead need to make a small cut (like for an outlet screw), or a rounded cut, this is when you want to use your tile nippers (I didn’t use these but they look almost identical to mine). You can just take the tile nippers and “nip” out small pieces of tile until the part you want to remove is gone. This also takes a little practice (if you cut too big of pieces, the tile can break). But, you bought extra pieces, so it’s ok if it does–just pick up the next one and go from there!

It was super helpful to have Steve to help for this project. As I was applying the mortar and the tiles, he would cut the pieces we needed. You don’t need a second person, but things will move a little more seamlessly if you have a friend.

Once you have all your tile and spacers placed, strong work! You’re almost done for the day!

Step 9: Remove Tile Spacers

About 30 minutes after you place your spacers, make sure you remember to remove them! Their purpose is to support the tile and the grout line while the mortar sets, so once it hardens, you can remove them.

And, you don’t want to wait too long! The spacers will get stuck in the mortar and you’ll have to pry them out. We found that by the time we finished the whole project, it was time to start removing the ones at the start. It’ll take 10 minutes to take them all out. And, feel free to save them for your next project!


Step 10: Clean Up & Let Dry

You made it! We’re done with all the hard work for the day. Remove your painter’s tape if you used it. Clean off your tools. Throw away your garbage bags protecting your countertops.

For the mortar, to be honest, we forgot to clean it up, so we ended up throwing the whole bucket away after it hardened overnight. The bucket was only $3, so I almost feel like this is an excellent solution to avoid the mess even if we hadn’t forgotten. But, if you do decide to clean it up, make sure you throw away the mortar in the trash–DO NOT PUT IT DOWN YOUR DRAIN. It’ll harden in your drain pipes and then you’ll need to replace your pipes.

This is exactly where you should be at the end of Day 1!

Now, go pour yourself a glass of wine, order some takeout, and relax! You have to let the mortar dry for 24 hours (so you have an excuse not to do anything for the rest of the night). The hardest part is definitely done, and by this time tomorrow, you’ll have a beautiful new backsplash!

~Lauren

Choosing the Best Tile for your Backsplash

Hi friends! I hope you enjoyed some of the quick and easy projects from the last week, because today we’re diving right into the project I was most afraid of: the backsplash. Since it’s another project that requires some planning, like the kitchen cabinets, I’m going to break it down into a few posts. Today I’m going to talk about choosing the best tile for your backsplash.

A Little Background on my Fear of Tiling

I’ve always considered myself at least a little handy (perks of growing up in a DIY household). I felt pretty comfortable with painting and, after owning a home for the last two years, using a drill and an impact driver. So, while the kitchen cabinets were a huge undertaking, there weren’t any skills that I didn’t feel comfortable doing.

Tiling is a completely different story. I’d watched my parents tile a bathroom floor and backsplash growing up (and listened to their frustration and cursing while doing so). I watched them break tiles they were trying to cut over and over again and have to pry a tile up after placing it in the mortar because it wasn’t setting right. They’ve both told me on many occasions that tiling was not an easy undertaking. So, I’ve always shied away from it. My condo’s kitchen didn’t have a backsplash, and the old bathroom floor needed replacing. But, neither project happened in the 9 years I’ve owned it because I was afraid to tackle them myself and didn’t want to spend the money to pay someone to do either project.

Poor Condo Kitchen with No Backsplash

But now that we’re tackling our whole kitchen, I decided I needed to face my fears. A backsplash really completes a kitchen, so I definitely wanted to install one here. I looked at the peel and stick tile options (believe me, I was totally ready to give that a try to avoid tiling), but they didn’t have any colors that worked with our countertop. And, once the kitchen cabinets were painted, there were no more excuses for putting it off.

So, here we go . . .

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. I’ve only linked items I’ve used in the past and would use again (unless otherwise noted). 

Step 1: Spend Hours Agonizing Over the Right Tile and Grout

If you’re anything like me, this ends up being the longest and most painful step–choosing the best tile for your backsplash. We have granite countertops that I don’t love (but it’s granite and super pricey, so I won’t be replacing it). It’s a black-ish color with red and brown underones, and I struggled to find something that I thought coordinated well with it. I tried beiges and ivories and tans and grays and I hated them all. By ‘tried’, I would go to Home Depot or Floor and Decor, buy a few samples, bring them home, and lay them up against the wall.

You should ask my husband about the time when I was convinced we had green countertops. . . obviously I was wrong

After two months of doing this, I finally decided that, as boring as it was, a white or near white would be the best option, since nothing seemed to truly match the granite. I was sad I wasn’t going to get a fun accent for the kitchen, but white just seemed to work best.

So after deciding on white, I went back to Floor and Decor, having chosen my favorite white at Home Depot to make sure I wasn’t missing anything amazing. Of course, I came back with 3 more white options–this time with unique shapes. (Because if I can’t have a fun color or pattern, why not have fun shapes?) After ‘trying’ them, this one was my favorite. We lived with it propped up against the wall for a week and still liked it, so I thought we’d found a winner!

Yay! Finally time to move on to the next step (this was definitely Steve talking here!)

Step 2: (2 months later. . . ) Purchase Your Tile, Grout & All the Other Supplies

I had just finished the cabinets and we happened to have a free weekend coming up (if you know us, this NEVER happens). So, Steve and I went to Floor & Decor on a Tuesday night to purchase our prized tile and the rest of the supplies. Before we do that, Steve decides to ‘look around one last time’ before committing to the tile we had already chosen. Famous last words, right?

We then spend over an hour agonizing about all the other choices, the pencil options (the thin pieces of border tile that are crazy expensive), accent options. It was ridiculous.

