How to Install Tile on Wavy Walls
Lets talk about my new house for a moment. It's one of those houses that people look at and say "oh! It has... character." And it does. At 108 years old, it has some really interesting features, and a number of things that I wish were different.
The number one thing I would change? The walls. Theoretically, they're plaster. However, at some point in the last 108 years, that plaster cracked. Various owners dealt with this in different ways. Some wallpapered. Others slapped joint compound over the crack and repainted, hoping nobody would notice. A couple walls are entirely covered with drywall. One room is coated in wall texture spray stuff to disguise abnormalities.
Needless to say, I'm nervous every time I have to do something to the walls. It's like a surprise project. Is the wall plaster? Plaster coated in drywall? Plaster covered with wallpaper and 3 layers of paint? Just drywall, because there apparently used to be a hole in the wall here? Nobody knows.
Adhering a subway tile backsplash to these walls was asking for trouble. I went for it anyway. Due to the fact I had already torn apart half the kitchen, I knew this was a plaster and drywall situation, with wallpaper in some spots but not all.
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Here's how I dealt with the fact my wall isn't at all level.
1) Smooth as much of the wall as you can first.
I don't mean call a contractor and have them come in and totally rework your walls. But I did try and get as much of the wallpaper and caulk off the wall before I started tiling. Additionally, I sanded the wall with a course sanding block to try and reduce any sudden bumps.
2) Choose a smaller tile.
Any curves to your wall will be harder to disguise with a larger tile than a smaller tile. I choose to use this 3"x6" subway tile because it was cheaper, but a 2"x4" tile probably would have been better given my situation. That being said, I'm happy with the way my backsplash turned out, even with the larger tile.
3) Choose a thicker grout line.
The tiles I purchased had built in 1/16" spacers. However, I didn't use them. Instead, I got 1/8" tile spacers and used those to space my tile instead. A larger distance between the tiles is more forgiving to waves in the wall, because it offers more flexibility for bumps and such. Therefore, I avoided the small grout line and used tile spacers to make my grout line larger.
4) Use tile adhesive to your advantage
Many of the bumps in my wall were smoothed out by the tile adhesive. This means that in some spots the tile adhesive was thicker than in others. This resulted in an ultimately smooth tile finish.
All in all, my backsplash is finished, and you cannot tell that my wall is actually a wavy mess. Success!