How to Install a Solid-Surface Backsplash
Save money and sharpen your DIY skills by learning how to install a solid-surface backsplash.
If installing a traditional tile backsplash feels a little out of your DIY league, putting up one made from a single sheet of solid surface material may just be your saving grace. As This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers shows here, shaping, cutting, and gluing up this inexpensive stock material—available from companies such as Swanstone, which makes the beadboard backsplash shown here, in a variety of colors and patterns—is a weekend project most amateurs can conquer with confidence. And when you have your sleek backsplash in place, you'll think it such a stylish protector from splashes and splatters you'll wonder why you ever considered tile in the first place.
Building a Solid-Surface Backsplash Overview
Solid surfacing is a nonporous synthetic material, made to look like stone, that is commonly used for shower and tub surrounds and for countertops. It's a natural fit for a backsplash because it's easy to clean. For such an application, however, it's important to use 1/4-inch-thick material, which is comparable to the thickness of tile. Anything thicker would be hard to cut and would look too bulky once installed. The panel style you choose should complement the design of your kitchen: beadboard for a country kitchen or a pebbled pattern for a rustic look, for example. Avoid options with deep crevices where grease and dirt can settle or a pattern that is difficult to match up at the seam. Cutting the material is slow going; fit your jigsaw with a metal-cutting blade and your circular saw with a diamond blade for the best results.
The best way to make an accurately fitted panel—one that accounts for any changes in height or cuts around a window or outlet—is to make a plywood template of the area first, then trace around it onto the solid surface. You don't need to use a single piece of plywood for this; strips glued together to indicate the outline of the various parts works well and is easy to put together. To create the illusion of a seamless solid surface, minimize joints by installing the backsplash in one piece, if possible. A backsplash should be at least 4 inches high, but it can also fill the entire space between countertop and upper cabinets. Keep in mind, however, that varying the height of the backsplash can be distracting, so if the walls above your counters transition from cabinets to open space, you'll want to just continue the backsplash beyond the cabinets at the same height, then finish the raw edge with some trim detail. The one exception to the consistent-height rule is the area behind a range, between the countertop and a vent hood, when you would want the backsplash to fill the entire area.