If you really want to make a big difference in the look of your kitchen, consider replacing the countertops. Depending on the material you choose and the size of the kitchen, the cost of changing your countertops can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Common kitchen countertop materials include plastic laminate, solid surface, and natural stone such as granite.
Plastic laminate countertops rank as the least expensive, making them a good choice for those on a tight budget. They are available in a wide range of colors and patterns with finishes ranging from high gloss to matte, and surfaces from smooth to textured. Plastic laminates are made from layers of paper and plastic resin that are fused together under high heat and pressure. The thin laminate is then glued to a particle board or plywood substrate to give it strength.
In addition to being an inexpensive material that is readily available at most home improvement centers, plastic laminate countertops are fairly easy to cut and install. Usually they come already cut to length, but holes for sinks and appliances can be made on site using a circular saw or sabre saw. To prevent chipping when cutting, apply a strip of masking tape to the area that will be cut and whenever possible turn the countertop over and make cuts from the bottom.
Plastic laminate can be molded at the factory around the front edge and backsplash of the substrate in one continuous piece. Also known as "post-formed" countertops, the molded sections are cut to length and the corners mitered before delivery using a highly accurate circular saw.
When two pieces of plastic laminate countertop meet at right angles, the pieces are mitered by cutting each piece to a 45° angle, and slots are then cut into the bottom of the substrate. The pieces are then carefully aligned on the job site and joined together from underneath the countertops using special miter bolts.
Plastic laminate countertops can also be custom made to suit specific dimensions. Custom laminate countertops usually have a square front edge and come with a separate, detached backsplash.
Custom laminate countertops are formed by applying contact cement to both the laminate and substrate. Once the cement is dry, spacer sticks are placed on the substrate and the laminate is carefully positioned on it. The sticks are then removed and a roller is used to press the laminate and substrate together.
Solid surface countertops are more expensive than plastic laminate but cost much less than natural stone. The nonporous material is composed of plastic resin that is resistant to heat, stains, mold, and bacteria. As the name implies, the color of solid surface countertops is uniform throughout the material. This allows scratches and other imperfections to be sanded out, and various profile edges to be cut into the material using a router. Solid surface countertops are available in thicknesses ranging from 1/4 to 3/4 inch. The thinner material needs to be backed with a substrate, while thicker countertops need no additional support.
A special gluing technique is used to fuse sections of solid surface material together on the job site. This allows the countertops to be formed into a large, seamless piece.
Once the glue has cured, the joints in solid surface countertops are sanded smooth, causing the seams to virtually disappear. Cutouts for sinks can be made with a circular saw or router.
Natural stone countertops like granite are expensive, though the price has come down significantly in recent years. Granite is available in a range of colors and patterns depending on where it was quarried, and in thicknesses of 2 cm and 3 cm (0.8-1.2 inches). It is a very durable material that resists damage from heat and scratching. Granite should be sealed periodically, however, to reduce the chance of staining.
Granite is cut in the factory or shop using a special wet saw equipped with a diamond tipped blade. Recent technological advances in cutting granite are one of the reasons for its decline in price.
Once it has been cut to size, the heavy granite slabs are brought to the job site and trial fit in place. The pieces are then carefully leveled, and any minor adjustments made on site.
When everything is ready, a bead of silicone adhesive is applied to the top edge of the base cabinets and the granite countertops are lowered in place.
Joints in granite countertops are joined together using epoxy glue that is tinted to match the color of the countertops.
While the seams in granite countertops are not completely invisible like those in solid surface materials, if the pieces are carefully matched, leveled, and joined; they will blend together well.