To the average person, residential construction can often seem like a strange and mysterious maze. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the million decisions to be made. Add in different materials, different solutions to the same problem, conflicting advice, and the fact that everyone seems to do things in a slightly different way, and it’s easy to feel lost. Getting new countertops is no different.
In this post, we’re going to talk about the general process of getting new countertops. Unfortunately, this is not a “it’s always done this way” kind of process. In some cases, you might be dealing with one person/business that is the retailer, fabricator, and installer. While in other situations, you might visit the retailer’s showroom, who in turn, works with various fabricators/installers. Finally, you may be dealing with three separate people: retailer, fabricator, and installer.
No matter which way you do it, the path to new counters is pretty much the same process. You might have one guy wearing different hats, or different “hats” each doing the various jobs. But, overall, it’s roughly the same thing.
New Countertops – The Decisions
It all starts with a visit to a showroom or store. This step is simultaneously the most fun and the most frustrating. Well, more like overwhelming. There are so, so, many decisions to be made. Style? Material? Color? Finish? Edge profile? Don’t forget sinks. Location? Size? Round or rectangle? Undermount, vessel, drop-in, or apron front? One bowl or two bowls? 50/50 split or 60/40? Don’t forget the cutouts for things like a range or cooktop. Whew.
While those are the big decisions that need to be made, for most of us the most important factor is the cost. Countertop materials come in a range of prices within each material. This, in turn, adds in a whole ‘nother level of decisions. Do you want the $60/sf granite or the $80/sf granite? What can you afford? What is standard for your neighborhood?
Typically, you’ll work with a design or sales pro that will help you narrow down the choices. They’ll offer advice on the pro’s/cons of materials, and what is currently popular in your area. Finally, a sales pro will walk you through all the details that effect the price, like surface finishes, edge profiles, sinks, and cutouts.
Finally, if a natural material is selected, such as granite, marble, or quartzite, you’ll go to the stone yard and pick out the actual slab/slabs that will become your countertops. Individual slab selection is usually not done with man-made materials like quartz.
New Countertops – The Estimate
For new construction, the retailer will create an estimate based on the floor plans and your countertop choices.
In a remodel, the estimate process can go two different ways. If there are actual blueprints, they can create an estimate for the counters based on the plans. If the project doesn’t have floor plans or is more DIY-ish or only replacing the counters, the retailer will most likely set up an appointment to visit the home to measure the existing space, and create an estimate from that. Visiting the site lets them get a more accurate estimate than relying on someone’s rough sketch on a napkin or their guesstimate of the dimensions.
In the estimate, all your decisions will be outlined – the material, thickness, color, edge profile, and finish. It’s important to make sure these are exactly what you want, and that any decisions you discussed are included. Don’t assume something is included or is going to be done a different way just because you discussed it. Get it in writing.
New Countertops – The Measurement
Once you have approved the estimate, and possibly given a deposit, the fabricator comes into the picture. The pricing estimate gave them a rough idea of the size of the countertops, but now they need to measure the actual space. It’s the rare project that is built exactly to the same measurements as the plans.
For those of us that are nerdy, this step is pretty cool. Using both a traditional tape measure, and computer aided technology, the fabricator will document the existing space. (They used an iPad on a rotating tripod for my kitchen remodel. It was completely automated – it would “shoot” dimensions, then rotate and take more shots.) Measurements are extremely accurate and any variations in the walls or cabinets are noted.
New Countertops – The Template
The fabricator will create a virtual template from their on-site measurements. In turn, the template will be used to cut the material into a custom countertop that exactly fits your space. This is why the measurement step is so important.
Countertop materials come in large slabs that are roughly 5’x10’. Most kitchens will require multiple slabs of countertop material due to the length and the configuration. On the other hand, a closet island countertop can usually be a single slab.
There will be a seam where two individual pieces of countertop abutt one another. Using the template, fabricators will do their best to minimize both the seam and its appearance. But, there will be seams. Large kitchen islands might need multiple slabs due to their size.
Countertops are usually only 25” wide, so the template also allows the fabricator to minimize waste. With good planning, one slab can be used to create several individual countertop pieces.
For natural stone countertops, like granite or soapstone, the template will be placed over an image of the slabs you have selected. This allows you to see the veining or pattern of the slab across the countertop pieces. This is really important for slabs with a lot of movement (Fantasy Brown Granite for example), where you want the seams to be as invisible as possible. The countertop should look like one long continuous run, rather than mismatched pieces jumbled together.
The template will also show where the seams between individual pieces are located. This is especially important with kitchen island countertops that require more than one piece. The template will also show the individual cutouts for sinks and cooktops.
The template usually requires client approval, so take the time to review it. Make sure you clearly understand what the countertops will look like once they are cut and installed. Especially seam locations. Keep in mind, though, that there is no “perfect”. Compromises always have to be made. Make your design as good as you can with the materials and details you have chosen.
New Countertops – The Installation
Here’s where it all comes together – your choices, the measurements, the template, and the actual fabrication of the countertops. The most exciting part!
Countertop installation can be surprisingly quick. The counters come in, and are put in place on top of the cabinets. The installers will ensure that the counters are level, fit correctly against adjacent walls, and seams meet acceptable tolerances. They will secure the counters and caulk as required.
That’s pretty much it as far as the whole countertop process. Now, all you need to do is just step back and admire your new countertops.
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