Granite DIY, Ay-Yi-Yi….

   From the day I saw a slab of Baltic Brown sitting at the entrance to the local Home Depot, I knew it would come to this:  Granite countertops as a weekend project.

   No, people aren’t hauling out the Skil saws to slice up a slab and slap in a kitchen and poolside wet bar – at least not yet. The attraction for some handy-around-the-house types is stone tile, generally considered more of the cut-rate solution for granite and marble tops.

   This will get a boost from a DIY column posted on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Website this week. With the enticing title of, “You can install granite over Corian® counters,” the Sweat Equity feature from brothers Bill and Kevin Burnett notes how current tops can stay in place. Just sand, clean, and – presto – you can start installing that granite countertop you’ve always wanted.

   I’m not going to take issue with the Burnetts (and their third brother, Bryan, who did one of these tile overlays in his own home) about whether it’s possible to do this. It’s certainly feasible, and could easily be a standard request in the Flagston Job Jar from the old comic Hi and Lois.

   But, as the stone professionals reading this are nodding in agreement, there’s a catch. In fact, there a few big items that the Burnetts didn’t tackle. I recognize that they don’t have a huge amount of space in a newspaper column to explain some of the finer points. 

   So, for the DIYers who’ve stumbled on this before attacking their kitchen tops, let’s do a quick rundown.

   For one thing – one big thing – there’s the backsplash. Unless it’s one of the quickest and sloppiest installations of Corian (which isn’t likely, and we’ll get back to that) in the realm of oxygen-breathers, you’ll have a nice one at the back of your countertop. 

   Unlike the simple zip cuts for the layout of the tops, the backsplash is probably going to require some fairly fine miter cuts when encountering corners. Getting straight, thin and unbroken cuts for the tops of the splashes won’t be a treat, either.

   The Chronicle column also noted that sinks shouldn’t be a problem as long as it “remains in the same place.” A problem-free tile-over, though, requires that you’re putting in a top-mount (or drop-in) sink. 

   An undermount (or rimless) sink, meanwhile, is a lost cause, because there’s no way you’ll be able to tile over the Corian rim. Popping in a top-mount sink isn’t necessarily the answer, because you’ll find it nearly impossible to match the sink’s fixture holes with the pre-drilled holes in the Corian. And the whole unit better fit in the hole cut for the original undermount model.

   If you deal with the backspash – most likely by removing the Corian pieces and wall-installing the tile – and can perform a like-for-like transfer of the sink, there’s still the aesthetic problem of amplification, or what I call the Stone Slipcover Syndrome.

   By installing the stone tile directly atop the Corian, you’ve increased the dimensions by the thickness of the tile. Admittedly, it’s only a half-inch or less, but it’s a dimensional offset for cabinets and kitchen appliances; make sure that you have enough free space to fully open your refrigerator doors, for example, before you start tiling away.

   If the original counter had any problems as far as a level surface, the tile won’t fix them. You’ll probably find what was a bit of a nagging thing is now much worse. Luckily, if this is truly Corian you’ve covered, you shouldn’t encounter this; DuPont, Corian’s manufacturer, is picky about quality and requires installer training. If it’s another surface you’re tiling … well, good luck.

   Remember, too, that DIY tiling jobs tend to be ones with the fewest cuts for fancy fits, and mainly right-angle corners and edges. It’s the bane of the slipcover look (which also includes some granite slab and panel jobs, I should add) where you’re not going to have those nice rounded bullnoses and swank, curvy ogee edges.

   So, yes, you can install granite right on top of Corian, but don’t kid yourself that it’s going to be a quick and simple job. If you’re uncertain about anything, do yourself a favor; call in a pro and at least get a quote. Going DIY could be a good answer … but don’t kid yourself that it’s going to be the cheapest.

 

   — Emerson Schwartzkopf

 

    You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

    

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