How to install glass tile

How to install glass tile

Nancy Rose / Getty Images

  • Working Time: 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Yield: 1-inch glass mosaic tile backsplash
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $300

A glass tile backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom announces itself with shimmering light and rich colors. Glass tile is a favorite material for backsplashes because of its beauty, versatility, and durability. Installing a glass tile backsplash is made easy with a sticky thin-set mortar that secures the tiles firmly to the wall. Mosaic glass tiles in 12-inch by 12-inch squares are held together with a mesh backing—no need to set tiles one by one.

Tips For Installing a Glass Tile Backsplash

  • A laser level is helpful, though not necessary, for installing a tile backsplash. The laser line keeps your centerline in check, plus it ensures that the tile rows remain level.
  • Spend ample time dry-fitting the tile on the countertop before installing it on the wall. It’s better to have all spacing issues worked out ahead of time—well before working with the thin-set mortar.
  • With glass mosaic tiles, it is usually possible to avoid cutting tiles entirely with careful space planning.

Safety Considerations

Turn off circuits to all outlets in the backsplash installation area.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drywall knife
  • Laser level
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Notched trowel
  • Hammer
  • Rubber grout float

Materials

  • Glass tile mosaic, 1-inch
  • Pre-mixed thinset mortar
  • Drywall compound
  • Scrap cardboard
  • Painter’s tape
  • Scrap one-by-two or one-by-four lumber
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Grout
  • Caulk

Instructions

Repair and Clean the Wall

Cover the countertop in plastic sheeting and tape down the plastic. The wall should be perfectly flat and free from bumps or depressions. Sand down bumps with a drywall sander fitted with a drywall sanding screen or sandpaper. Fill in depressions and cracks by smoothing them over with drywall compound.

Create a Countertop Spacer

The bottom row of glass tiles will require a space of 1/8-inch between the bottom of the row and the top of the countertops. A single layer of scrap cardboard taped to the counter with painter’s tape works well as a spacer.

Create a Temporary Ledgerboard

For areas outside of the countertop area, create a ledgerboard by screwing scrap one-by-two or one-by-four lumber directly to the wall. Make sure that the ledgerboard meets the height of the countertop cardboard spacer, not the countertop itself.

Establish the Tile Centerline

With the tape measure, determine the center of your tile installation field. Shoot the laser level’s vertical line at this spot.

Dry-Fit the Horizontal Dimensions

Lay out the tile on the countertop. At this point, you want to establish your horizontal spacing. Avoid placing cut tiles in visible places as much as possible.

For example, if there is a corner on the left side and a refrigerator on the right side, begin with full tiles on the left and end adjacent to or behind the refrigerator, again with full tiles. With outlets, you have a bit more tolerance because the outlet faceplate provides up to 1-inch of coverage in all directions.

With scissors, cut the mesh backing that holds the tiles together.

Dry-Fit the Vertical Dimensions

In most kitchens, the distance between the top of the countertop and the bottom of the wall cabinets is 20 inches. Two mosaic tile sheets stacked are 24 inches high, total. So, this gives you plenty of working room.

Hold up one section of tiles to the wall, resting on the cardboard spacer. Hold the second section so that it is 1/8-inch below the bottom of the wall cabinet and overlapping the bottom section. Determine where you want to cut the tile sheet.

Similar to the previous step, use scissors to cut the tile to its correct vertical dimension, plus make any cut-outs for electrical outlets.

It’s usually fine if you need to increase the upper 1/8-inch expansion space to 1/4-inch or even 1/2-inch. This area is not very visible since it is under the cabinets.

Spread Thinset on the Wall

Working in 2-foot square sections to prevent the thinset from drying on you, add thinset to the wall in a three-step process:

  1. With the notched trowel, pull out thinset mortar and fan it across the wall, using the flat edge of the trowel. Maintain a thickness of around 1/4-inch.
  2. With the notched edge, pull across the thinset horizontally. Excess thinset will stick to the trowel or fall to the countertop.
  3. Flatten down the grooves in the thinset with the broad, flat side of the trowel.

