Is a backsplash really necessary?

drbeanie2000January 5, 2012

A lot of people ask about their splashbacks, or ones they are considering. I wonder if anyone just leaves that area painted. Is it because of a very hot range top that a backsplash is required at least over that? I will have a 48" Capital Culinarian, but so far we don't know what requirements that may dictate.

I went to several tile places yesterday, and just wasn't thrilled with anything. Maybe I don't have to be thrilled by it, but at least I have to be able to clean it! The natural stone protruding at various thicknesses and the small mosaic tiles (I did love these) and their corresponding grout both seem like they could be big time sinks for this messy cook.

I'll echo the subject of this posting - is a backsplash really necessary? Or is it an opportunity for people to add some pizzazz (?) to their kitchens, or is it just "in."

Oh, and if anyone can find a backsplash gallery, let me know! Maybe I'll see one that I just have to have whether it's necessary or not!


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I think they are useful behind the sink and stove...but they don't have to be tile! You could do a granite or marble backsplash that would be a cinch to clean, or something like stainless steel or pressed tin or heavens...anything really. I have even seen beadboard, which is so pretty, although I have a friend IRL who used it and had some moisture problems behind the ink area with it (although hers might have been a poor installation issue.). Anyway there is much you can do without worrying about grout! :)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 5:30AM
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Here is a link to the finished kitchens backsplash slideshow. There is at least one GWer - I think trailrunner? - who has a painted backsplash, and there may be others.

Here is a link that might be useful: Backsplash slideshow

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 6:00AM
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We couldn't decide on a backsplash either, so we're opting to include a 4" backsplash along with the granite counters, then wait until the kitchen is finished, live with it a while, and finally decide whether to tile or just paint. However, our cooktop is on an island, so we don't have that cleanup to deal with. I'm sure you could do something to protect a cooking area while deciding.

Looking at backsplash treatments can be SO overwhelming! Good luck:-)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 9:30AM
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My range is on a stone wall (the back of my fpl). Other than that I have no b/s. Not to be too controversial but I think elaborate b/s are sort of 80s. I don't care for them.

My prior kitchen had breadboard in some areas and tile others. I liked the breadboard.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 10:04AM
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Before reno, we had a 4" rise at the wall on the laminate countertop and just paint above that. It was that way for 40 years. We did re-paint a few times over the years, but it was just paint. It did just fine. Eventually the paint would crackle from age and that's when we knew it was time to repaint. Our kitchen was heavily used for actual cooking and canning chores all those years, so we weren't babying anything.

In the new kitchen, we have a granite counter and a tumbled travertine backsplash. The backsplash gives the kitchen a more finished look - it's pretty. It's also sealed, so I don't worry about spitting spaghetti sauce on the stove or whatever. For strict functionality, though, you don't really need a backsplash.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 10:06AM
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It's necessary behind a stove if the stove has the built-in look (comes right up to the wall with out having a control panel in back). Otherwise, just a convenience. Our kitchen that just got ripped out had 4" solid surfacing coming up from the counter and then white paint above that. I had to repaint annually and it really needed doing after six months. Too much pasta sauce around here for white paint!

I saw somewhere that you can paint the wall and then have glass cut to fit over it to make it easier to clean, but getting grease off glass doesn't sound super easy to me. I'd think it would be streaky.

I'm going with oversized white subway tiles in the new kitchen and hoping I won't hate the grout maintenance.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 10:37AM
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It gets messy behind sinks and stoves. And a high-powered range like a Capital Culinarian or a Bluestar shouldn't be sitting in front of combustible drywall. For the rest of the kitchen, it's mostly just decoration.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 10:42AM
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In your case, yes, you do need a backsplash made from non-combustible materials. See page 36 of the User Guide. An inspector who is thorough would probably fail you on final inspection.

