How to install a cement board backsplash

October 19, 2015

Hello there! Well this post is a perfect example of thinking you know what you want…and then realizing you don't like it. And when I say don't like it I mean hate it. Loathe it. Want to cry, it's awful, don't like it.

Inspriration pics are GREAT. But sometimes those pictures just don't translate to your own home. 

I shared the start to our new backsplash wall last week and my inspiration pics with bright white planked walls. I LOVE the material I used for the wall and before I get to the other stuff I'll cover some tips for installing it. 

Most importantly, this stuff is a fiber cement concoction and it creates a TON of dust when you cut it with a traditional saw. There are ways to cut it that reduce the dust quite a bit. One is a saw blade created just for cutting these planks and another is a siding cutter you attach to your drill like this one. Both are supposed to make it easy to cut without kicking up all the dust. I saw both used on a video and the cutter did an even better job -- practically no dust. Also, this stuff cuts really easy by using a straight edge and scoring it with a blade -- if you score it a few times it will snap fairly clean at that part. This takes longer but there will be no dust at all. I didn't have the patience for that but if you have a smaller space I would recommend doing it that way. 

Because both of neither of the tools are cheap I went with my regular saw blade, which is fine but it will wear it down. Mine needs to be replaced anyway so I didn't mind. 

If you use a regular blade you will get a lot of dust so you need to do a few things -- do NOT cut this stuff inside. I dragged my saw out to the driveway to work. Also, a mask and eye protection are both recommended:
After reading up on it more after the fact I wish I would have used a more heavy duty mask, but since I was outside this was decent. 

If you are placing these on a wall, at some point you'll probably have receptacles to work around. I used up a bunch of jigsaw blades because they were dulling so quick. If you have a sharp one the cutting goes fast and easy. If they are dull it won't budge. I found these that are made for this type of product so if you try this I would recommend them. 

To cut around outlets you have to do some measuring. I hold the board up and mark where it hits on the outlet, then measure and transfer that to the board: 
To make it easier to cut tight corners, make some holes with your drill bit first: 
cutting out outlet holes
That way you can place your jigsaw blade in there and get that last cut. The jigsawing created some dust too, but not as bad as the large saw.

I nailed them to the wall using an 18-gauge nail gun because I could use a slightly longer nail. I marked where the studs were on the wall and made sure to get those. For the most part the boards stay nice and flat on the wall. This stuff is heavier than the underlayment or pine boards I usually use for planking -- those can be put up using glue or a 16-gauge nailer no problem.

I don't use glue on my trim projects anymore unless I absolutely have to. If you ever want to remove it you'll have a ton of drywall patching to do and it's a pain in the butt (and glue is not needed most of the time).

Two things I realized soon after starting to prime the boards. I didn't love the spaces showing between them. I didn't space them out much like I did over the fireplace, because being a kitchen, I didn't want large gaps. My plan was to caulk them in clear or white after the painting, but I didn't love the look. (You have to use something like a toothpick to clean out the gaps as you paint if you want to keep them.)

I can't put my finger on why I didn't like the gaps showing -- it looked unfinished I guess? Not as clean looking as I had hoped? I have planked many a wall and don't mind it with thinner materials, but the thickness of these didn't help. I thought I would love seeing the lines in between the boards -- but I don't care for a dark grout and white tile (lighter gray and white tile I love) and the exposed seams between the planks gave it that more industrial look.

So I decided pretty early on to fill those in with paint. I also did two coats of white primer on most of the wall. And…I HATED it. Like, it was awful, hated it. I only got one pic and this wall was only primed once:
So this is worse than it actually looked with two coats, but it was too much white for me. I need contrast in our home and that's why I've never done all white walls. I love big beefy trim and seeing it up against color that shows it off -- and that beefy trim disappeared. I love the way I extend our crown at the top of the room and that was totally lost in the white wall as well. It had no dimension, no contrast. I did. not. like.

I was so discouraged. I don't misstep often when working on our house, because I do so much research and take my time. I was so heartbroken that I disliked it so much. I took some time away from the project and thought about what we loved about it before I painted it. We LOVED the wall after I installed the boards, even though it was way too rough to keep as it was. 

So I decided to go back to the reason we liked it in the first place -- the texture was great, but what I loved was the contrast between the planks and the white trim on the window. 

I had a quart of a light gray paint called Gray Clouds that I had picked up for another project and tried it on the wall. I immediately breathed a sigh of relief. I loved it. Thank the Lord. 

The gray tones in our home aren't for everyone I know. Some feel gray is cold, I think it's a lovely, classic color when done right. What's funny is the kitchen feels SO much warmer with the gray compared to the white. The white felt stark and cold. 