Place the First Tile Row

At the centerline, press a sheet of tiles into the thinset, resting on the countertop spacer. One edge of the sheet should be on the centerline. Tap the sheet with a short scrap piece of one-by-four and a hammer to set the tiles in place.

Fill in the Tile Field

Continue setting more tile sheets within the tile field, from side to side. Once you finish the bottom row, move to the second (top) row. Occasionally tap the tiles with the one-by-four and the hammer to flatten them, especially where tile sheets meet.

Grout the Tile

After the tile has fully cured in the thinset, apply grout with the rubber grout float. Run the float diagonally across the tiles to avoid digging out the grout. After the grout has dried, clean off the haze with grout haze cleaner.

Caulk the Tile

Caulk the corners of the tile. Replace the electrical outlets with extenders, if needed.

Skill Level

Start to Finish

Tools

  • level
  • sponge
  • bucket
  • tape measure
  • 1/8″ tile spacers
  • Rubi cutter
  • wet saw
  • grinding stone
  • safety glasses
  • float
  • 3/16″ square-notched trowel

Materials

  • unsanded grout
  • thinset
  • speed square
  • polyurethane
  • glass tiles
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Step 1

How to install glass tile

plan tile layout

Measure and Lay Out the Backsplash

Measure from top of counter to bottom of cabinet and plan your tile layout (Image 1). Incorporate any accent tiles that you have planned for the design.

Mark the center point of the wall and, with a level, draw a horizontal line across the wall from end to end. Also measure up from the finished countertop to the bottom lip of the upper cabinets to determine the number of tile rows needed. Make sure to include 1/8” grout lines in your measurements.

If you are keeping a countertop with a pre-built backsplash (common with laminate countertops like in this project), use the top of that backsplash as the base line for your first row of tiles.

Determine whether you will need to cut tiles at either end of the wall or for the row abutting the upper cabinets.

Step 2

How to install glass tile

apply thin set to wall with a notched trowel

Mix and Apply Thin-Set Mortar

Mix the thin-set mortar according to manufacturer’s directions. Add mortar to water a little at a time while stirring; when ready it should be the consistency of creamy peanut butter.

Wait about 10 minutes after the mortar is mixed to let it set.

Apply thin-set to the wall with a 3/16-inch notched trowel to ensure proper depth. Apply thin-set in smooth, even strokes.

Cover about a 2-square-foot area at a time. Keep a sponge and water handy for cleaning as you go. Thin-set will stay workable for about 45 minutes but don’t apply too much at a time.

Step 3

How to install glass tile

apply tiles to the thin set

Lay the Glass Tiles

A word of caution about glass tiles behind cook stoves: Some glass tiles have a much higher rate of expansion and contraction than do ceramic tiles. Ask the tile retailer (or manufacturer) for a movement joint schedule to help determine if you need to set grout lines slightly wider behind a hot stove. Also, some adhesives and sealants may react with the back coatings of some glass tiles, so make sure the manufacturer supplies you with a list of compatible adhesives and sealants.

Starting with your bottom row of tiles, apply tiles to the thin-set. Press and wiggle each tile to set into the mortar, keeping each flat, plumb and level.

Use 1/8-inch spacers to keep a consistent space between tiles as you go. You can pull out the spacers when the mortar starts to dry.

Add accent tiles or liner bars where you designed them.

Keep an eye on vertical and horizontal lines and use the level to keep you honest.

Epoxy grout ensures a durable installation of glass tile.

How to install glass tile

Photo: Richard Bubnowski Design

Glass tile is gaining in popularity over ceramic tile as the surface of choice in home tiling projects. Although typically more expensive than ceramic tile, glass tile adds a handcrafted, artistic quality that is easily worth the cost.

Unique Appearance
Glass tile comes in a variety of forms and colors, which depend on the process used to create them. Some tiles are cut and cold-cooled while others are melted, cast, and cooled. “In cold-manufacturing, there is no heat, just cutting of the glass,” says Grace Kalina of Boyce & Bean, a glass and clay manufacturing company in California. “On the other hand, cast glass involves mixing sands and chemicals and melting them in a tank, which is then dropped into trays for cooling.”

