Help? Need to tile backsplash on very uneven wall....

collins designAugust 6, 2010

My neighbor loves my subway tile backsplash so I said I would do hers for her. (mine was so easy!) However, now that her old laminate backsplash has been removed, I see it's not such an easy job...

The old wallboard face was ripped out by the counter installers when they removed the old counter, so part of it is this old, uneven cement stuff, with a 4" hole in one spot though to the framing cavity. In another area, for some reason a piece of 1/4" luan was added and then plastered in so it's flush with part of the wall, but 1/4" proud on part of it. The biggest discrepancy is where the old counter's 4" backsplash and the laminate above that were: it looks like they installed the preformed countertop first, then plastered down to the 4" part, then added the laminate sheet above that. Now that its all been removed there's about a 3/8- 1/2" difference in depth of the wall surface. Way too much to expect thinset to fill in, right???

So, it seems like I need to skim this all with something to level it out, am I correct? What product should I use? And how?

Thanks for any advice!

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It'll be easier to just remove all of the drywall between the counter and cabinets and replace with cement board and then tile. Skimming isn't the easiest of jobs and it comes with it's own risks of adhesion which just aren't worth it for a DIYer. This way you can assess the evenness of the studs and shim for the cement board if needed so that you start with a smooth flat surface. (It's also a chance for the homeowner to assess their home's electrical needs and add outlets or under cabinet lights if needed, since the wall will be open.)

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 10:31AM
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collins design

Thanks.... I realize that's the best, most correct thing to do, however at this point I can't take the wall out and re-do. For one thing, the HO has already installed new sink, counter, etc. And, it's not just simple modern wall-board. There are multiple layers of built-up wood, plsater, and old (1950's?) sheetrock-like material. It would be undoing a lot of $$ they have already spent to do that. They definitely won't go for it.

My neighbor (HO) is doing a very "down-and-dirty" kitchen reno. The house is on the market but she's thinking it may be a year perhaps before it sells, so in the meantime she wants to have a spiffed-up kitchen. She's assuming the buyer will likely completely re-do the kitchen, so doesn't want to invest a lot or make it perfect. We painted the old cabinets, she got a new, inexpensive laminate counter, and HD subway tiles. I just need to figure out how to get the wall even enough for a "pretty good" installation.....

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 11:28AM
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Stacey-- I don't see where it would be undoing any of the money already spent. Maybe you missed the part where live_wire_oak talked about shimming the studs to that the cement board comes out flush to the surrounding wallboard? One very big problem that not many people realise-- if the wall isn't really flat, a brick joint pattern will show off every out of plane point in the wall, by virtue of sticking out a half tile from the tiles above and below it. Being that she's not going to be there very long, that might be fine. But if it doesn't look good, she may be defeating the purpose by flat coating what she has, and tiling it.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 8:38PM
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We're not talking about removing the whole wall. Just the stuff between the countertop and the cabinets---the section that you're talking about tiling. It's REALLY the easisest thing to do! And, it's not that expensive either. Cement board runs about $9 for a 3x5 sheet here, and that can be split into two sections which will cover 10' her backsplash. Even if you need another sheet, that's only say $25 with the anchoring screws and some cedar shims. And you won't be fussing with the old crap trying to float everything to some sort of flatness and then having the tile show you that you really didn't get it as flat as you thought.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 9:50AM
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I think the problem here is it sounds like the base wall is lath and plaster. Removing ONLY the part between the counter top and cabinets is a bit of a challenge. If it were sheet rock it would be a "no brainer" to remove. That is probably the reason why previous owners did such a patch job on the wall in the first place.

I'd look into removing any wood and replacing that with sheetrock, then using the proper sheet rock mud or plaster, filling in all and giving it a good skim coat. That is what I would do so it could be painted, I would not even try to tile over the patch job you described. Like Bill pointed out, you are unlikely to end up with a flat enough surface to get a good tile job unless you use very small tiles.

While you volunteered to set tiles, is repairing/rebuilding the wall something you even want to deal with? For me, setting the tiles is always the easy part of the job - in remodeling projects, preparing the surface so it is suitable to put tiles on is usually were all the work is.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 12:22PM
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collins design

Hi all-

I apologize for not replying right away. I had to go to Florida to deal with a major family emergency....

I wanted to thank you all for your input. Bill- I was hoping you'd chime in!

I did take your advice and removed all the old wall material (various inexplicable layers!) and filled it back in with cement backer board. The tile came out beautifully and my neighbor is super thrilled.

Now--- back to my OWN projects!


    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 2:23PM
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