Here is a link that might be useful: Capital Culinarian User Guide

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 11:40AM
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Yes, it will be necessary with your range for fire safety. We have a Wolf with grill/griddle & we were not able to pass inspection with our painted beadboard backsplash until there was a non-flammable backsplash in place behind our range. (We purchased a 10?" stainless accessory piece from Wolf.)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 11:55AM
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Paint is OK in other areas. Touch it up after X years.

Next to your big cooktop: something washable, that can resist a fire.
Therefore usually based on either glass, or metal, or porcelain.
The funny thing is that your wall cabinets can be made of anything at all, which may burn.
Only 18 inches above the cooktop surface!
Imagine a deep pot of oil catching fire.
Its flames start at several inches above the cooktop surface.

I wonder what was going through their minds when they put on the wall above (right next to) the cooktop such combustible surfaces as painted wood, or plasticky (melamine) covering on chipboard. Imagine the self-justifying that must be going through their heads. After all, flames will know to go inwards only, won't they? I mean, flames won't make this wood catch fire, will they?

The funny thing is that your wall cabinets can be made of anything at all, and can be positioned in the flame's "plume". I've seen it happen. I've seen the aftermath of a fire at the cooktop. Yeah for the backsplash.

My position is that there should be stainless steel sheet panels sold as wall cabinet ends. In any case, if the upper cabinets end in a veneered panel, the veneer gets groddy within a few years.


    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 12:17PM
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Not only is a backsplash necessary, it must be white subway tile.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 1:01PM
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Find out the code in your area. I was surprised to learn during my building inspection that in my city, drywall is considered non-combustible material for the Wolf 304DF. I had purchased and installed a 30x24 inch piece of stainless for about $30 total. It's been up over year while I decide what I want to do with the range wall.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 1:27PM
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The last time I built a house I never did decide on a backsplash, and I lived there 7 years. I had an electric range with a back to it, so it wasn't necessary there. You could just get a stainless backsplash behind the range and be done with it. I'm sure your appliance salesperson will be able to get you something like this:

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 1:29PM
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We just painted...but we have an electric cooktop, not a high-powered range like you're considering/getting.

If it is required by your specs or local code, then the answer is "yes" least where it's required. However, if it's not called for by Code or your range's specs, then it's your choice to have one or not. Yes, some people use a backsplash for "bling" in their kitchens, others use cabinetry or countertop for their bling.

Backsplashes can make it easier to clean behind your range or sink if you have an easy-to-clean backsplash. Not all materials and installations are easy to clean.

A painted wall can also be easy or difficult to clean, depending on the paint. If you do not put in a backsplash, I recommend a srubbable paint behind your range & sink, at least.

In our case, we postponed our backsplash (b/c of budget) when we did our kitchen in forward 3.5 years...and we still have not put one in! I'd like to put one in this winter on the cooktop side, but we'll see. We have other big-ticket items looming (like college for my DS this fall...I can't believe he's graduating from high school this May!!!)

Here are a couple of pics of what it looks like. Personally, I think it looks fine, but YMMV.

(Ignore CindyKlein...s/he likes to try to stir up trouble and controversy. Besides, I think her/his comment is humorous! White subway tile has been pretty popular the past few years!)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 5:33PM
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I'll agree with the cindyklein moment of humor, because I've seen posts asking about the best shade of white subway tile. OMG!

Seriously, I think there is an advantage to the brick pattern because alternating vertical grout lines can let you know when to quit scrubbing. In public, in a subway, when some juice lands on the tile it drips down a grout line and stops at a tile. Just in case you wanted to know. Next week's jokester topic might be best grout lines for scrubbing.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 5:59PM
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I didn't see this mentioned, and realized while starting to type this that I've just always assumed this. So I will change this into a question: does the backsplash serve to make up for or accommodate any gaps between counter and wall?