The end result can vary by color, thickness, size, and shape. Some glass tiles contain tiny bubbles within each tile, which create a “still wet” look and makes for individual tiles that, like snowflakes, are one-of-a-kind. The varieties of glass tile allow for endless customization options, and its versatility opens the door to indoor and outdoor projects alike.

Durability
Glass is not always associated with durability, but in truth glass tile can be just as strong and long lasting as ceramic tile. By nature, glass tile retains certain properties that make it more resilient than ceramic tile. “Glass tile is not porous,” Kalina says, “so it does not absorb moisture.” Moisture penetration is the enemy of any tile project since it can spell mold and mildew. There is no such worry with glass tile as long as it is properly installed.

Glass Tile Installation
Most tile installers will tell you there’s not much difference between installing ceramic tile and installing glass tile. “Installing glass tile is pretty straightforward,” says Thomas Hubbard, a tile installer in Burlington, Vermont. “Some installers get hung-up on the cutting of the glass, but in all it’s not that difficult to install.” Hubbard typically sees glass tile used as an accent, but it can be used for larger projects, including entire walls, or shower ceilings.

Like ceramic tile, installing glass tile involves setting the glass onto the work surface. Since glass tile is translucent, the thin-set is usually white; so as to maintain a clear background that doesn’t affect the glass color. “With glass tile, which is see-through, the thin-set or subsurface must be perfect,” says Kalina. “If the tile is used in the bottom of a swimming pool, for example, the thin-set must be smoothed out or it will show.”

Grout for Long-Lasting Beauty
Grout will also impact the durability and look of the glass tile installation. Epoxy grouts are becoming popular for use with glass tile because of their longevity, strength, and relationship with the glass. Grouts like SpectraLOCK or Kerapoxy have a chemical composition that resists stains and breakdown. They are also non-porous and non-absorbent.

When mixed with antimicrobial products such as Microban, epoxy grouts also inhibit the growth of mold or mildew, a common occurrence with regular cement grout. “Cement-based grouts absorb moisture, so you have to seal the grout every two years,” Hubbard says.

Non-absorbent epoxy grouts require little maintenance, so while they may cost more than cement grout up front, they more than make up for it over time. The rubbery plastic-like characteristics of epoxy grouts make for a more challenging application, and a stronger finished product. “It takes a lot of elbow grease,” says Hubbard: “It also takes a lot of washing after. I’ll go over it several times with a light vinegar and water mix.”

Epoxy grouts come in a variety of colors, can be mixed with additives to adjust hue or create sparkles, and will not fade or change color over time. Set times for epoxy grouts are comparable to their cement counterparts. “I usually recommend staying off it for 24 hours,” Hubbard advises.

Epoxy grout ensures a durable installation of glass tile.

How to install glass tile

Photo: Richard Bubnowski Design

Glass tile is gaining in popularity over ceramic tile as the surface of choice in home tiling projects. Although typically more expensive than ceramic tile, glass tile adds a handcrafted, artistic quality that is easily worth the cost.

Unique Appearance
Glass tile comes in a variety of forms and colors, which depend on the process used to create them. Some tiles are cut and cold-cooled while others are melted, cast, and cooled. “In cold-manufacturing, there is no heat, just cutting of the glass,” says Grace Kalina of Boyce & Bean, a glass and clay manufacturing company in California. “On the other hand, cast glass involves mixing sands and chemicals and melting them in a tank, which is then dropped into trays for cooling.”

The end result can vary by color, thickness, size, and shape. Some glass tiles contain tiny bubbles within each tile, which create a “still wet” look and makes for individual tiles that, like snowflakes, are one-of-a-kind. The varieties of glass tile allow for endless customization options, and its versatility opens the door to indoor and outdoor projects alike.

Durability
Glass is not always associated with durability, but in truth glass tile can be just as strong and long lasting as ceramic tile. By nature, glass tile retains certain properties that make it more resilient than ceramic tile. “Glass tile is not porous,” Kalina says, “so it does not absorb moisture.” Moisture penetration is the enemy of any tile project since it can spell mold and mildew. There is no such worry with glass tile as long as it is properly installed.

