How to Install a Countertop

Techniques for countertop installations

While some countertop installations are best left to a professional, you can install your own if you're confident enough in your DIY skills. These instructions will tell you how to install three different types of countertop material: ceramic tile, granite, and laminate. Keep in mind that you may have to consult a professional at some point before or during the installation process, as you may need to have your countertop's size adjusted or get help with some of the more difficult steps. However, with careful planning and patient execution, you can save hundreds of dollars on your new countertop by installing it yourself.

Installing Laminate Countertops

Premade laminate countertops are versatile and easy to maintain. Of the three main types of kitchen countertops, they are also easiest to install. Follow these steps:

  1. Check, double-check and triple-check your measurements before ordering your laminate countertop. Even minor inaccuracies can cause major problems during the installation.
  2. Begin the installation with the longest corner section of the countertop. Perform a test fit of this piece by installing a miter bolt, aligning the countertop's front edges, then scribing the section into place. Once it's secured, sand the reverse edge of your kitchen backsplash to meet the edge of the countertop for a tighter fit.
  3. Repeat this process for the remaining sections of countertop. If you've taken accurate measurements, you won't need to make any adjustments to the pieces. However, if you do need to shorten a section, cut it with a power saw after double-checking your measurements.
  4. Screw the countertop to the sides of any cabinets it comes in contact with. You'll get the best fit if you combine 1 ½ inch steel angles with number 8 screws measuring 5/8 of an inch.

Installing Granite Countertops

Again, with granite countertops, you'll want to take extra care to get all your measurements right. Once you've received your countertop, do what's known as a "dry fit" to make sure all the counter pieces are correctly sized. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Adjust any pieces which are too large by cutting them using a power saw.
  2. Set the countertop pieces in place and check to ensure they are fully level.
  3. Shim as necessary to correct any pieces which aren't completely flat.
  4. Use the manufacturer's recommended adhesive to glue the countertop pieces into place.
  5. Use color-matching silicone to seal and gaps between counter sections, if necessary.
  6. Replace your cabinet drawers only once the countertops have completely set (24 to 48 hours after sealing).

Installing Ceramic Tile Countertops

Ceramic tile countertops generally have the most involved installation process. There are extra steps involved here because the counter doesn't come in continuous sections, but require you to install them tile by tile. It's especially important to exercise patience and plan carefully, but the beauty and functionality of ceramic tile countertops are worth the extra effort.

Here's what to do:

  1. Create a base for the counter by laying down ¾ inch-thick sheets of plywood on your counter area.
  2. Add a ½ inch cement board tile backer on top of the plywood. You will now have a firm base on which to build the countertop.
  3. Lay your tiles out in the manner in which you are going to install them, including the accent tiles. If you need to adjust the size of any tiles, use a specially designed tile saw to cut them.
  4. Prepare your mortar and lay out the field tile (the tiles which form the main part of the countertop).
  5. Lay out your accent tiles.
  6. Support the front edge tiles by clamping a ledger onto your counter's face frame.
  7. Leave the backsplash until the end, if you're going to upgrade it at the same time as your countertop.

In all three cases, planning is the key to success. Before you set any countertop components permanently in place, lay them out without setting them to make sure they fit properly. Repeat this process as many times as necessary, after you adjust the size of your countertop sections or tiles as needed. If you're in doubt at any point during the installation process, contact your countertop's manufacturer or consult a professional.