I know there's other threads discussing the importance of quality templating for counter materials such as marble, so perhaps the goal is to NOT have any gaps?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 6:49PM
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it costs more to get a counter that is templated to match the wall.
it costs less to leave it as a straight line.
Then, the backsplash tile thickness might cover the intermittent gap.
This is less likely to happen if the tile is thin.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 7:19PM
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I have a 4" granite backsplash that matches our granite. I just paint the rest of the area. So far it's been 5 years since we did the kitchen and the paint still looks new, even above he sink. It's a matter of choice, do what will make you happy.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 7:34PM
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I'm like buehl - I intended to do a backsplash, but didn't find the perfect tile. I've gone without for two years now, but I just have an induction cooktop. I got quite used to and even enjoyed not having a backsplash, but I'm starting to want more texture back there, so I will get one eventually. It will happen, but isn't a priority. Sounds like with your range it may be a priority though. Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 9:19PM
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How long will you be in love with your backsplash?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 10:39PM
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Hi - we redid our kitchen recently and had a tough time deciding on BS so we opted to paint and see how we like it and if we get inspired. We did decide to put granite BS behind the cooktop since we do a fair but of asian style cooking which spatters.

The granite BS matches our countertop and it's easy to clean. We are currently with no BS elsewhere. Good luck deciding

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 11:34PM
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No backsplash in my kitchen and we have a 60" wolf range. Paint is pretty scrubable these days. we have stainless steel behind our range as shown in mpagmom's photo. Behind our sink, the windows that come all the down to the counter. Ours is new construction so the walls were pretty straight. I've only had to scrub the walls few times in 18 months. Most of our prep is done on an island.

If you do a stainless backsplash behind the range, I would consider having your GC pick it from from the hardware store. Ordering with the appliances will be a lot more expensive.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 12:13AM
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This is very interesting - thank you! I am continually amazed at the response and helpfulness in general of you GW'ers.

In the house where I'll be staying during reno, cleaning the stainless steel fridge seems to require a special cleaner plus a cleaning cloth plus a buffing cloth. That, plus their dented, scratched, and fingerprint-covered SS fridge makes me shy away from stainless steel, I have to say. My husband and I both cook in the kitchen, and I will venture to say, are both just the tiniest bit messy, but right now our "backsplash," or other words the painted wall behind the electric range, cleans just fine with a sponge when we let spaghetti sauce boil over!


    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 2:25AM
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Not to be too controversial but I think elaborate b/s are sort of 80s. I don't care for them.

I see backsplashless kitchens as part of the 80's version of minimalism when alot of people had white,black, and chrome home decor.

I see it as an unfinished kitchen.

This is what is going in behind my Culinarian. You can get it with a coating that is fingerprint resistant. If the coating scratches you can't polish it off though.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 2:47AM
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I have a sheet of coated copper behind my cooktop, and I am glad for it as things do splatter and this is very easy to wipe clean. For the rest of the kitchen we just have 2" beaded soapstone trim with painted walls, though I also got the stone window sills, and I am glad I have them by the sink, as the stone is much more forgiving to splashes than wood, I think.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 12:27PM
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I generally don't use a flat wall paint for kitchens; I usually use an eggshell finish which is shinier and easier to clean. I've never had trouble cleaning up spaghetti spatter, and haven't had to repaint particularly often (I've never had a full backsplash).

Full backsplashes are "in" right now, 4 inch counter material backsplashes are "out," but that's fashion, not function, and not everyone's taste is going to align with current trends. If I ever get my kitchen done, I plan to put in a full backsplash at least behind the range, but will choose some kind of sheet, not tile. It's a pretty rare tile that makes my heart sing, but give me a sheet of copper like honeychurch's and oooh-la-la. To each his own.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 12:56PM
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Speaking of 4-inch backsplashes being "out," this kitchen by Ashley Goforth Design sure makes it look good!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 1:05PM
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Having a washable surface behind the sink and/or range is nice. Beyond that, there is no urgency to have a backsplash. You will find that until the turn of the 21st century or a little earlier, backsplashes tended to be a few inches high and consisted of the same material as the countertop. Before that, people mostly pulled their table away from the wall before doing sloppy things on it. Glossy paint on beadboard was also an early solution to the perceived need for a backsplash. In much of my lifetime, enamel paint or washable wallpaper was the most common backsplash.

