Kitchen Design/Remodeling/Laminate backsplash

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Question
Diane,

After getting what I consider an outrageous quote to have my old laminate kitchen counters removed and replaced with new ones, I've decided to attempt this myself. My kitchen is very small, and I'm brave and/or stupid, so this should be quite an adventure....

My question is about the 4" laminate backsplash.  I'm assuming it is glued on to drywall.  Is there an easy way to remove this without damaging the drywall too much?  If the drywall is damaged, what should I patch it with?  I plan on installing another 4" backsplash in the same place as the old one, and am worried about moisture getting in behind the new installation.

Many thanks,

Christina

Answer
Hello, Christina.

This answer is going to be fairly lengthy. If you're not an experienced D-I-Yer, I recommend NOT trying to fabricate/install your own laminate countertops and backsplash. More on that towards the end.

I don't know what your quote was, what it included, or who gave you an estimate (i.e., countertop specialty company or a "big box" store). I don't know if you selected the laminate, or if the laminate was recommended by the fabricator, and what kind of edge treatment was selected or recommended. There are so many variables!

Before attempting to do the work yourself, please take time to get more estimates. According to Homewyse, a laminate countertop should range in investment from $26 to $41 per square foot, averaging $33.50 per square foot. The labor should be the same amount of time, but can vary greatly depending upon the fabricator's overhead and markup. Here's the link that will give you more information: http://www.homewyse.com/services/cost_to_install_laminate_countertop.html

Don't be shy about asking questions about the estimates:

1. How much is the material per square foot? (If it seems on the high side, ask for a less-expensive alternative.)
2. How much is the labor? What's included in the labor, and what's not included (i.e., 4" splash -- separate or attached, with a cove base; removal of the existing countertop/backsplash and repair of the drywall)?
3. How much is the edge treatment?
4. What's the warranty on labor and materials?

Whenever you're having any work done on your home, check the licensing status (if your state requires licensing). Get and check references . Don't ever be shy about asking questions!

Now, to answer your questions specifically, why I'm recommending against trying to manufacture and install your own laminate countertop and backsplash:

NEW OVER OLD:

1. Remove the existing laminate backsplash. It should be attached to a particleboard backer which is normally glued to your wall. This will damage the wallboard, which must be repaired to assure that the new splash will adhere without gaps.   

2. It is possible to install new laminate over old laminate, but there are potential problems if the old laminate has separated from the particle board below it, or if there are uneven areas in the existing countertop that will telescope into the new material.

3. For a successful installation of new laminate over old, all of the old laminate must be sanded to create a "tooth" for the glue that will be used.

4. The glue smells bad and can be dangerous if used in an un-ventilated area. The glue sets up very quickly! Once the new laminate has been placed, it cannot be moved without damage. For a large countertop, this is not a one-person project!

5. Make cutouts in the countertop for the sink (and cooktop). The cutouts must be precise, no more than 1/16" off in any direction.

6. Creating a countertop lip is tricky, and requires a router. One slip of the router can ruin the entire countertop!

7. Make the splash, using the existing splash or creating a new splash with particleboard that's the exact dimensions of the old splash. Again, the top edge needs to be finished; the "seam" between the vertical and horizontal surfaces must be smoothed with a router. After the backsplash has cured, glue it to the wall and apply silicone sealer between the splash and the countertop.

8. Reinstall your sink (and cooktop).  

NEW COUNTERTOP:

1. Carefully remove the existing countertop and backsplash. This will require unhooking and removing your sink (and cooktop).

2. The new underlayment (particle board) must be perfect, and dry-fit to insure that there will be no problems. You'll have to create a lip (1-1/2") on the front edge; normally, the front edge of the lip extends beyond drawers and doors, to prevent spills landing on the top edges. Standard countertops are usually 25-1/2" deep overall, measured from the wall (not the splash) to the front of the lip.

3. If the countertop is longer than a sheet of particleboard, or if your countertops turn a corner, then the particleboard needs to be held together with special inset connectors to assure that the countertop will act/react as one unit.

