Installing Surfaces – Countertops and Backsplashes  

By Andrea Julian, AAA Countertops – April 22, 2020

We have almost reached the finish line of our kitchen remodel series! In our last article, we went through the process of installing new cabinets and plumbing. Now, we are ready to install the kitchen surfaces – the countertops and backsplashes.   This is arguably the most exciting part of the remodel! It’s those finishing touches that really bring your kitchen to life.

What you Need to Know About Countertops

Countertop Material Options

Countertops can be made from several different materials. The most common are:

The material you choose will depend on a few things including your kitchen remodel budget, lifestyle, and design goals. Laminate is the most cost effective, followed by natural stone and quartz and solid surface. Expect to spend around $20 a square foot for laminate, $40 a square foot for a level 1 granite and $50 a square foot for a level 1 quartz (price including installation). For more information on countertop materials click here.

Before your countertop can be cut, you’ll need to decide what kind of sink you want. Kitchen sinks come in three general styles – drop in, undermount and farmsink/apron front. Consult with your plumber to ensure the sink you choose is compatible with your cabinet’s plumbing and measurements. 

  • Drop-in Sink – The simplest and least expensive option, drop-in sinks are also the only option if you choose a laminate countertop option. Drop-in sinks have a lip that sits on the top of the countertop opening. It is glued in place using an adhesive. The lip of the drop-in sink needs to be taken into consideration when choosing your faucet and faucet placement. Drop-in sinks are the easiest of the options to install.
  • Undermount Sink – Undermount sinks are glued underneath the countertop. These sinks look seamless when installed correctly and increase the amount of usable countertop space. These sinks are attached using brackets and an industrial adhesive. Once an undermount sink is installed it needs to dry for at least 24 hours before the plumbing is reconnected and turned back on.
  • Farmhouse Sink – Farmhouse sinks have become popular with designers over the past few years. They have an oversized basin – deep, wide and undivided – and an apron front. Due to their size and weight, there are some cabinet specifications that need to be considered. Though classically made from white porcelain, a material that is prone to staining, there are stainless steel versions available.

Now that your countertops are ready to be installed, you’ll want to use a level to double check your cabinets. If your cabinets are not level, the countertops will not be level.  Place industrial strength adhesive on the tops of the cabinets where the countertop will sit. Gently place the countertops on top of the cabinets and align with adjoining walls and ledges. After the countertops are perfectly aligned, use caulk or silicone to seal along joints and edges.

When the countertops are in place its time to install the sink and faucets. In most cases your countertop fabricator will ask for your sink in order to fabricate your countertops so they can ensure the sink cutout exactly matches your sink. This is especially important for undermount sinks. After installing the sink and faucet, allow them to sit for at least 24 hours before installing the plumbing. This will allow time for the adhesive to fully cure.

Once your countertops are in, it’s time for the backsplash!

Choosing and Installing Kitchen Backsplashes

A kitchen’s backsplash is just as much about aesthetics as it is about function. For many its the favorite element of a kitchen remodel. A backsplash is installed in order to protect your wall from stains and water damage; however, it is so much more than that. Backsplashes can add a pop of color and texture to your kitchen, really bringing the design together.

There are two main material choices for backsplashes – stone and tile.

  • Stone Backsplashes – If you have natural stone or quartz countertops, you may choose to make matching splashes out of the same material. This creates a seamless look, especially if your countertop material has a pattern or veins running through it. A traditional stone backsplash is 4” tall.  Full wall splashes are popular behind sinks and stove tops, extending from the countertop to the bottom of the wall cabinets, windows and fume hood.
  • Tile Backsplashes – Tile backsplashes can add a pop of color and texture to the kitchen design. Subway tiles are a classic choice for kitchens and come in a huge variety of colors and sizes. Cement tile backsplashes have become increasingly popular recently. These matte tiles come in all sorts of colors and patterns so you can create your own unique statement.

Stone backsplashes will be installed by your countertop fabricator at the same time they install your countertops. Adhesive is used to secure the splashes to the wall and countertop, and grout is used to seal the gaps.

Tile backsplashes will be installed after your countertops are in. Installing tile is a process that takes time, patience, and skill. If you do not take the time to lay out your tiles, making sure they are flush and centered, you could end up with uneven grout lines and gaps. To properly prepare you will need to ensure you have the following tools:

  • Screwdriver and drill, self-centering drill bit
  • Bucket
  • Caulk gun
  • Grout float
  • Level, tape measure, utility knife
  • Notched trowel and rubber mallet

The materials you need will depend on the type of tile you choose. In general, you’ll need:

  • Caulk, grout, and grout sealer
  • Mastic
  • Outlet extenders
  • Stone tile sealer
  • Tile and tile spacers

To prepare, you’ll need to disconnect your electricity and remove all of the cover plates from the outlets. Clean up any grease splatters on the wall (mastic won’t adhere to grease). You can use mixture of mild dishwashing detergent and water to clean it.

Cover all your countertops and surfaces with a drop cloth. Mask off the countertops and any upper cabinets that will have tile installed along the side, leaving a ¼” gap between the wall and tape for tile.

As a rule, the area between the counters and the fume hood is the largest and most visible open wall space in the kitchen so its recommended that you start your tile laying here and word outwards. To prepare, measure down from the top of the countertop backsplash an area below your range that is equal to three or four full rows of tile (in order to avoid having to cut them). Mark with a pencil and screw in a piece of ledger board to the wall at the mark between the cabinets.

Now your ready to start setting your tile. There are many helpful kitchen remodel tutorials to guide you through the process. For step by step instructions, we suggest this article by Family Handy Man or this video by This Old House.

In our next and final article in our Kitchen Remodel series, we’ll go over the final elements of a kitchen remodel – flooring, painting and touching up. Stay tuned!