Remember: it is only in the recent history of kitchens that people thought that we should spend much money on a kitchen. Used to spend on more important parts of the house. Now it's the homework station, the entertainment area, the family get-together place, the computer station, the booze storage, and more. In previous times, these functions were NOT in the kitchen.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 5:21PM
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Our stove has a very high integrated bs and I love how easy it is to clean up. Our sink has its own bs too, but needs cleaning less often.
We have purchased bs tiles and have yet to have the cash to have them installed. One thing I was considering was to have the feature tile mounted in a frame to hang on the wall (in our case also tiled where it might go with plain tiles behind it) and then if we ever get bored or a future buyer is not loving it, it can be easily swapped out or just removed. It would mean buying more wall tile, but then again, I could make the feature myself if I am feeling crafty and save some on labor. I'd be a lot less eager to try to DIY it if it were on a permanent installation!

If someone tiled a board or such and just propped it behind the stove, it could function as a bs and be even easier to clean....

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 9:00PM
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One thing about the 4" backsplash--it gets grubby. Horizontal surfaces always do. I had one in a former apartment, and once complained about cleaning it while at the house of a friend who had one, too. She insisted it was no problem. One wipe of my finger and we both almost gagged.

So there's that.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 10:06PM
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Marcolo (and everyone),

Do you think a more rounded edge would be easier to clean?

Does anyone do the 4" granite-matching backsplash but just make it thinner?

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 3:36PM
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"Capital Culinarian or a Bluestar shouldn't be sitting in front of combustible drywall."

Drywall is not considered combustible.

Any gas appliance listed for home use will have required clearances to flammable surfaces in the installation instructions.

Most are 'zero clearance' meaning the sides and back of the unit can be directly against flammable surfaces (like your wood cabinets on each side).
Many of the larger stoves also have a requirement for cabinets on each side of the stove and above the top surface to be at least 18 inches above the top of the stove (not from the grates but from the top of the stove).

A back-splash behind a stove (especially a larger one used top cook a lot) should be something easy to clean.

Commercial kitchens often have tile walls, but they can use a garden hose to clean up with (and many do at the end of the day, with HOT water from the hose).

The commercial stoves are not usually zero clearance (and handles and oven doors can get hot enough to burn you) and often have room on each side to make cleaning easier.
The tile is not flammable, so the clearance rules are met (ceramic tile on even cement backer board is very heat resistant and a lousy conductor of heat also).

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 3:48PM
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I also did 4" granite because I couldn't decide on a tile. 4 years later, still can't.

I'm always amazed at how non-dirty my paint actually really gets and how truly easy it has been to keep clean. I don't really find that the 4" gets overly dirty..I spray it /wipe it when I wipe the counters after dinner every night. :)

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 4:13PM
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Don't know if I've ever seen a bullnose edge on a granite backsplash. Seems like a good idea, but added expense. It could look a little bathroomy.

mpagmom, the reason that backsplash looks good is because it is intentionally treated as a design element. It is the same height all the way round, and matches up with the bottom of the window apron and the top of the range trim. It even continues across the bookcase and cupboards. I've never seen a builder 4" backsplash executed that intentionally.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 4:29PM
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Our old kitchen had a tile backsplash and we never considered **not** doing a backsplash in the new kitchen. Cleanup was pretty easy, tile was easy to maintain, and was a design element.

I didn't realize that 4" was "out...". We will be installing a counter that uses concrete with mixed in pea gravel ("River") from a Portland OR company--

Designer suggested using 2 rows of a purple-grayish tile (cloud) and a lighter gray-ish tile above it, horizontally stacked. Tiles are 2 1/2" high x 8 1/2" wide, from this relatively new (and local to us) company--

marcolo made a great point with respect to how natural the transition point in the 2 tile colors in the previous example are.

I don't think we have such a natural transition point, other than perhaps trying to transition somehow in line with or right below outlets and switches.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 11:10PM
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