Kitchen Renovation Insanity: Tiling Edition
August 1, 2019 6:33 PM   Subscribe

We are finally renovating my kitchen. I am having arguments with my husband about many things about the kitchen but the final one appears to be tiling. I'm losing my mind and my patience. Help me solve this simple problem. Do you tile the wall behind built-in cabinets and countertops? That's it. Simple.

But no.

My view is that you tile AFTER fitting cabinets and countertops - saves on materials and ensures a good finish (when you've grouted and caulked etc).

My husband believes that we (meaning me, because he has done no tiling whatsoever before and I have) should tile the entire wall and THEN fit cabinets and countertops because of random handwavy Reasons including "making sure that the wall is sealed off from moisture", "it'll be easier to clean" and my personal favourite of "we won't have to retile if we move the cabinets" (considering it's taken 5 years to get to this point, I doubt we're going to suddenly start moving stuff around every other month).

Who is correct?

Bonus points for explanation/s of why.

I'm begging you. Save my marriage. I don't care if I'm wrong. I just want a kitchen again.

NOTE: We are using standard IKEA kitchen cabinets and will have their Caesarstone countertops.
posted by ninazer0 to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, because you're wasting money/materials by putting tile someplace where it will never be seen, and the cabinets have to be hung on something stronger than tile.
posted by mccxxiii at 6:36 PM on August 1, 2019 [41 favorites]

You are correct, your husband is wrong to a degree that is almost bizarre. Apart from anything else what your husband is suggesting would require drilling through tile in order to fix the cabinets to the wall, which is a giant pain in the ass. Just no.

Credentials - interior designer if it matters
posted by arha at 6:37 PM on August 1, 2019 [56 favorites]

Also, tiles don't seal the wall off from moisture, really.
posted by arha at 6:39 PM on August 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

All the many TV shows I've watched on home renovations: they do the "back splash" or decorative tile last. The pro who did our kitchen did it last after the cabinets and countertop.
posted by forthright at 6:40 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

"It'll be easier to clean" people clean behind cabinets and counters?
posted by acidnova at 6:44 PM on August 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

After. Though you should finalize your tile choice early on so things like electrical boxes are installed with proper depth.
posted by Mitheral at 6:46 PM on August 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

What? No. You're 100% correct here. Cabinets go first, tile/backsplash is afterwards, even if it's the whole wall.

Reference: Me - I have renovated 7 kitchens.
posted by the webmistress at 6:47 PM on August 1, 2019 [13 favorites]

You’re correct. Tell him to watch a couple episodes of any kitchen reno show on HGTV if he doesn’t believe you.
posted by amro at 6:53 PM on August 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

You are 100% correct, he is approximately 10,000% incorrect. We just had our kitchen renovated by professionals and the tiles were literally the last thing put in
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:59 PM on August 1, 2019 [13 favorites]

In modern American kitchens I have only seen tiles installed at the end for the exact reason you have specified. I have cut tiles. Literally every other material is easier to cut and fit. And I have ikea cabinets that I installed and I would never take them off to clean the wall. An exhausting hood for the stove would be a much better investment for keeping walls clean.

However I have seen kitchens where the tiling was floor to ceiling. In one every surface was tiled. Everything. Counters. The ceiling. In suburban Chicagoland. It was very loud. And yellow. And reflective. Which sounds terrible, but I loved it.
posted by zenon at 7:12 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Does he think it's going to be an easy matter use a masonry bit to drill through the tile WHILE holding the cabinets in place? The wall is unlikely to be perfectly flat and plumb, so I imagine there'll be some shimming to be the cabinets straight - doing this over tile would be crazy when you could avoid it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:18 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Maybe you or he or both should seek a therapist, this is totally bonkers. He’s bamboozling you. You know you know better. Where does he get off pushing you towards ignorant nonsense.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:19 PM on August 1, 2019 [12 favorites]

Just to continue the pile-on, I too have recently had my kitchen done by professionals (including a pro designer) and the tile was installed last, no overlap behind the cabinets.
posted by aramaic at 7:28 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

"move the cabinets"?!?
posted by easement1 at 7:29 PM on August 1, 2019 [23 favorites]

Our contractor just finished our kitchen renovation. The tile was the very last thing to go up. The basic order was demolition, new cabinets, new countertops, then the tile. The tile covered from the countertop to the bottom of the cabinets, no further.
posted by DrGail at 7:30 PM on August 1, 2019