Blue and gray are my favorite colors and a gray and white combo is my absolute favorite -- it's what I used throughout our family room: 
dark gray and brass

peppercorn gray

gray fireplace herringbone tile
Throw in some wood tones and I'm a happy girl. That room is open to this one so I wanted to carry this through anyway. 

So I went for it and I'm so glad I went with what I know and love. Every single day since I've walked into the kitchen and breathed a sigh of relief because I like it so much. 

I had a lot more to do other than painting -- I got a light gray caulk and had to fill the small gaps around the window and other areas around the room. This is the BEST way to do this without getting it smeared everywhere: 
easiest way to caulk
Run your line of caulk down and then wipe away -- the excess will go on the tape, not the wall. I did the same method where it met the counters too:
caulking countertops
Because my jigsaw cuts were not perfect (they never are), I added another piece of trim along the bottom of the window to hide that one: 
 I touched up paint everywhere and on the window trim using my favorite brush:
square paint brush
This is fantastic for cutting in and getting grooves in trim. The best brush I've used. I keep stocking up because I wear them out fast. 

Here's a look at the space now: 
gray backsplash white cabinets
SO much better than a bright white wall with no definition, for me anyway. I love the look in photos but it just wasn't right in our house. 

A vent hood with a custom wood cover will go on this wall soon: 
(There's light bouncing around above the oven, hence the brighter spot.) 

I've decided to pay a little extra and go vented for our hood. We've always just had the microwave over the range but I've read up and it sounds like if you can go vented it works so much better. I'm looking for one that doesn't have to be installed under a cabinet and it's harder to find than I thought. If you have done that please let me know! The vent hood will be white or stained wood, I haven't decided yet. 

Keep in mind these are in between pics! The uppers will be white and I seriously cannot wait to see how that turns out: 
building cabinets up to ceiling
The lowers will still go darker, at least that's the plan right now. 

I know…the white outlet covers drive some of you absolutely crazy. It never bothers me, but I did go and check out the hardware store to see what they had. They have darker cover and outlets (I didn't install the outlet yet) but I don't think I like it: 
gray outlets
Both my husband and I think it's too dark. There are paintable outlet covers so I think I'll try a couple of those to see what I think. Unless you go pretty basic (black, dark gray or brown), your outlets and switches are going to stay white anyway.

Also, it's going to be at least $100 for me to change out these and the GFCI outlets. So for now we have the white covers but I think I'll at least change those out to paintable ones soon.

You may have noticed the slight change in the lights as well -- I knew the first day that they were up that I'd want to change the color. They were an oil rubbed bronze and I wanted them black. They work much better with the island lights and really pop on the wall too: 
gray planked wall kitchen
I love the look of the black lights, gray and stainless together. There are many elements coming in that will warm up this space -- wood shelves and the vent hood will be biggies. Accessories will bring more color in as well. 

We love it! It's not at all what I planned or expected but I think I love it even more because of that. Sometimes what works in one house doesn't work in yours and you have to roll with it. I'm even happier now that I didn't go with white subway tile because it would have been more of the same -- white on white. And that would have surely made me cry if I didn't love it -- not much you can do to fix it! Again, a light gray grout would have helped but not enough for my love of contrast. 

I'm so excited to see the hood and shelves on the wall! Those should be up by next week and the cabinet painting will start then too. I'm so close I can taste it! 

I'll be taking the rest of the week off to spend time with the kiddo while he's on break. Have a wonderful one and let me know if you have any questions about these fiber cement boards or the installation!

Affiliate links included for your convenience!  

Email subscription form header
Your email:*
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide


  1. Love your solution!
    As for outlet covers...I hate them in white, black or grey. to me it stands out.
    I paint all of mine.
    Buy the cheapo neutral color ones (white, ivory etc), sand lightly, spray with primer (kilz etc), and let dry. Then paint with wall paint (laytex) in color of wall. I usually brush or spray a light coat of polyurethane for added protection in matte, semi gloss or glass to match finish of wall.
    My kitchen and bath outlets have been painted 8+ years and with regular use there is no scratched or flaking paint!

    1. So I've tried painting them and they scratch easily -- the primer must be the difference. Does it not get into the plug area and mess up the outlet? I may try it!

    2. The plug area is painted too. no mess up (no spray paint there).
      I will email you a pic of the outlet, used daily for 8+ years. Used for coffee maker which is plugged and unplugged daily.

  2. I have a two family flat and thinking about using this technique since it is so cheap. Would you recommend it for time and budget?

    1. Yep, I did the whole space for $70 -- not bad at all!

  3. This looks so incredible - I truly cannot wait to see how you finish off the rest of the kitchen! I've been following the progress since the beginning!

