How to install a ceramic tile backsplash around electrical outlets

Written by larry simmons
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How to install a ceramic tile backsplash around electrical outlets
An electrical box extender extends outlets so they bare flush with tile. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Installing a ceramic tile backsplash is a way to alter the look of your walls, changing the appearance with a wide variety of available tile sizes and designs. In addition to changing the look of your wall, a backsplash also adds protection for the wall's surface against water or oil damage. Tiling around electrical sockets, however, adds complexity to the installation process. You'll need to do a bit of precision cutting to make the tile fit around the outlet. The installation of a box extender to the electrical box containing the outlet is necessary as well, to adjust the outlet for the new height of the wall's surface. While these steps add time to the installation, the results are a clean-looking backsplash installed around an accessible outlet.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Screwdriver
  • Mild liquid soap
  • Tile adhesive
  • Notched trowel
  • Ceramic tiles
  • Measuring tape
  • Grease pencil
  • Tile nipper
  • Grout float
  • Grout
  • Sponge
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Caulking
  • Electrical box extenders
  • Extension screws

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  1. 1

    Turn off the power supply leading to the outlets that you're tiling around, at the circuit breaker box. Test that the power is actually off by plugging a lamp into the electrical sockets and then attempting to turn it on.

  2. 2

    Remove all of the affected outlet panel and light switch covers with a screwdriver and set them aside. Place an electrical box extender into each electrical box, at outlet openings, with the screw holes of the extender aligned with those of the original box. Pull electrical plugs and switches through the box extender. When tile is applied it will be flush with the extended electrical boxes.

  3. 3

    Clean the wall with a mild liquid soap and warm water. Rinse the soap away with clean water and pat the wall dry with a dry towel.

  4. 4

    Arrange the tiles in the pattern you wish to place them onto the wall by laying them out on the counter. If a space is left from the arrangement on the end of the tile row for a partial tile, then split the space in half and place a partial tile of equal sizes on either end of the row to balance out the look of the arrangement.

  5. 5

    Spread the tile adhesive onto the wall using a notched trowel. Cover a space of about 3 square feet using the flat of the trowel. Angle the trowel to a 45-degree angle and go over the spread adhesive with the notches on the edge to create ridges to grip the rear of the tiles.

  6. 6

    Place the tile onto the adhesive beginning from the counter level and working upwards, and from the centre of the wall out to both edges of the tiling area. Press the edges of the tiles together with the bevelled lines creating the joints that serve as uniform lines between rows. Place the first row of tiles, skipping the tiles that would cover the outlets and the partial tiles at the edge. After completing a row, place the next row up, until you complete the placement of whole tiles.

  7. 7

    Cut the partial tiles for the edges with a tile cutter, and then place all the partial tiles onto the wall.

    Measure the outlet holes with measuring tape. Mark the measurements onto the tiles with a grease pencil. Cut the tiles to fit, using a tile nipper to clip the tiles along the marked lines. Place the tile between the jaws of the nipper and then apply pressure through the nipper handles to the jaws to snap pieces of the tile away until you work your way to the drawn lines. Place the cut tiles around the outlets. Allow the adhesive to set overnight.

  8. 8

    Mix the tile grout in a bucket to the consistency of peanut butter. Apply the grout to the joints of adjacent tiles with a grout float. Push the grout over the face of the tiles into the joints, filling them completely. Fill all joints except those along the counter line. Remove excess grout from the tile surface with a damp sponge, wait two hours and wipe any remaining grout residue away with a clean lint-free cloth. Give the grout 24 hours to dry.

  9. 9

    Place a bead of caulk into the joint between the counter and the backsplash to provide waterproofing. Wet the tip of a finger and draw the fingertip along the surface of the bead to flatten it out.

  10. 10

    Screw outlet covers and light switches back over each electrical box, using the extension screws to reach through the cover, then the outlet, then the extender into the original electrical box.

  11. 11

    Turn the power to the outlet back on from the circuit breaker box.

Tips and warnings

  • For a horizontal partial tile row, place the tiles beneath the cabinet tops or at the top of the back splash.
  • Make sure the grouting lines on the back splash match any on a tiled countertop. Use tile spacers to make the match if necessary.
  • Wear safety goggles and latex gloves when applying the adhesive or the grout to protect the eyes and skin.

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