ALSO the kitchen we just had done by pros was IKEA cabinets with quartz countertops, so identical to what you're doing, in case he comes at you with some sort of theory about IKEA cabinets being different. This is so bonkers. Like, are you sure he's not punking you?
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:39 PM on August 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

There is some debate about tiling the *floor* before or after installing cabinets, but the cabinets don't attach to the floor! They attach to the wall! If you tile behind them, you'll have to drill through the tile, a permanent hole that you can't easily repair if you move the cabinets, unlike a similar hole in drywall!
posted by muddgirl at 7:55 PM on August 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

You can’t hang cabinets on tile, they screw directly into the wall. Your husband is super wrong.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:59 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tiles are themselves basically the opposite of how to make sure a wall is sealed off from moisture, because they're not actually waterproof but they do do a great job of concealing minor issues and letting them become major ones all while the standing there being a happy facade! Our bathroom has diy'd shower tiles and I live in horror of the thought that one day we will suddenly find out water has been seeping behind them this whole time.

Also, I can only assume your kitchen walls are not currently tiles top-to-bottom?? Have you actually experienced any issues with moisture or cleaning (cleaning what? he knows they have backs, right?) in the current configuration?
posted by teremala at 8:03 PM on August 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

We literally just finished a complete kitchen renovation. Cabinets get installed directly on the drywall. You don’t tile behind them. There’s not even a debate about that. If you were asking about whether to put the floor under cabinets or not, that’s an actual debate. But wall tile? Heck no.
posted by katypickle at 8:04 PM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

i just spent many thousands of dollars renovating a house that we gutted to the studs (including with a pro kitchen designer and the help of a general contractor) and your husband is wrong as hell.
posted by zdravo at 8:14 PM on August 1, 2019

Does he think it's going to be an easy matter use a masonry bit to drill through the tile WHILE holding the cabinets in place?

Not that I'm advocating tile first but if tiling the whole wall was the right choice because of REASONS (open shelving maybe?) the correct way to mount the cabinets after would be to hang them with french cleats. A heck of a lot easier AND it would make the cabinets easy to dismount to clean the tiles behind.
posted by Mitheral at 8:17 PM on August 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Most unanimous ask ever?

Tile and other specialty finishes are always installed last. Even in restaurants. Even in airports. Even in church.
posted by q*ben at 9:11 PM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

As above, you are correct x 10000.

I also feel you on the part where your husband second guesses his wife's expertise in home renovations.
posted by Dashy at 9:12 PM on August 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

My husband knows pretty much zero about home repairs, DIY, etc. I handle it all, from hiring professionals and supervising their work to doing lots of stuff myself to save money. It pisses me right off when all of a sudden my husband jumps in with an ill informed opinion on something I'm doing - it seems like a macho thing that sometimes he has to argue with me about renovations because his male ego can't handle leaving this stuff to a woman. It's actually the only thing we argue about, and you have my sympathy. And of course you're right and he's wrong.
posted by hazyjane at 9:13 PM on August 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

if he doesn't believe you and everyone in this thread, will he believe Home Depot?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:20 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, backsplash tile can be pricey, and it's something to splurge on because it's so visible. I did - I think my 17? sf of glass tile cost close to $2k (at least I saved on installation, but that grout was a pita). I'd guess putting it behind cabinets would cost 5x that? Yikes.

And just the idea of fancy glass tile behind cabinets demonstrates the ridiculousness of it.
posted by Dashy at 9:49 PM on August 1, 2019

Where does he get off pushing you towards ignorant nonsense.

Like, are you sure he's not punking you?

He's a lovely man from a family where the only means of communication seems to be starting an argument with a person to demonstrate affection. We've been married nearly 20 years so either he's not punking me or he's playing a very long game indeed. No idea why he's digging his heels in on this one.

Thank you for the reality check dear friends! You've made me feel a lot better. I shall proceed with my original plans.
posted by ninazer0 at 10:30 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I mean, go ahead and let him price it. That might change his mind.
posted by amanda at 11:15 PM on August 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

If we’re being generous: the general approach for tiling a kitchen floor is that you tile before you install the lower cabinets so that they sit on the tile. You don’t tile all the way to the wall, though. You still tile presuming the cabinets are going in and you can leave some empty area underneath.

Anyway, that could be what he has in mind. He’s still wrong about the backsplash.