  4. A couple of things that might help: We used brushed stainless steel outlet plates throughout our kitchen remodel last year. They sound expensive, but we found them quite reasonably priced (about $2-5 each, depending on configuration). They're made by LeGrand, and can be found at many hardware stores.

    When we ripped out the upper cabinets that held our microwave/vent hood, we knew we didn't want another cabinet-mounted hood and were planning to have a custom hood made using a fancy insert. The estimates came back way too high, so we built our own custom hood using a $99 stainless under-cabinet mount vented hood from IKEA, hung on a set of brackets we built instead of the cabinet base. The brackets then acted as the framework for the custom hood box, which we made using tongue & groove planks and trim boards. We were inspired by the job that John and Sherry Petersik used on their second house (Young House Love).

    If you'd like me to send you photos of what we did, just let me know! Good luck!

    1. Ginger, if you could send pics to thriftydecorchick at I would love that! I've been trying to figure out how to make one of those work so it would be so helpful. Thank you!

    2. We did the same thing with the brushed stainless steel covers on ours. Our kitchen is also a light grey color. We love them! They have them at Lowe's for $2-3 each. They also have the high end expensive ones for $9 each but that is pricey. I love the look of the stainless steel covers!!

    3. Sending some photos over now!

  5. This color looks so good with your counters, and I think once your uppers are white you will be even more happy you didn't paint the planks white! Sometimes a little trial and error is a good thing :) Loving every step, as usual!

    1. That's another reason I went with this color -- it works with the stone so well!

  6. Why do you keep deleting my comments?

  7. I somehow missed you were painting the cabinets white...they will look SO MUCH better with the contrast of the new color than white would have looked. It's going to be great! :) Trial and error can be a very good thing indeed!
    Sofia F.

  8. This is looking so good Sarah! I just love following progress like this and its so rewarding seeing you do it yourself. I Iike the gray walls and can't wait to see more updates next week. Enjoy your week off!

  9. Hi Sarah-Happy belated birthday from Houston. I'm really enjoying watching your kitchen change day by day and love the gray. I think it can be cold but you make it very cozy. I'm amazed at how talented you are both most of all by your vision. It's always fun to see it come together. I'm also always on the lookout for a Colby sighting. He is my cats doppelganger. Have a great week. Happy Fall from Houston.

  10. Oh my goodness; I love it. Something that is really cute is the container you have your cooking utensils in. Do you recall where you purchased it?

  11. We had the panels on our exterior bay windows replaced with the cement fiberboard product a couple of years ago, and our contractor said he charges for the saw blade since it has to be diamond tipped and would only last one job. It was a small surcharge but well worth it.

  12. Your top 'after picture' is showing a broken link...

  13. I love what you've done so far and am curious on what color you're thinking about for the lower cabinets. (I know - it might change before you get to painting them, but would love to know what your plan is). We are in the planning stages for redoing our kitchen and I keep going back and forth on cabinet color. Enjoy the time with your boy! :)

  14. This is beautiful so far! I can't wait to start working on our kitchen (but at the same time I can because, you know . . . it's WORK. And kind of an essential room so I don't want to drag it out forever).

  15. I buy wood outlet plates and always paint them the wall color. I use a fan to blow away (outside of course) the dust when I cut cement board but still wear a mask. I used cement board to make faux wrought iron straps for my shed doors. I needed 6 and it would have cost me almost 600 bucks so I made them out of thin cement boards and they have fooled everyone.

  16. Glad you ended up finding a fix for the walls and you are happy. I did notice the lights being black--noticed the sheen and bold black--love.

  17. I recently build a custom wood hood for above my range. Our microwave died and I didn't want it there anymore so I took it down and took down the short cabinet above it. I found this tutorial:

    I didn't follow it exactly because I built my hood from scratch but I did end up purchasing that exact vent and we have been pleased with it. It is probably not as quiet as a more expensive model but it is about 100 times quieter than the microwave was. Ours vents outside.

    This was actually a surprisingly easy project and I love how it turned out. Good luck to you!

  18. I love reading about your projects, your problem solving and tenacity. There is an online source for wall plates called I also think stainless wall plates would work with the gray and you can get those at bog box stores. On the vent hood, I had a custom one built for our new home and it was vented and not under cabinets. You can vent it through an outside wall if you don't want to go through the roof. Can't wait to see the finished look.

  19. Where did you get those lights?? Love them!!

  20. Good call on painting out the white. It did nothing for the room. Can you remind us what color is on your other walls in those rooms?

  21. Good call on painting out the white. It did nothing for the room. Can you remind us what color is on your other walls in those rooms?

  22. Love the gray and I agree it will make a pretty contrast with the white cabinetry, trim and counter tops. I definitely think a wood stained vent hood would bring in the warmth and look awesome with the floating shelves. My whole house is predominately gray, wood tones and white so I can totally see your vision!