Glass Tile Installation
Most tile installers will tell you there’s not much difference between installing ceramic tile and installing glass tile. “Installing glass tile is pretty straightforward,” says Thomas Hubbard, a tile installer in Burlington, Vermont. “Some installers get hung-up on the cutting of the glass, but in all it’s not that difficult to install.” Hubbard typically sees glass tile used as an accent, but it can be used for larger projects, including entire walls, or shower ceilings.

Like ceramic tile, installing glass tile involves setting the glass onto the work surface. Since glass tile is translucent, the thin-set is usually white; so as to maintain a clear background that doesn’t affect the glass color. “With glass tile, which is see-through, the thin-set or subsurface must be perfect,” says Kalina. “If the tile is used in the bottom of a swimming pool, for example, the thin-set must be smoothed out or it will show.”

Grout for Long-Lasting Beauty
Grout will also impact the durability and look of the glass tile installation. Epoxy grouts are becoming popular for use with glass tile because of their longevity, strength, and relationship with the glass. Grouts like SpectraLOCK or Kerapoxy have a chemical composition that resists stains and breakdown. They are also non-porous and non-absorbent.

When mixed with antimicrobial products such as Microban, epoxy grouts also inhibit the growth of mold or mildew, a common occurrence with regular cement grout. “Cement-based grouts absorb moisture, so you have to seal the grout every two years,” Hubbard says.

Non-absorbent epoxy grouts require little maintenance, so while they may cost more than cement grout up front, they more than make up for it over time. The rubbery plastic-like characteristics of epoxy grouts make for a more challenging application, and a stronger finished product. “It takes a lot of elbow grease,” says Hubbard: “It also takes a lot of washing after. I’ll go over it several times with a light vinegar and water mix.”

Epoxy grouts come in a variety of colors, can be mixed with additives to adjust hue or create sparkles, and will not fade or change color over time. Set times for epoxy grouts are comparable to their cement counterparts. “I usually recommend staying off it for 24 hours,” Hubbard advises.

Q: How do I prevent the mesh backing on transparent glass mosaic tile from showing through when the tile is installed?

A: Tom Meehan, a second-generation tile installer and co-author of Working with Tile who lives and works in Harwich, Mass., responds: Glass tile can be very frustrating, even when you do things right. Most problems with glass tile arise from installation methods. My article, “Working With Glass Tile” (Mar/17), goes into more detail about the whole installation process.

Proper installation of any glass tile begins with prepping the walls. For installations in bathrooms and other high-moisture areas, I usually give the walls a coat of liquid stress-crack membrane. I follow that application with a skim coat of the thinset recommended by the manufacturer of the glass tile that I will be installing. When the skim coat has set, I give it a light sanding to make sure there are no ridges or bumps.

Because the thinset will be visible through the glass tile, it’s important to use white thinset and to make sure you’re using the thinset recommended by the glass-tile manufacturer. It is equally important that you have 100% coverage of the thinset—especially with mesh-backed glass tile.

To achieve 100% coverage, spread the thinset on the wall with the flat side of the trowel, as close to perfectly smooth as possible. Then switch to the notched side of the trowel (use the appropriate-size teeth for the size of the tile) and comb the thinset evenly in one direction. Last, go back to the flat side of the trowel and flatten all of the ridges of the thinset without scraping off any of the thinset, while continuing to maintain an even thickness.

When the thinset is ready, push the sheet of glass tile into it, shifting the tile back and forth until it is 100% embedded in the thinset (3). The white mesh on the back of the sheet should disappear completely into the thinset. Occasionally, some threads of the mesh might be visible next to the grout joints, but only if you are looking at the tile at an angle. When in doubt, try out your installation methods on a small area first.

About the Author

Tom Meehan, author of Working with Tile, is a second-generation tile installer who lives and works in Harwich, Mass.

Kitchen backsplash is a wonderful way to show off your design tastes. Glass Tile is a very popular backsplash that comes in many different styles, types, colors, and textures that are easy to incorporate into your home. If you’re wondering how much it will cost, check out our cost guide on installing backsplash professionally. If you are unsure of what backsplash you want, check out our 2017 Look Book of Backsplash Trends. When it comes to installing ceramic, porcelain, or stone tile backsplash we recommend you contact a professional. For free quotes without hassle or pressure, fill out our 2-minute questionnaire. Compare prices and profiles of our licensed, bonded, and insured professionals and get the best price for your project!

