25 January 2012

DIY: kitchen countertop installation: the hard part

The countertop adventure continues! After Mr. P and I wrote a fairly hefty check and waited a few weeks, we were able to bring our new countertops home. But before we could install new countertops? We had to remove the old ones!

But how? Well, usually, the undersides of laminate countertops are screwed on to the cabinet boxes at the ends. The screws can be accessed by removing the drawers, sticking your head in the cabinet, and removing the screws. However, for super-duper security, they are sometimes also glued onto the cabinet boxes. And oh, how I dreaded that ours would be.

So I started small, with the little section of countertop there between the fridge and stove:

And guess what. When we took it out? Not glued! So it was as simple as unscrewing it, scoring the caulk between the counter and the wall with an Exacto knife, and removing it! I patched up any wonky places in the drywall with spackle and sanded it smooth. Then, to install the new piece, we centered it on the countertop and Mr. P applied downward pressure while I screwed it into place from inside the cabinet. No pilot holes, no measuring – just stick it on and bore the screws into the underside of the laminate.

Hot damn! Installing countertops is easycakes!

Except: Hahaha! Perhaps if your entire kitchen is made up of small pieces like that, then yes, it’s a feast of easycakes. However, scroll up and note the rest of our kitchen is one giant L-shape of countertop. Which meant that basically everything on the counters, the drawers, and anything in the cabinets that got in the way of unscrewing the countertop had to be relocated:

Ahh! Ahhhhh! Ignoring the purply-brown curtains (???) and original non-neutral dining room wall color, that is one ginormous eyetwitch-inducing mess in our dining room. Basically everything was haphazardly thrown on the dining room table, making it virtually impossible to find anything that had been in our kitchen. Although I guess if you simultaneously needed an oven mitt, masking tape, brown sugar, two overripe bananas, and some needlenose pliers, they’d conveniently be in the same place?

We couldn’t even keep it totally contained to the dining room, which is why this was my view watching television for the frighteningly long interim:

I find the roll of blue painter’s tape that somehow rolled its way to the fireplace to be a particularly eloquent comment on the state of affairs throughout the upper level of our house during this process, though the drawerful of aprons in the middle of the living room says nearly the same thing.

And of course, if all that wasn’t inconvenient enough, we didn’t have a kitchen sink. So, we couldn’t refill our drinking water pitcher, I could barely fill a pot to boil water under the bathroom faucet, and we had to wash all the dishes in the bathroom sink. Though perhaps the worst part was wondering if we’d be able to put it back together... because Mr. P wasn’t entirely sure how he took it apart.

Then again, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if you were un-installing in one day and re-installing the same day... but we didn’t make that sort of progress.

See, when it came to actually removing the counters – well, yes, we were lucky that they weren’t glued down. But turns out that the super-thick, twenty-year-old caulk between the counters and the drywall was a formidable obstacle. Because the walls weren’t perfectly straight, the caulk could be nearly a quarter-inch thick in some places to fill the gap. And dried-out. And rock solid. And when I tugged at it, the top layer of drywall came with it. Worst of all, the whole countertop shebang had to come out in one piece because we couldn’t access the miter bolts in the corner, which fastened the two pieces together.

After a few days of me hacking away at it – making little progress, and breaking several aforementioned Exacto razorblades in the process – Mr. P asked if he could just rip it out. And he did, so quickly and violently (snapping the laminate into pieces) I didn’t get a photo of it. I have to admit, slight drywall damage aside: it was kind of hot.

So we were left with this:

I spent several days patching the wall with spackle, slathering it on and sanding it smooth, which is why the back wall has that white halo where the countertops were.

Then, as you can see on the floor, we got the two main pieces of the new countertop joined together at the corner the miter bolts and caulk. And they took up the entire floor, blocking access to the dishwasher. Hence the aforementioned bathroom-sink-dishwashing.

So then it was just a simple matter of sliding that giant piece into place, right? WRONG. As I mentioned above, I realized the walls aren’t perfectly square. And unfortunately, I measured them perfectly, to a sixteenth of an inch (remember my 1/32” marks on the bathroom wall stripes?). So sliding the countertops in between the three walls was nearly impossible, because the piece was cut totally flush (perhaps even a bit wide in some places). Not to mention that the two pieces fastened together were heavy, and while Team P has many strengths, there is definitely a weak link muscle-wise (i.e. me). And on top of all of that, the section in the middle with the sink cut-out was not sturdy at all, so if we didn’t perfectly coordinate our moves, it could snap in two.


So, I finally decided to Dremel-sand down 1/8” from the open right end of the countertop where it would meet the wall. I knew there would be a backsplash piece that would fit over most of that edge, and I prayed I could cover any other mistakes with the Dremel with caulk. It was incredibly slow going, though, because I kept running the battery down. Didn’t matter if I took awhile, though, as Mr. P was in the middle of one of 2011’s many headcolds and was not particularly in the mood to install countertops anymore, thanks.

It was probably at this point that I decided Girona Beach was not my most favorite thing in the world... and the what-have-I-done feeling truly sank in. I began to wonder if we would ever have countertops again. I mean, maybe the next owner would be okay with installing them, right? And we didn’t really need a sink anymore! We would be like the old-timey people!

But finally, a week later, Mr. P got his health back and informed me that was insane. So, I checked my anxiety and we gave it another go. This time, though, we moved the oven out of the way so we didn’t have to go in at an angle – which, by the by, was no trivial matter considering the countertops took up the entire floor where the oven would be moved. That was our last possible variable we hadn’t tried, but...

We were finally able to move it in! Success! That’s pure triumph, right there.

So, was it worth it to DIY instead of paying for installation? Considering that I enjoy both saving money as well as the rush of a successful project attempt... yes. But was it incredibly hard and stressful? Definitely yes. Not so hard that I would try it again – but if I ever have to install countertops flush with three walls, I might reconsider the strategy. The key would probably have been knocking out the sides of the corner cabinets so we could miter-bolt it together in place and not have to juggle the giant assembled piece. Ahh, hindsight.

Despite the excitement of having the countertop in place AT LONG LAST, though, we were far from done. I’ll show you the finishing touches of our countertop installation tomorrow!


Christal said...

I am INCREDIBLY impressed. And that roll of tape gives me the giggles.