Granite Guide-lines for Home Improvement
Tackle the small jobs, but leave the big ones for the pros.
By Matt Weber
The Extreme How-To staff has fielded a lot of questions about granite countertops over the years. Many people like the natural appearance but ask, “Is this a DIY project?” The simple answer is that it depends on the scope of the project.
For a small end table or kitchen island, a DIY’er can likely do the job, assuming the structure beneath is adequately constructed to support the heavy material. Granite suppliers often have leftover cut-off pieces for sell that can be used for coffee tables or other small pieces of furniture. Reclaimed countertops can occasionally be found at home salvage shops.
DIY’ers should leave installation of large jobs to the professionals due to the specialized equipment required to cut, shape and transport the hard, brittle material. In fact, many experienced remodeling contractors shy away from granite countertops because the weight and rigidity of the material requires extreme care to avoid damaging a slab. If a contractor accidentally breaks a customer’s slab, they will have to replace it, and eating the cost of that expensive material can erase their profit margin for the job. There is no give in the granite material; to bend it is to break it. This means a DIY’er runs the same (or greater) risk of calamity.
During transport from the supplier to the job site, the pro granite installers will load the slabs onto a truck equipped with special padded racks that isolate and secure the slabs to minimize vibration on the road. Large slabs are extremely heavy, requiring at least two people to load and unload them. Once arrived at the project location, special carts with rubber tires are used to move the slabs around the jobsite.
Throughout the operation of moving the slabs, countertop specialists might also stabilize the material with strategically placed angle-iron bracing during transport so the slabs don’t deflect, which can lead to cracks or beaks. The tricky nature of handling the stone material is why many contractors who don’t install granite for a living leave the big jobs to the experts. (Note: Compare this aspect of granite to solid surface material, where if two people lift a 12-ft. solid surface sheet from each end, it will deflect about 12 to 18 inches.)
This article will show how the pros install a granite countertop, and why you’ll be glad you called them.
High Demand for Granite Countertops
Since the earliest times granite has been used as a building material, and its polished stone surface remains highly popular for countertops. When polished and sealed, it resists staining and is very easy to clean and sanitize, and its extreme hardness means most knives won’t scratch it (but it will blunt knives). It makes a hygienic surface for not only countertops but backsplashes, bathroom vanities, even matching sinks and basins. Granite’s ability to withstand the outdoor environment also makes it suitable for exterior projects like garden paving, benches and more.
From an aesthetic perspective, this natural stone’s quarried origin guarantees its uniqueness. It typically has a coarse, granular and evenly flecked pattern available in many colors, from beige, brown, black and gray to an array of reds, greens and blues. It is considered a luxury material, however, and the effort required to mine it from the ground and manufacture a finished countertop means you can expect to pay a high cost to purchase it.
Out with the Old
Once you’ve made your purchase, the granite installers will arrive with all materials to not only install your new top, but to remove the existing backsplash and countertops as well. This generally requires disconnecting all appliances like the electrical cables of your stovetop and the plumbing connections to you sink basin. The installers will remove these items and set them aside safely for reinstallation later.
The next phase is to remove all fasteners that secure the existing countertop to its cabinet base. Although this sounds fairly straightforward, depending on the counter’s method of construction, things can get tricky. This particular kitchen was built with laminate countertops that had oak edging. The workers removed all the visible fasteners but the countertops were still stuck in place. After a little exploratory surgery with a scraper and pry bar, they learned that the countertop plywood had been screwed to the base prior to having the laminate installed. This meant there were several areas where the laminate surface had to be peeled away, or the wood edging had to be pried off, to access the hidden screws and dislodge the top. This job was a full kitchen replacement, which meant four different countertop surfaces had to be removed and replaced.
With all fasteners gone, the countertop should then lift off easily. A number of shims are often left behind attached to the cabinet base. The installers pried these off to begin installation of the granite on the flat, even top of the cabinet base.
Each granite slab will have been fabricated to the exact size specified by the work order. It takes two workers per slab to lift the granite into place. This requires some muscle because the slabs must be carefully laid into position (not dropped) to avoid risk of sudden impact that could crack them or chip a corner.