Materials:

  • 12 inch Square Tile Sheets
  • Unsanded Grout (unless otherwise specified)
  • One Gallon of Tile Mastic

Tools:

  • Tape measure
  • Block of wood
  • Putty Knife
  • Toothed trowel
  • Hammer
  • Grout float
  • Large Sponge
  • Soft cloth or rag

Installing Glass Tile:

  • If you have outlets on the wall you plan to install the backsplash, you will need to cut the tile beforehand.
  • If you are removing any outlets or switch covers, remember to turn the power off from your fuse box. Test outlets before proceeding to place tile.
  • Measure beforehand to ensure your tile does not go over the length of your outside wall. You do not want jagged cut tile on the outside wall. If you find that your wall is smaller than the amount of tile, consider moving the jagged end to an inner corner wall.

Step One: Start by measuring from the top of your counter to the bottom of your cabinets, followed by the height of the wall you intend to place the backsplash. After calculating how many rows and columns of tile you will need, begin planning the exact layout including any accent tiles you wish to include. Place tile squares along your counter allowing a 1/8″ gap between each to leave room for grout. Following the line of tiles on your counter take a pencil and sketch a general guide for applying mastic and continue up the length of your wall.

Step Two: Place a strip of painter’s tape along the top of your counter and on the bottom of your cabinets. Use the wall marks as a general guide of where to apply the mastic. Using a toothed trowel, begin spreading the mastic over the area where the first 3 feet of tile will be installed. Be sure to spread the mastic evenly. Lay cardboard spacers flat on the countertop with their edges pressed against the wall.

Step Three: Begin with the bottom row if you are stacking more than one row of glass tile. Aligning the outside edge with the wall and resting the bottom on the cardboard spacer, begin pressing the glass tile sheet into place. Remember to leave space for grout, usually 1/8″.

Step Four: Holding a block of wood firmly, begin tapping it with a hammer to evenly set the individual pieces of tile. Move the tile along the length of the placed tile and continue tapping it until all pieces are evenly placed. You can easily test this by running your hand across the tile lightly. If it feels even you did it correct. If it’s uneven, go ahead and re-tap the uneven places. Continue this process until the desired amount of backsplash is placed.

Step Five: Let dry for 24 hours or the designated amount of time given by the maker.

Grouting the Tile

  • If you are filling space less than 1/8″, purchase “unsanded” grout unless otherwise specified.
  • When applying and pressing grout, move the grout float diagonal to the lines only.

Step One: Grab your grout float, apply and press grout between the tiles. Only move the grout float diagonal to the grout lines. It is best to work in small areas at a time. Try sticking to a work space of 3 feet for the best results.

Step Two: It is important that you take care to mind your timing during the next few steps. You want the grout to be dry enough to hold the joints in place, but wet enough to be cleaned without applying too much pressure.

As the grout begins to form it will haze your tile, when you see this take a moist sponge and clean away the excess. Be sure to wash the sponge frequently throughout the process to ensure the best results.

Step Three: Before the grout has completely dried, use a soft, dry cloth to clean off the remaining haze. Begin sliding the cardboard spacers out from the bottom row of tiles.

Step Four: Wait two weeks before applying grout sealer for the first time. It is important to apply grout sealer annually.

How Can Great Pros Help?

Backsplash installations can be done by yourself as a DIY project, or you can find a professional to get the job done. We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to install glass tile backsplash! If you need help, contact us for free quotes from licensed, bonded, and insured professionals! Fill out our 2 minute questionnaire to get started! There is never pressure or hassle when you use Great Pros. Compare prices and profiles to get the right price for your project! You can check out our cost guide post to estimate how much it would be to intall backsplash in your kitchen professionally. If you’re not sold on glass tile backsplash, check out these other types of back splash in our 2017 Backsplash Trends Look Book.

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How to install glass tile

Installing some glass tile in your kitchen or bathroom can add an instant dramatic change to the overall decor of the room. Without major expense or renovation you can change the overall look of your room with the use of glass tile.