  23. Looks lovely!! Way better than white for sure. I did this planking in my dining room and also filled in the gaps with caulk. I then took a butternife to gently score the gaps to give a little more definition without seeing black gaps. Just a thought. Also, have you considered(bc you love contrast) painting inside of the window frame and grids black? I just did this to mine and it seriously looks so beautiful!

  24. Where are the spaces/gaps between each board? Are they just not showing up in the photos, I can't see them?

  25. I am so with you on loving white trim that stands out against the colored wall. I do love all white BUT having lived in apartments from age 14 to 33, white walls are a little boring.
    Oh and I hate the colored outlets, they should be white. I don't like the ones that don't have a cover, where you can see the screws. A nice all white cover looks good.

  26. I am so with you on loving white trim that stands out against the colored wall. I do love all white BUT having lived in apartments from age 14 to 33, white walls are a little boring.
    Oh and I hate the colored outlets, they should be white. I don't like the ones that don't have a cover, where you can see the screws. A nice all white cover looks good.

  27. Fibre cement is asbestos and I am glad you wore a mask but I am afraid it is not something that many people realise can cause huge health problems down the track. In Australia James Hardie was sued and the people won the case against them. James Hardie went to USA to sell you unsuspecting people the same products. BE VERY WARY to anyone who uses Hardiplank or similar named products. Fibre cement is asbestos! No matter WHO makes it.
    Now onto happier things, I love what you did in the end. I wish I had your energy!

    1. Hi Maria-you are partly right, but a 2 second Google search revealed this: "In 1981, the manufacturers of Hardiplank put an end to the use of asbestos in their product. Today, the use of asbestos is banned in many countries. In most fiber-cement products produced since 1981, the asbestos has been replaced with cellulose fibers, which do not pose a health risk."
      Read more :

      Still a very good idea to use a high quality dust mask-why breath in all that dusty crap if you can avoid it! :)

    2. Good to know, Sofia, but I think I actually got myself in a frazzle when I meant to explain that anyone doing renovations need to be aware that in older houses it can contain asbestos. (I had surgery recently and my brain is still in anesthetic mode me thinks!) In Australia we are seeing a higher rate of Mesothelioma and Asbestosis in younger people who are going gung-ho in the reno's of older homes and unaware much fibre cement contained asbestos.
      So Yes! Wear a mask no matter what! Who wants gakky clagged up lungs!

  28. Sarah you are a wonder I never cease to admire. The things you do just amaze me no end.
    You always know what's right for your tastes and why not, it's your home so you should do what feels right to you. Your instincts are right on the button. I'd sure love to have some walls in our single wide with planks but convincing hubs is out of sight. He's not into fixing things up cause it will make me happy, he's kinda lazy about things like that. But am sure there are many things I don't do he'd like to have done so can't complain. Would it do me any good, heck no. Enjoy rest of week. Always love your posts.

  29. Sarah, I'm so glad you changed directions when it didn't feel right to you. You're fearless! About your hood, I just put in a vented hood that is stained, not painted. I actually had someone build the hood for a few hundred dollars, and then bought the vent at Home Depot to put in it. You can see it here:

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. I can see why you changed your mind! I do like the white but there wasn't much contrast and not very much texture at all, kind of looked like you just had a white painted wall. Now it looks awesome! Still soft but you can see the boards and it totally ties in with your living room. Great choice and I am so happy it worked out for you :)

    Can't wait for more!!! Eee so close, so exciting!

    Enjoy your time with your boy and family :)

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor

  32. How did you finish the planks? I love this idea and want to do it in my kitchen (for now I do want to keep the planks white, but will have to see after they are up). I like the look of the planks and don't want to lose the texture. I think the space between planks helps that look, so I'm not sure how to keep the look and feel of the planks and still caulk between them. Did you use enamel paint or put some sort of sealant over them?

  33. Hi! Do you have another link to the trim paint brush you use? It wouldn't work for me. Or a description to search the web for the specific one? thanks!!! Love your blog!


  34. Would you be able to share the exact product you used for your kitchen? Right now my husband and I are looking at the James Hardie Artisan 8.25" V-groove siding, but to me is looks like the space between each plank will be too wide. I'm curious what product you actually used.

    1. I'm not sure of the exact name, but I found it at Home Depot. You can see more about it here:

  35. This is great....I love the look and the function(esp behind the range). Have you started cooking yet? How are the grease splatters?

    1. Grease and everything else wiped up easily! As long as you use a semi gloss or gloss paint it will be easy to clean.


If you have a specific question I will do my best to answer you back here!

You can find our paint colors and links to items at the "Our Home" tab at the top of my site.

THANKS so much for reading!