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How Much Does a Subway Tile Backsplash Cost?

Subway tiles have been a favorite material of homeowners for decades. These practical wall coverings were originally made from ceramic tiles designed for the walls of the New York City subway system. The original style consisted of 3-inch by 6-inch rectangular ceramic tiles glazed in white with a reflective finish. Today's subway tiles still consist of the original style but have also expanded to include additional colors and patterns to satisfy the aesthetic senses of homeowners. These tiles work well as backsplashes due to their sanitary nature and their ease of maintenance. The primary locations for the installation of subway tile backsplashes are in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and other utility areas of the home.

The Costs 

Average cost per finished square foot of subway tile backsplash:

  • Minimum = $6.86
  • Maximum = $13.03 

In addition to the cost of the subway tiles used to build the backsplash, homeowners undertaking this type of a home remodeling project will need to plan for some additional expenses. The costs of supplies such as grout and sealant add an average of $1.51 per finished square foot of backsplash. The average hourly rate of labor for an experienced tile setter to create the backsplash is $61. This installation cost is based upon a basic backsplash consisting of a rectangular shape and one level. Homeowners desiring a more complex backsplash configuration or multiple levels will find that labor costs are higher.


The definition of subway tile has expanded to include any ceramic tile in the configuration wherein the length is equal to twice the height. Historically, the tiles were laid out with very thin margins of grout between them. Although some manufacturers label porcelain or glass tiles as subway tiles, the most popular and traditional material is glazed ceramic. The tiles are most often laid out in a running bond pattern in which the long sides of the tiles are stacked in an alternating pattern of rows. The tiles used for backsplashes are typically 2 inches by 4 inches or 3 inches by 6 inches. They may be purchased as individual tiles or as tile sheets.


Different manufacturers create subway tiles with a variety of finishes. These finishes confer characteristics to the tile such as reflectivity of light and color. The primary finishes used for subway tiles include:

  • Glossy: This shiny finish reflects the greatest amount of light and is the most common type of finish used on subway tiles for backsplashes.
  • Matte: A matte finish offers a low level of reflectivity and is most often used on patterned or brightly colored subway tiles.
  • Flat: The flat finish is the least commonly used finish for subway tile backsplashes. It reflects a minimal amount of light and therefore is typically used on light or white colored subway tiles.


Subway tiles used for backsplashes are graded based upon their strength. Although strength is not a highly important factor for tiles laid out in vertical surfaces, the strength of the tile does help with forming tight bonds with the grout. The grades of subway tile used for backsplashes include:

  • Commercial: This is the least expensive grade of tile and also has the lowest level of strength. These tiles may have minor color variations or flaws on the surface. These tiles are primarily decorative in nature and correspond to Grade 0 for tiles used as flooring.
  • Standard: This is the most common grade of subway tile used to create backsplashes. It has a mid-level strength and is free of major flaws. These tiles may have an occasional color variation or light pitting on the surface. This is equivalent to Grade 1 for subway tile flooring.
  • Premium: This grade of tile has the highest strength. The color is consistent throughout the batch of tiles and there are minimal to no surface defects in the backsplash. This corresponds to Grade 2 for tiles used as flooring.


There are many manufacturers and brands of subway tile and backsplashes made from this material. Homeowners may purchase the subway tile backsplashes from stock products or have the tiles custom-made in a specific color or pattern. Some of the most popular manufacturers and brands of subway tile backsplashes include American Olean, American Restoration Tile, Arizona Tile, Armstrong Ceramic Tile, Clayhaus Ceramics, Dal-Tile Corporation, Florida Tile and Merola Tile.

Advantages of Subway Tile Backsplashes

The primary advantage of a subway tile backsplash is its low requirement for maintenance. The tiles just require gentle wiping down with a damp cloth soaked in warm, soapy water. The subway tiles are non-porous once glazed and sealed by the manufacturer. This allows the backsplash to be resistant to stains from food, grease and water. Subway tile backsplashes are highly resistant to heat exposure as well as moisture. A backsplash made from subway tiles is highly durable and can withstand decades of use while still maintaining its original appearance. The wide range of colors in today's subway tiles allows homeowners to create designs that complement the style and architecture of their homes. Subway tiles are affordable and cost less than other popular backsplash materials such as granite and marble. The tiles resist mold, bacterial and viral growth, making them highly hygienic.

Disadvantages of Subway Tile Backsplashes

While there are many excellent reasons to select subway tiles as the material for a backsplash, there are some drawbacks to using this material. The grout that bonds the tiles together may become stained or discolored due to exposure to food or water splashes. If a tile becomes chipped or cracked, repair is difficult. Finding a replacement for a broken tile may be a challenge if the tile is colored or was custom-ordered. Some people feel that subway tiles give a cold appearance to a room. Subway tiles may increase the noise level or cause poor acoustics in a bathroom environment.

Last updated on Feb 19, 2015

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