Backsplashes and countertops are a great place to install glass tile for a clean, polished look. There are some cleaning and maintenance care guidelines to follow, but you should be able to enjoy a long lasting countertop of glass tile for many years.

Step 1 – Remove Old Tile and Clean

Remove any tile that is on your countertops now. Use a small chisel and work along the grout pattern. This will take some time, but will make the clean up much easier. Pry each tile off and dispose of it. Using a scraper or sander, scrape off the remaining mortar and grout. Clean the entire area and remove any debris or dust.

Step 2 – Dry Fit Tile

How to install glass tile

The best way to make sure you are going to like the glass tile pattern, and confirm you have enough to use, is to dry fit the tile where it is going to go. Work with the spacing, and make measurements for any pieces that will need to be cut. If you can do this from the outset, then the actual installation goes very quickly.

Step 3 – Mix Thinset

Mix the thinset according to the directions on the package. Each manufacturer has a slightly different method for mixing their tile thinset. Mix the thinset in a bucket with a mixing paddle attached to a drill. Mix to a mud like consistency.

Step 4 – Set in Tile

How to install glass tile

Apply a thin coating of thinset to the surface area of where you are going to tile, using the trowel. This will take some practice if you have never done it before. Work in small sections so it does not dry out. Spread it out over the length of the area and then use the notched end to create grooves in the thinset.

Set the first tile into place with equal pressure on all four sides. Work it into the thinset and apply pressure for a few seconds. Continue setting in the tile working steadily so the thinset does not dry out. Keep each row even and use spacers in between each tile. Take care not to push any of the thinset up over the tile. You can press firmly, but not enough to dislodge any of the thinset.

Step 5 – Apply Grout

Mix the tile grout according to the instructions on the package. Using a grout spreader, spread the grout across the glass tile. Work it into the seams until it is level all across the countertop. The important point is to fill in all the seams as much as possible with the grout. Using a grout smoother, go through all grout lines leaving a finished look. A nice beveled look is nice and will not let water sit in the grout lines. After grout has dried, wipe off the rest of the tile with a sponge and warm water.

How to install glass tile

Installation Videos

Installation Videos

Check out our library of super helpful tips and tricks to ensure you have a picture perfect tile installation. From creating an award winning finished look – to a fully guided backsplash tile installation. . . our library of glass tile installation videos is continually growing. Don’t see it here? Give our Technical Services Team a call and get personal 1 on 1 advice and trouble shooting.

This instructional video demonstrates how to install paper faced glass mosaic tile. Topics include, thin-set application, sheet installation, paper removal and mosaic tile adjustment. Techniques are demonstrated by David Fatula and Brian Fitzgerald, professional tile installers and members of Oceanside Glasstile Technical Services.

This instructional video details the process of installing an Oceanside Glasstile mosaic backsplash. Topics include, inspecting tile, preparing the substrate, cutting tile, selecting thin-set, mixing thin-set, installing paper-face glass tile, grouting, sealing and maintenance. David Fatula and Brian Fitzgerald, professional tile installers and members of Oceanside Glasstile Technical Services, will take you through the entire step-by-step process. Shorter video segments of each topic are also available.

Are you wondering how to give your kitchen backsplash a finished look? In this glass tile tutorial, Brian Fitzgerald, Senior Technical Services Rep with Oceanside Glasstile, walks you through how to turn a glass tile liner into a finished trim piece for a beautifully completed tile installation.

This instructional video shows how to cut paper faced glass mosaics with a wet saw. Also includes techniques for cutting around backsplash outlets, cutting with glass mosaic nippers and a list of recommended glass tile blades. Cutting techniques are demonstrated by David Fatula and Brian Fitzgerald, professional tile installers and members of Oceanside Glasstile Technical Services.

This instructional video shows how to cut film faced glass mosaics with a wet saw. Cutting techniques are demonstrated by David Fatula and Brian Fitzgerald, professional tile installers and members of Oceanside Glasstile Technical Services. To download a list of recommended glass tile blades, please visit us at www.installogt.com.

Curious how to install a paper-facing mosaic gradient? Brian, our Product & Technical Services Manager, goes over the basics and offers some keys for a successful gradient install no matter what the size.