4. Make cutouts for the sink (and cooktop) in the exact places, no more than 1/16" off in any direction.

5. Dry-fit the laminate before gluing it. Verify that any seams will be in logical places. If your countertop turns a corner, it's best to have a 45-degree angle from the wall corner to the outside corner (where the cabinets change direction). This is very tricky!

6. Carefully glue the laminate to the underlayment. The glue smells bad and can be dangerous if used in an un-ventilated area. The glue sets up very quickly! Once the new laminate has been placed, it cannot be moved without damage. For a large countertop, this is not a one-person project!

7. Glue the laminate to the lip. Using a router, carefully create the junction between the horizontal and vertical surface. One slip of the router can damage the entire countertop!

8. After the countertop has set up, move it into place. Make cutouts in the countertop for the sink (and cooktop). Again, the cutouts must be precise.

9. Make the splash, using the existing splash or creating a new splash with particleboard that's the exact dimensions of the old splash. Again, the top edge needs to be finished; the "seam" between the vertical and horizontal must be smoothed with a router. After the backsplash has cured, glue it to the wall and apply silicone sealer between the splash and the countertop.

8. Reinstall your sink (and cooktop).

I'm sure that there are videos on YouTube that show how to install a new laminate countertop. If you can, ask the countertop fabricator if you can visit his shop to see how countertops are created. It will be a valuable lesson, and I'm sure that you'll come away with a better understanding of how much effort is required to make laminate countertops.

D-I-Y projects normally take at least three times as long as hiring a professional. Often, the money saved amounts to nothing when wasted time (and investment in materials and tools) is factored in.  

Another point I'd like to make, asking the "What if" question: What if you do manufacture and install your own laminate countertops and backsplash, and your project doesn't turn out the way you'd hoped it would? The answer is: (A)You'll lose everything you've invested, including your valuable time. Then you'll be faced with the decision to live with it, or pay someone to do it right.

Wishing you the best of luck with your countertops, no matter what you choose to do.

Warm regards,

Diane Plesset, CMKBD, C.A.P.S., NCIDQ
D. P. Design
"See the Possibilities. Create a Positive Difference."  

Kitchen Design/Remodeling

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Diane Plesset

Expertise

I will answer questions about kitchen design, remodeling: appliances, cabinets, countertops, lighting/switching, accessible kitchens, kitchens for multiple cooks, kitchen trends, flooring, windows and doors, ventilation, safety, function, and style.

Experience

25+ years as a kitchen designer; over 10 years as a Certified Master Kitchen-Bath Designer. Hundreds of projects completed, in all styles, all ranges of investment. Multiple design awards and published articles (see below). Public speaker and lecturer about home remodeling. Co-host of a local radio program for over three years, currently the host of "Today's Home" on Lifetime WebRadio every Sunday afternoon (website: http://www.todays-home.com)

Organizations
NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association); NAHB (National Association of Home Builders); PRO (Portland Remodelers' Organization); IDPC (Interior Design Protection Council)

Publications
"THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling" (book published in 2003), Gentry Magazine, Designers' Illustrated Magazine, Interior Coordinator Magazine (Japan); San Jose Mercury News, San Mateo Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Oregonian, Statesman Journal Newspapers.

Education/Credentials
Multiple degrees, including bathroom design, kitchen design, lighting design, and residential interior design. Classes and seminars attended frequently, to maintain current knowledge about products, trends, codes, and technology.

Awards and Honors
Multiple certifications: Certified Master Kitchen-Bath Designer (NKBA), Certified Interior Designer (NCIDQ, National Council of Interior Design Qualification), and Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (NAHB). Awards include: Henry Adams Designer of the Year, CoTY, Master Design, Chrysalis, Best of the Best, Excellence (Best home in its category), and NABE (Best how-to book, 2003).

Past/Present Clients
To see photos of completed projects, please visit my website: http://www.dp-design.com/portfolio

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