Replacing kitchen countertop is one of to most common home improvement projects out there. It may sound like a simple job but unless you are in the countertop installation business or a countertop remodeling contractor, it can be very complicated. Big projects such as this can be managed properly by being well-informed, by educating ourselves with what to expect during the entire process. Careful planning and education are keys into making countertop installation a success.
There are quite a lot of things involve than one would expect when replacing kitchen countertops. I will try my very best to cover as much as what you need to know and what to expect during the process. There’s a lot to discuss but I aim to make this as short as possible and direct to the point.
How Much Do You Want To Spend?
First part of your planning process is deciding your budget. How much would you like to invest on your new countertop? I use the term invest, because it really is an investment. It adds value to your home come selling time. Keeping a budget in mind is important when you’re hunting for which type of material to use. It’s good to have an idea in mind especially when numbers start flying at you.
Different Types Of Kitchen Countertops
Now that you got the budget in mind, the next step is do research on different materials out there like Granite, Quartz, Solid Surface, Laminate, Marble, Wood etc. All are suitable for kitchen surface applications. Below are just quick basic information about the different types of kitchen countertop materials. For more detailed information , please read my article on Kitchen Countertop Material Options.
- Granite – beautiful natural stone along with it’s unique natural characteristics. Durable and stain resistant if sealed. Resistant to heat and scratches. I would still personally use cutting board and try to avoid putting hot pots and pans on my granite.
- Quartz – durable engineered stone out of natural materials mixed with resins, polymers and pigments. Stain, heat and scratch resistant. I would still personally use cutting board and try to avoid putting hot pots and pans on my quartz. Most popular recognizable brands are Silestone, Cambria, Caesarstone, Zodiaq and LG Viatera.
- Solid Surface – acrylic or polyester with resins and pigments. Not as heat and scratch resistant as granite or quartz. This one can give you the appearance of a seamless counter, seamless backsplash and seamless integrated sink. Most popular recognizable brands are Corian and Lg HiMacs. I would definitely use cutting board and totally avoid putting hot pots and pans on solid surface countertops. Solid surfacing material can be repaired.
- Laminate – thin layers of kraft papers, plastic, and melamine resin over an engineered wood underlayment popularly known as particle board. Most popular recognizable brand are Formica and Wilsonart. Use cutting board and do not put hot pots and pans directly into the counter.
- Marble – beautiful natural timeless look but too porous. Stains easily even after sealing. This is a softer stone than granite. It could scratch, chip or crack.
- Wood – butcher block is made out of solid wood maple, cherry, walnut and oak. Beautiful natural look of wood, I recommend as accent for islands and special areas or nook in the kitchen. It can be refinished and re-stained.
Try to get price quotes for each of the material you’re interested in, so you can compare and make the right decision that fits your needs.
Take Rough Measurements
Before you head out to your local countertop store don’t forget to take rough measurements. Draw a rough sketch of your countertop layout. Take the length and width of each piece or each section. Don’t worry about whether or not your measurements are accurate. Close enough to get an idea of pricing is really all you need. Countertop fabricators will come out and take accurate measurements for you before fabrication. If you’re not confident getting rough measurements yourself for the purpose of getting a rough estimate, there are some companies that offer free in-home measure service. Others charge a small fee which is refundable towards your purchase.
Take good frontal pictures of your cabinets and countertop together. As they always say, pictures are worth a thousand words. Experienced consultants can have a pretty good idea of the size of a cabinet by looking at a picture. Provided they are good pictures, not skewed, that’s why I emphasize good frontal pictures to take. Professionals use standard cabinet sizes, add them up or lay them out and can get a pretty good idea of the size of the countertops for a rough estimate. Pictures can also reveal areas that need attention, like special cuts needed, custom angles and corners, etc. Professionals can give you an idea how much those cuts would be. You want to have a pretty good idea of the overall cost upfront if possible. It may not be exact but something close is good.
Fixtures and Appliances
You also need to decide whether or not you want to replace your sink, faucet, garbage disposer, dishwasher and other appliances. This is typically the best time to change your old garbage disposer, faucet or sinks especially if they’ve been in for years or showing signs of major wear and tear. These items do affect countertop measurements and process of installation. That’s why fabricators require sinks, faucets and other fixtures to be onsite and appliances to be in place at the time of template. This allows them to get accurate measurements of your countertops.