And then, on a whim I walked down an aisle and saw these. I showed them to Steve, we both loved them, and piled them on to our cart. After months of agonizing it took 30 seconds to pick once we found them.

I think we both loved them because they were just a smidge off white, we liked the larger subway tile shape, and we both loved that each one was slightly imperfect. We thought it would give the backsplash a little character since we were going with white in our already-white kitchen. And, best part, it would hide any little mistakes in our installation (all of these things ended up being true once they were installed).

A word on purchasing the tile: make sure you purchase enough for your square footage, plus plenty for cutting, breaking, and for when you miscalculated the square footage. (Not that any of those things ever happened to me. . . )

Next up: Supplies

Ok, our cart’s now filled with our chosen tile and we head off to the other side of Floor & Decor to pick up our supplies. Luckily we found a very helpful employee who helped us pick all the tools and the right grout and mortar for us.

Before buying your supplies, make sure you know if you have ceramic, porcelain, glass, or stone tiles. These will change what supplies you need. My supply list is based on using porcelain tiles.

Grout vs. Mortar

Mortar (or thinset) is the first thing you put on the wall (or whatever surface you are tiling). This is the stuff that makes your tile stick to the wall. It’s really important to get the right mortar for your project, so ask someone who knows more about it than I do 🙂 All we had to do is tell our friend that we were tiling a backsplash on drywall and show him our tiles (porcelain, not glass or stone). This is the mortar we used, and it was super easy to use and all our tiles have stuck, so it gets an A+ from me.

Grout is what you put on to fill the gaps between the tiles–it’s what’s visible between your tiles. This goes on on the second day of your project. Again, make sure you choose the right one for your type of tile. And, here’s where you get to stress a little more and pick the right color for your tiles.

We wanted some contrast with our grout, since our tiles were white and our cabinets were white, so we went with Cobblestone Gray. We were debating between a lighter color and a darker one, so compromised on Cobblestone, which was right in the middle. We used this one from Mapei and loved it–also easy to use, our tiles are still on the wall, no sealer required, and the color was pretty dead on the sample color.

Premixed grout vs. Regular grout

I was all about the premixed grout (one less messy step of mixing it on your own). Steve, who actually researched it, was against it as he said some reviews said it was “less sticky” for large projects. I wasn’t super worried about that as we were doing a small backsplash. Our Floor & Decor friend solved our debate for us. He said premixed grout tends to be a lot more expensive, but for a backsplash, performance-wise there wasn’t a huge difference. We went with the regular grout to save money, and I promise, once you’ve mixed the mortar, you know exactly what consistency to mix the grout, so it doesn’t take you that long. And, there’s not any more mess than you already have from the mortar mixing.

Other Supplies you may not have thought about (I hadn’t)

Here are a few more things you need to pick up to complete your project (again, luckily our Floor & Decor friend (and Steve) reminded me of all these things):

  • Large sponges
  • 3-4 buckets (you can go 2 if you want to clean the buckets during the project, but we threw out our mortar bucket since the mortar hardened before we remembered to clean it, and we let our grout bucket settle for a day before cleaning it, so we needed an additional 2 to clean the grout on the second day)
  • Tile cutter for porcelain tiles (you may need a wet saw for glass or stone tiles. We didn’t use this, so I can’t offer any advice on them.)
  • Grout float (didn’t use this one but they’re all pretty much the same)
  • Mortar trowel (We bought a big and small one, but the big one was way too big for me to use easily, and the small one was too small–a real goldilocks situation here. I ended up using the small one to back butter (more on that in the next post) the tiles instead of applying the mortar straight to the wall because I could never get the angles right.)
  • Tile spacers (There are different sizes of tile spacers. The size determines how much grout is visible–the bigger the size, the bigger the grout lines. The most commonly used size (and the size we used) is 3/16″).
  • Painter’s tape (We used this to protect our countertops, cabinets, and adjoining painted walls from the grout)
  • Trash bags (or anything else you’d like to use to protect your counter tops from dropped grout or mortar)
  • Tile Nippers (these cut small or rounded holes in your tile)
  • Mortar mixer (to attach to your drill. If you don’t have a drill and don’t want to buy one, then buy a lot of painter stirrers and get ready for a solid arm workout. I’m not sure if you will get the right consistency without one, though.)
  • Caulk (I like the caulk I can use without a caulk gun. It’s easier for me to control with my small hands. It’s a little more expensive, but worth it for me.)
  • Level, or laser level
  • 1″ x 4″ board, cut to length if you need to apply your backsplash on an area that doesn’t have a counter top to support its weight while the mortar is drying (i.e. behind your stove). If you don’t have a saw, Home Depot will cut the board for free for you, so just bring your measurements with you when you buy it
  • Grout Sealant if needed. (We used a porcelain tile and a grout that didn’t require sealing, so I can’t offer any advice here. But, if you are using a stone tile or a different grout that requires sealing, please talk to your friends at your hardware store for options).

Things you’ll need that I already had at home: screwdriver, sanding block, and a drill.

Got all these things? Great! It took us over an hour and two stores to pick up all this stuff (Floor & Decor had everything, except the lumber). (Insert grumpy and exhausted Lauren here).

Worth every penny of the $30 we spent on it and so easy to use!

Tip: You can definitely do this whole project in one weekend, but if you’re anything like Steve and me, I’d definitely recommend getting your tiles and supplies beforehand. If we had tried to do that Saturday morning and install the backsplash Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, we would not have completed everything in one weekend. And then, we would have been miserable and fighting about finishing it all week.

I think this is more than enough to start. We’ll take a break until the next post to start talking about the next steps–prepping your space and planning out the install. See you Tuesday!
~Lauren