Good news! This one is bound to be short. Or shortish. Unlike my last post on painting my base cabinets, this one is not even a tutorial really, it’s just me rambling on about countertop choices. But if you are in the market for a new countertop or like reading stuff, it may be worth your time.
So for years I have tried to find a suitable countertop that I could just make myself. Why? Because I’m incredibly
cheap frugal, and because of the pride I get from doing something on my own. But mainly, it’s the cheap thing, and the irresistible challenge of trying to make it look like it’s not. And in my years of DIY I have learned that with certain projects, that goal is sometimes hard to achieve.
Here were my top DIY countertop choices:
Concrete: I’m talking the whole shebang. Custom molds, edging, bracing, mixing, polishing, acid staining and sealing. We actually made concrete counters in our old house. They were heavy, they were messy, and they didn’t turn out “exactly” as I had hoped. Mainly, they were a lot of work, and required a decent amount of materials and tools to do a top notch job. They also can be a bugger to seal.
Check out some beautiful examples and tutorials by Cheng Concrete Exchange.
Concrete overlay: Either over the existing counters, or more likely, over a new plywood base (because I didn’t like built in backsplashes in our existing countertops) This also seemed like a lot of work. It would require a ton of sanding and polishing inside the house, and then there’s the whole sealing issue again. Check out a favorite blogger of mine and her tutorial for a concrete overlay.
Wood: Why not? It’s beautiful and I could do it myself. But my kitchen gets such heavy traffic… painting, and projects involving solvents, and even some cooking, so even with 20 coats of poly, or epoxy I could picture it getting scratched, yellowed, chewed through and yucky, or having water issues. Also, Ryan said no. Here’s a great example of a wood countertop.
Paint and epoxy: Again over our existing countertops. I have actually done this as well on my old kitchen island, and honestly, for a cheap, plywood island top, it came out pretty close to looking like granite and it cleaned very well. But man, getting that epoxy perfect is tough, and I was distraught over how many bubbles and imperfections were on the surface. Also, if I wanted to go with a light color mix, it would be especially noticeable when the epoxy started to yellow over time. And again, I really wanted to get rid of the built in backsplash. So I nixed that idea pretty quick. Here’s a great tutorial on the process of painting and using epoxy on your existing counters.
So this whole, I gotta find a cheap countertop that I can do by myself no matter how much work and time it takes went on for several years. Until fairly recently. This last year it has become much clearer to me that my time is valuable and why not focus my attention on things that are important to me, and also things I am good at. I thought, “Jessie, not EVERYTHING needs to be DIY, not everything girl.” And I starting considering that perhaps I could splurge on a real countertop if I could find an incredible deal.
I took my idea to Ryan. I presented it as an “opportunity”. My key points were as follows:
- It would increase the value of our house. People LOVE nice counters. And we needed to replace ours sooner or later, why not upgrade?
- It would be a countertop that is low/no-maintenance, and stain resistant Then I pointed to the coffee maker sized brown stain next to our sink. I threw in a disgusted look for good measure.
- New sink! Which is a must. (More on that below)
- I would do…. like….. ALL the work and it would be the beginning of the whole kitchen makeover! And I would blog about it, and you know, some bloggers make a ton of money and they retire from their day jobs and just blog about their pretty houses and their pretty projects and the crazy hijinks they get themselves into. (maybe I should have left out the hijinks part, boy does Ryan hate my hijinks)
- It would be GREAT to have an updated kitchen. It “might” even bring the whole family together, you know… all four of us cooking and laughing and dusting flour on each other’s noses for giggles?!
So, after that stunning presentation and hearty bow, Ryan must have needed some time to take my words and ponder them in his heart, because he went right back to watching TV. But I wasn’t worried. He does that. A week later, when we were knee deep in a lively discussion involving finances, he brought up the countertop like it was something we were going to do.
In all the years I researched DIY counters, I also read dreamily about other countertop choices. I fell in love with soapstone, marble, granite, and some beautiful composites, but my most practical yet still fabulous pick would be quartz. Why? Because it is practically zero maintenance, bacteria resistant, stain resistant, heat resistant and oh so pretty! In fact its one drawback, is its price.
And that’s not good for this cheapskate.
But I thought I’d look into it. After researching several manufacturers and installers in town as well as big box companies like Lowes, and Home Depot, I found that prices ranged from $60-$98 per square foot installed. With approximately 42 square feet (which didn’t even include my island) and a undermount sink, we were looking at $3,100-4,700.
Or were we?
So I did what I always do, I took it to a DIY level. In all of my research, there is one place in town, (that I know of), that will let you install the countertops yourself. And of course I should have known it was Menards, my home away from home. So I went to their website and printed off their countertop measuring guide, I measured, re-measured, and had Ryan measure the existing countertops, and noted where we would want a finished edge.