Most basic sinks and fixtures are in-stock or readily available at a local home improvement store. However, if you want specific styles, colors and quality, sometimes you would need to allow TIME to order. Undermount sinks, farmhouse or apron-front sinks are in most cases special ordered items and to do take TIME to arrive.
Sometimes, fabricators will take model numbers for your sinks or other appliances while you wait for those to arrive. They can find templates for these items online or through the manufacturers. This saves time since they can proceed with template or fabrication while waiting for your special ordered items.
It is VERY important to inspect your special ordered items for any damages as soon as it arrives. Last thing you want to happen is to find out you need to have those replaced at the time of installation or closer to installation date. Then you already know what’s next. You would have to reorder which you already know how long it takes. Even if companies can rush it, you already got delayed, the fabricator got delayed, the plumber got delayed etc. You can’t just simply change to whatever is readily available especially if your countertop has already been cut and prepped based on what was originally specified sink for example. The list of issues that could possibly occur goes on and on. It’s a stressful chain reaction.
In order for the new countertop to go in, the old countertops need to be removed. And in order for your countertop to be removed, sink, faucet, garbage disposer and dishwasher need to be disconnected. As well as water filter system under the sink and hot water dispensers if you have. Plumbing need to be reconnected typically at least 24 hours after the new countertop is installed. Demolition and plumbing charges are usually not included in the basic pricing of the countertop. Be sure to ask about these when you are getting estimates.
Try to avoid planning this kind of projects around or within a 4-6 weeks of major holidays or important events. Most fabricators have longer lead times around major holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving season. Plus a lot of things can go wrong with this kind of complex project. It doesn’t happen all the time and I have witnessed many success stories but things DO happen. Here are just some instances that create major delays:
- The fabricator finds out that the cabinets are not leveled, or concealed damages to the cabinets were found after demolition, therefore cabinets need to be fixed before they can proceed with your countertop installation. Most of the time you have to find your own contractor to get this done. Countertop installers are not carpenters or do not have the expertise in carpentry. Most of all they don’t want to be liable if anything wrong happens.
- Material defects and delays encountered by fabricators or suppliers. Again, this rarely happens but it could happen.
- Your appliances or fixtures such as sinks, faucet etc. did not arrive on time or came in damaged and need to be reordered.
- Miscommunication between Fabricators and retailers, and some just really have poor service.
In most cases, seams are unavoidable especially on corner sections and areas that are too big or too long. Sometimes you can request not to have seams at all if your sections can be made using the largest available slab or sheet of countertop material. It usually costs more not to have seams because of the large amount of waste that they charge you with and the need for more people to carry the slabs safely into your home. Unless you’re willing to pay more not to have seams, expect to have them.
Although, there are some countertop material that provides inconspicuous seams which I will discuss on another topic.
Make sure to discuss seam locations with your fabricator at the time of template or measure, so you know what to expect. My personal choice would be to NOT have a seam in the middle of my sink cutout. I would see and feel the wear and tear of that every day. I would also avoid having seams on areas where it’s wide open and completely visible such as islands and peninsulas. My advice would be to discuss this with your fabricator and agree on seam location before they start making your countertop.
This is another big thing on projects like this. This can really make a big difference in the overall design scheme of your kitchen. So I consider this another major decision you have to make. If your backsplash is of the same material as your counter, then the countertop fabricators will measure and install it too. However, if you want a tile backslash or other materials, then this will be done after the new countertop is installed and in most cases will be installed by certified tile installers.
It Adds Home Value
So that’s the basics of replacing kitchen countertops, what you need to know and what to expect. I know it’s probably too much information for most of you. But I do hope that I was able to help answer some if not all of your questions. It’s a big project, and it’s not cheap. Kitchen countertops play a very important role in our everyday lives. This is one investment for your home that you will see and will use every day, so you want to make the right decision.
When it’s all said and done, it’s all worth it. You have a beautiful countertop that you love and will help increase your home value. Any major home improvement upgrade adds value to your property. Take care of it and enjoy it first before selling your home :).
You are welcome to ask follow up questions or leave comments below and I will try to get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks for reading.
Extra Tip : To protect your items from dusts and install debris, remove the top drawers of your cabinets or cover any spaces directly under your countertops.