Your countertop plays both a practical and aesthetic role in your kitchen. A well-used work surface, it has to be hardy enough to endure the everyday wear and tear of meal prep and cleanup—and still look good. Over time even the strongest of materials are going to show their age. If it’s plastic laminate, the finish will eventually chip and show scratches, and there may be a burn mark or two from hot pots. Even a stone surface is going to take a beating that will eventually mar its surface. So replacing just the old counters while leaving the rest of existing of the kitchen intact often makes sense. Depending on the material, the job is not that complicated or prohibitively expensive. But there are some important factors to consider before taking the plunge.
1. The Existing Countertop Material
“High-definition laminate countertops, or solid-surface materials, screw into place, so they are easier to change, especially if you are replacing the counter just for resale,” says John Petrie, CKD, president-elect of the National Kitchen and Bath Association and owner of Mother Hubbard’s Custom Cabinetry.
Hard stone can fall prey to cracks or pitting. So, although it’s not the easiest countertop to remove, you may prefer to replace damaged stone rather than repair it.
2. The Cabinets
Swapping a plastic laminate countertop for stone? Make sure the cabinets, or the floor for that matter, can support the additional weight.
You may also want to hold off on a new countertop if you’re planning to make more changes later. A tired kitchen will get an instant style boost but, “An investment in pricey quartz or granite may not be easily removable in the future when you want to upgrade cabinets,” says Petrie. “If you’re replacing your countertop with stone, you may not be able to find a fabricator who is willing to remove it later. Stone is hard, but it’s also fragile,” cautions the designer.
3. The Plumbing
Jim Kabel, CR, owner and general manager of CASE Design, says “Let’s assume you’re replacing a tile countertop with a solid surface, like stone or an engineered composite surface, such as Silestone. While the cabinets may stay in place, [a rimmed or self-rimming top-mounted] sink nearly always needs to be replaced. The exception is when the existing sink is mounted under an existing stone counter.
“The sink change impacts the faucet configuration, and so it is likely that the faucet will have to be replaced, as well,” says Kabel. Designer Petrie adds, “Replacing a countertop, in fact, affects a lot of the elements around the sink, including the garbage disposer, which doesn’t uninstall easily.”
4. The Backsplash
A new countertop means a new backsplash, too. These two elements go hand in hand with one another, and you’ll want to make sure the materials either match or coordinate harmoniously.
“The backsplash typically needs to be replaced at the same time as the countertop because it is mounted on top of the surface,” explains Kabel. When you’re planning your budget for the new countertop, don’t forget to include the cost of the backsplash material and installation.
5. Your Old Appliances
Consider how your old appliances will look with your new countertop. “Think of it something like wearing a new outfit with an old pair of shoes. Sometimes it can look like the devil,” Petrie warns.
But if appliances are relatively new and in good shape, not to worry, even if you have a cooktop instead of a freestanding range. Remodeler Kabel says, “A cooktop is usually mounted on top of the surface, and can be easily removed and reset in the same location, assuming the base cabinet remains the same or the same size.”
Designer Petrie says, “A lot of my clients have under-cabinet lighting. It’s easy to install, but hard to figure out how to run the wiring if you’re re-installing them.” It’s also worth noting that under-cabinet lighting can cause eye-straining glare when it’s aimed directly onto a highly polished stone surface. It’s something to think about when you’re choosing countertop material.
7. Shop Carefully
“Watch out for low-cost, prefabricated stones surfaces,” says Kabel. “Usually, these are available in only a few common species. The slabs are pre-cut to standard cabinet depth but don’t take into account variances in walls or seam locations.”
It may cost more, but going the custom route, like the homeowner did here, working with reliable design and installation professionals, is the smartest decision you can make. And although a new countertop will not necessarily make your kitchen better functioning, it can be a handsome improvement you’ll definitely enjoy.
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