And then I waited. I waited because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that these countertops were bound to go on sale. And you know what, they did. I can remember the exact moment.
I was enjoying a Moscow Mule at my in-laws house over the 4th of July weekend. And, I’m not sure if it was the mule talking, but I swear I heard a faint but distinct whisper, “Hey you… looky there.” And there it was, just inches away from me, resting patiently on the coffee table, awaiting my wandering eye. A Menards Ad.
On that ad was a picture.
That picture was of a countertop.
That countertop was my countertop.
That countertop was on SALE.
And I’m not even kidding, the moment my eyes met the word “sale”, fireworks went off… literally, outside!
Probably because it was the 4th of July.
But I took it as a sign. I might actually pull this off.
So after the 4th of July festivities, Ryan and I took our sheet into Menards where they put all of our measurements into a program. We discussed edge choices, and where to put the finished edges, sink options and cut-outs. We decided to go with a under-mount sink for an additional cost and ogee edges. And we put it on our Menards card. The whole thing INCLUDING the 31 inch sink came to $2200. (not counting the 11% off rebate which was ALSO going on, ka-ching!)
Now a moment about the sink. This was, in many ways, an even bigger deal than the countertop. At the time, we owned a 24 inch sink. 24 inches split in two. (that’s… 12 inches you know) A pan doesn’t even fit in this sink. We use pans often. We eat meals. A small sink, is not a good thing for a family that cooks and has a lot of messy hobbies. And don’t get me started on the color. Cream. While initially very nice looking, it had become a bit ombre over the years, cream on top, brown at the base. I paint, I tile, I’m messy! (Ryan and the kids are gross too) This sink was BADLY stained. In fact, It was so bad, I actually got a can of comet, with a bow on top, for Christmas. (I can take the hint)
So the 31 inch STAINLESS steel under-mount sink was kinda a big deal!
Remember when it was cool for people to say “I’m kinda a big deal” all the time? HATED that.
Sorry, I digress. Wow, and I thought this wasn’t going to be long…
So we put in the order for the countertop and sink, and I started searching and reading. Ok, I had been searching and reading long before that, but I read with more intensity. More gusto! I wanted to find other people who have installed this countertop, how they installed it, and what they thought. Unfortunately the internet was limited on this exact product. But here and here are a couple.
With Menards, after you put in all your measurements, they send them off to a magic place somewhere, and in a week or so, you get a life-sized template that you lay over your existing counters. This will have your finished edges marked and your exact dimensions. Once you approve this template, the countertops will be made to these exact specifications. This part scared me because Ryan had already opened the templates, checked them, and packed them up before I got home, and said they were good to go. And of course, he is more qualified to say this than I, he’s a contractor for goodness sake. Seeing him work a tape measure with such precision can make this girl swoon. I just wish I would have been there. So after 4-5 calls and texts to “make sure” that he was comfortable with me approving the template. I went online and said, “GO AHEAD, those templates are spot on!” Or something less British sounding.
Fast forward another week and a half, and I get an email that said they were in.
THEY WERE IN!!!
So I’m like… we need men, a lot of men! And a trailer! And should we turn up the heat? Turn it down? And while I was planning in a frenzy of how we could possibly get these countertops home, Ryan went and picked them up by himself. They were packed upright on a large wood frame that Menards forklifted into the back of our truck. Ryan cautiously drove them home, and then forced my 15 year old daughter and two of her friends to help us unload each countertop piece by piece into the house. They were unbelievably heavy. We put cardboard down on the ground inside and leaned the countertop upright, on edge. It is VERY important that when you are unpacking and carrying the countertops sections that they always remain on edge. Too much pressure could make them snap. It is also important that the countertop becomes acclimated to your house temperature. (This is especially important if the countertops were allowed to get cold) Letting them sit overnight should do the trick.
We installed the countertops in pieces, starting with my 9 foot long section. We were able to use a cart to wheel it over to the general area. And then somehow, by superhuman strength, my husband, daughter and I lifted it into place. Seriously, it is SO heavy. Over the course of the week, we installed the remaining three pieces and the undermount. Everything went according to plan with no issues.
While I did read up online about tips for the install, we mostly just followed the instructions that were given to use from Menards. Here’s some important tips.
- As I said, leave them on edge until you are putting them in place, never lay them down flat.
- Make sure your cabinets are ready for them. I mean level, strong enough to support the weight, and securely fastened to the wall. Any unlevel spots in the cabinet could cause stress on a section of the counter, which could cause it to crack.
- Have adequate help. I would suggest less 15 year old girls and more burly men, but that’s just my opinion. But for real, they crazy heavy foo.
- Research, research, research! Read reviews, tutorials, ask the professionals! Installing this type of countertop is totally doable, but make sure you know what you are doing.
Coming next: the backsplash, although, I don’t think you can call it a backsplash when it covers the whole FLIPPING wall! Oh, I wear myself out…
Thanks for reading!