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Things to consider when installing glass tile

Glass mosaic tiles are more popular than ever. The designs and colors schemes continue to amaze me.  They can be so beautiful. So, I just wanted to jot down some things to remember if you are going to use glass tile:

When selecting tile, remember that glass tile can be translucent so prepare the surface accordingly. Be sure to patch and sand any wall imperfections, and paint over it with white flat paint.  You can sand the new paint job lightly if you feel you need more traction. 

(2)Mesh Backing: 
Most of the mosaic tile options come on a sheet with mesh backing.  Other alternatives have popped up over the last couple of years, but the mesh backing seems to remain the most popular.  Mesh backing disintegrates in water.  Wet saws require water to work.  Aside from the disintegration, mesh backing can provide other challenges for cutting, depending on the cut needed. The bottom line is that cutting mosaic tiles remains a challenge.  Some new tools have come out to address this issue and TileSizer™ is one of them.  (See the TileSizer™ video or photo library for examples.) 

(3)Glass Cutting Blades: 
Yes there is a special blade for cutting glass tile.  The wrong blade (ie the kind that typically comes included with your wet saw purchase/rental) can cause your glass tile to crumble as the blade eats right through it in chunks.  If you are cutting glass tile, you should invest in a blade specifically made to cut glass tile. You will be happy you made the investment.

(4)Glass Tile Cuts: 
There is an old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.”  The phrase couldn’t be more true with respect to glass tile cutting.  When you cut the glass tile, remember that it will highlight any and all imperfections and miscuts. If you do decide to use that imperfect tile, I suspect you will feel much like the character in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Your eye will be drawn to it, and you’ll feel everyone else can see it too. In addition, remember that the cut edges may be sharp.  It is glass after all.  So, handle with care and always wear safety glasses/goggles.

(5)Best Cuts: 
As with any kind of tile, when you use a wet saw to cut a tile your motion should be slow and consistent. You are really there to guide the tile only.  If you try to rush the cut or push the tile through the blade, then as your blade leaves the tile at the end of the cut it will leave a little remnant behind that you will have to go back and clean up.  Slow and steady wins the race.

(6)Proximity to the countertop: 
Some people leave room between the counter and a backsplash and some people don’t.  I am one of the people that does leave a little space that I later fill with caulk, albeit usually designer caulk that matches the grout. Why? Someone wise once told me to leave room for that shift movement that natural occur in a house to avoid potential cracking.  It’s make logical sense that if the foundation of a house can shift, then the insides of the house should shift too.  As a rule, I generally use a spacer about the size of the grout line on the mosaic sheet between the countertop and mosaic sheet.

(7)Parallel Lines: 
If houses, cabinets, and floors were level then straight lines would be a lot easier to follow.  The good news is that most countertops should be level, so that’s always a good starting point. First I line up my spacers on the covered countertop,and hold up a sheet at a time against a level.  If it is level, your job just got a little easier.  If it’s not, you need to find another strategy.  Hopefully it’s not a situation where the severity of the misalignment would highlight the problem further around cabinets, outlets and window sills.  In any case, your first sheet determines the layout, so make sure that puppy is straight. I typically apply the bottom row first to get it lined up correctly, and let it set for a little bit depending on the style of tile and thickness.  I measure the tops and sides of that first row of sheets to make sure I have a good foundation. The spacers help to maintain consistent grout size on the subsequent sheets.

When applying thinset, do so smoothly and with a straight edge trowel because you don’t want to see the lines from the notch trowel through the tile. Some installers differ on this technique, but I prefer it.  Finally, don’t apply too much thinset.  You want the thinset to hold the tile to the wall and not be so thick that it oozes out of the grout lines around the tile. For tiles that are cut individually, it’s best to back butter them individually to ensure a good bond and proper placement in the tile design.  There are other adhesive products on the market.  Feel free to check them out.

(9)Grout Application: 
Make sure the thinset has cured before applying the grout. Never use sanded grout with glass tile.  That would be like rubbing sand paper over your beautiful glass tile. Make sure the grout has the proper consistency (read the instructions) and then use a grout float to apply the non-sanded grout. They typically instruct you to apply diagonally but in doing so, make sure you get in all the nooks and crannies. After you apply the grout, wipe off the excess grout with a CLEAN, damp sponge. DO NOT use too much water. You are just cleaning up the excess here; you don’t want to make the grout runny.  Personally, I love those big orange sponges you can find at the Home Center stores primarily because they are big and they don’t leave any sponge pieces behind. I usually have a couple of water buckets on hand because each time you wipe that sponge across the tile, it should be a CLEAN, damp sponge.  Did I mention the sponge should be CLEAN?  Do not let the grout sit too long or you will leave behind a foggy glaze.  I usually do several wipe downs of the grout during the drying process but only because I’m not particularly fond of the foggy look.