Tile a Wall (Pt 1): How to Install a Ledger Board

Sometimes you get to a point in a renovation where you just can’t make decisions. That happened to us when we were finishing our basement laundry room and were ready to tile our laundry room backsplash. We knew we at least wanted to replace the counter top but we couldn’t decide whether or not to keep our old lower cabinets. Had we kept the lower cabinets and counter, we would have started our first row of tiling from the counter up to the underside of the cabinets and be well on our way to finishing our laundry room.

Since we couldn’t come to a decision and wanted to move ahead, we worked backwards. We purchased the tile and installed it before the rest of the finishes. Installing a ledger board offered a solution! Since we were starting with a clean slate (no lower cabinets) we knew that installing a ledger board would be a must-have step for supporting the weight of the tile as it dries. If you’re as indecisive as us and you want to move ahead with tiling a backsplash, keep this post handy: we’re going to explain how to install a ledger board. Our updated how-to guide for tiling a patterned backsplash will follow here tomorrow!

Here was our starting point in our laundry room renovation. We had both upper and lower cabinets installed.

We disconnected the plumbing and moved the lower cabinets and appliances out of the room.

Step 1: Determine height of ledger board.

We based the placement of our ledger board on the height of our old lower cabinets and determined that we would be able to install four rows of the tiles on the backsplash in the give space (our tiles were 6″x6″).

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We had some wiggle room on lining up the eventual counter height with the tiles because we were planing on adding adjustable legs onto whatever lower cabinets we ended up with.

Spoiler alert: as a side note, we ended up refurbishing the old cabinets and keeping them after all.

As part of the makeover, we replaced the ugly plastic adjustable legs you see above with more attractive Ikea Capita Stainless Steel Legs. We always try to work with what we have so replacing the legs on the cabinet made a big difference (you’ll see the updated cabinet in tomorrow’s post).

Back to the task at hand! What we didn’t take into consideration when measuring for the placement of the ledger was that the underside of our flat pack wall cabinets (Ikea) was ever so slightly longer where the sides of the cabinets meet (see the illustration below).

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As you’ll see tomorrow, when we got to the top of the wall against the underside of the cabinets, it was such a tight fit on the last row that we had to chip away at the tile right beneath where the sides of the cabinets meet – which isn’t easy to do if you don’t have a wet saw!

To avoid this aggravation, be sure to measure down the wall for the starting point of the ledger board at the lowest point (i.e. from the bottom of where the cabinets meet) and then mark your horizontal line. It doesn’t really matter if you have a slightly larger gap underneath the cabinets because you won’t really see it. As you can see above, we only left  1/8″ between the tile and underside of the cabinets, but should have left more and avoided cutting.

After determining that four rows of tile would be ideal for for our backsplash, we lined up four of our tiles. If you are using tile spacers, add them in between each tile. We had ‘bump outs’ on our tiles so spacers weren’t necessary.  End to end, our tiles measured 23 ¼”. We added an extra 1/8” to that measurement to allow for grout to finish off between the top of the tiles and underside of the cabinets. Our final measurement for ledger placement was 23 3/8” below the cabinets; given the situation with the Ikea cabinets, 23 1/2 would have been ideal.

Each situation is different, calculate your ledger board placement according to your own particular set of circumstances. For instance, the ceiling height in our basement is close to 8 feet, but if yours is lower, that’s something that may affect your measurements too.

Laundry Room Backsplash 021_bof.jpg

Place tiles end to end to determine height of ledger board

Step 2: Mark studs to determine where ledger board can be screwed in.

Using a stud finder, place some green tape on the wall and mark the location of all your studs. You could mark directly on the wall since it will be hidden with tile and cabinets, but we find that the green tape is more noticeable.

When hubs built the basement he made sure to secure pieces of metal on each stud where plumbing or electrical ran behind so we couldn’t accidentally drill into these services and spring a leak – or cause a fire. Thank goodness he took that precautionary step, because as we were screwing in the ledger board (as you’ll see further ahead) we did hit metal so we had to move to another stud. It doesn’t matter if you end up with holes in the wall; they’ll all be covered by the tile anyway. Keep in mind however, If you’re ever tiling in a shower where there is constant water, you would want to patch your holes to prevent seepage.

Step 3: Mark a vertical line on centre and horizontal line for ledger board.

#measuretwicetileonce

Measure the width of the wall to determine where the centre is and mark the centre point on the wall.

It can be difficult to get an accurate length between two walls because the tape measure must curve once it gets to the opposite end. The length of our wall was 102” so we placed a mark at 51”. To be certain we were exactly in the middle, we measured 51” in from each side and made a mark. If those marks don’t meet, all you have to do is make another mark in the middle of the two marks and you will be dead-on the centre of the wall.

We drew the horizontal line for the ledger board before you drew the vertical centre start line. Using the horizontal ledger line, you’ll be able to take a 90 degree square metal ruler and align it to the centre mark. Pencil in your start line perpendicular to the ledger line. Use your level to check that your pencil lines are both level and plumb. If you have one, you can also use a laser level for this step.

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Make sure you measure down from the lowest point of the underside of the cabinets for the ledger board (see ‘*Important Note‘ at end of tutorial). #measuretwicetileonce

Step 4: Cut ledger material and screw board(s) in place

Since a ledger board must be perfectly straight, hubs started by ripping down pieces of medium density fibreboard (MDF) to use as the straight edge.

Since the wall was over 10 feet in width, we had to cut two pieces for the ledger to make up the full length. Try to cut the two pieces so the ends fall onto the middle of a stud. We marked our ledger board in increments that corresponded to the distance of our studs and pre-drilled before screwing it onto the wall. Screw the ledger pieces into the studs using your pre-drilled holes.

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As mentioned previously, we hit a metal plate on one of the studs that was protecting the plumbing beneath so couldn’t screw it to the wall at that point. To join the edges where the two pieces of the ledger meet and stabilize it, hubs screwed on a piece of MDF to bridge both pieces of the board to hold it all together. The screws only have to be long enough to screw into the MDF – not the drywall.

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Bridge between two boards when they don’t fall on a stud or there’s a metal plate beneath

Step 5: Add a piece of painters tape along top edge

As shown below, you can add a piece of green painters tape on the top edge of the ledger board to prevent the thinset from sticking to it when you tile.

Now that the ledger is done, in tomorrow’s post we’re showing you how to install the tile backsplash!

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