It’s also a common mistake to think tiles are a moisture barrier. They are not.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:43 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am going to provide an explanation for when you would make a different choice. IKEA kitchens hang cabinets from a heavy metal rail that is installed near ceiling height. It is possible to move/remove/change the cabinets any time. Indeed, in some European kitchens, the cabinetry is supposed to be removable, because the tenant takes it with them when they go. So, there's generally finished walls.

We have an IKEA kitchen. Our tiled backsplash is just 6" high leading to a small 2" ledge for cups, spices, etc, and then it's just semi-gloss paint the rest of the way up. I would definitely not have installed expensive tile all the way up just to hide it behind the cabinets, though. I'd have stopped a couple inches above where the cabinet bottoms would be, assuming there would always be cabinets of SOME kind there. But if you wanted the flexibility you could run them all the way up to the cabinet rail.

So, based on this, an argument could be made to finish the whole wall in anticipation of using hanging style cabinets that you will almost certainly want to change later.

But, if you're doing regular Norteamericano cabinets that screw into the wall and studs in multiple places and are only removed during a major renovation, it's just dumb to finish the walls behind them beyond proper priming.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:34 AM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Your husband seems to have an impression that applying tile should follow the same principles as applying paint. You would paint a wall before hanging cabinets. But tile is not paint, and you are correct.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:03 AM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you double-sure he's not conflating floor tiles with wall tiles? They really are two separate steps in the process.

(We redid our kitchen beyond the studs a few years ago, after four years of my indecisive wife going round-and-round with multiple contractors and designers -- not one of whom would have tiled behind cabinets.)

Put it to him this way: wouldn't an unethical contractor agree to tile behind the cabinets, then not do it (because how could you tell) and simply lie to you about it, saving the costs of material and labor? of course they would! Which is why no one does it, because who wants to reward that kind of dirtbag move? No one.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:39 AM on August 2, 2019

"move the cabinets"?!?

The only instance I have done this might warrant an exception to the unanimous views here. I had an electric cooktop with a downdraft exhaust. We decided to replace it with an induction cooktop, and no induction unit with downdraft was available to fit the space. Besides, downdraft is inferior to a good hood exhaust. So the cabinet above the cooktop had to be removed and rebuilt to accommodate a hood, and the original tiled backsplash did not go high enough. Luckily, the previous owner had left behind spare tiles, so I added more tiles to fill the gap. Had the wall behind the cabinet been tiled in advance, this would not have been necessary. But by the same token I would have had to break through the tiles to accommodate the exhaust duct.

So the moral of the story is: Don't tile behind the cabinets, but DO save some extra tiles (and grout) in case you ever want to move or remove a cabinet.
posted by beagle at 8:18 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

The answer is pretty obvious, but here are a few more reasons to support you. When the cabinets are installed, they may have to make some slight adjustments to make it level or fit the floor/wall. Tiling after the install will insure the tile meeting the countertop looks even. Otherwise there could be a mismatch of sloped look to the tile.

The other is that if you do move the cabinets down the road, the tile and grout that was hidden will not look the same, and it will be difficult to clean one or dirty the other to make match.

For what it is worth, we tiled the floor and side wall that would be hidden by a vanity in our bathroom, but only because we had not selected the vanity when the rest of the work was completed and styles with legs and solid bases were still in the running. But for the kitchen, definitley add the tile later.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 9:44 AM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

It’s also a common mistake to think tiles are a moisture barrier. They are not.

Tiles are a moisture barrier, but that doesn't mean they are 100% waterproof. If you have a home built between say 1960-1990, there is most likely nothing behind your bathroom tiles but drywall, since most of the anti-moisture wall components are relatively new. That's actually why they built those cheesy plastic surrounds for showers in the 1980s, it was basically the first step towards complete moisture solutions. It's those solutions that allowed tiles that are porous to be installed as form no longer needed to follow function. Tons of houses still have renovated houses with drywall behind the bathroom tile. It doesn't mean it's perfect but it works pretty well.

You can even see this for yourself - see how long just drywall lasts behind your kitchen sink without a backsplash.

Also, people don't tile behind cabinets mostly for financial reasons as tile is way more expensive than drywall. You can totally do it, contractors don't care, there are plenty of locations where they are drilling through tile-ish (hard materials) to install things.

So in short, you are correct that you don't need to tile behind cabinets. Because it saves money.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:18 AM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tiles are a moisture barrier, but that doesn't mean they are 100% waterproof.

Yeah, I'm thinking of folks who mistakenly thought that a tile floor in the bathroom or kitchen was waterproof.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2019

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