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Unread 01-07-2010, 10:28 AM   #1
GaryK
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Granite tile kitchen counter substrate?

My wife and I want a granite countertop for our kitchen remodel project. We've got about 80 sq ft of countertop. I'm trying to decide btw slab and granite tile. The latter option is considerably cheaper (est. 1/3 the cost) given that I could do it myself. How should I construct the totally new countertop substrate? I believe plywood plus a cement board product is the preferred, but I am unsure of thicknesses. Also, what grout is recommended for what I plan to be a minimal grout width. Any help and pros/cons of slab vs tile?
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Unread 01-07-2010, 11:50 AM   #2
astrojeff
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Hi Gary:

First, I would say that you could do even better than 1/3 the cost of slab if you tile yourself. The general recomendation for granite countertops is 2 pieces of 3/4" plywood, plus a tiling substrate such as Ditra or concrete backerboard (CBU). It typically ends up about 2" thick or more (which I think looks good), but with extra effort it can be made to look thinner if that's a concern. In any case, if you decide to go that pathway, check back in with us on the details before starting up because there are a lot of little important things I've left out.

The biggest pro of tile, of course, is price. The biggest con of a finished tile countertop, according to many people, is the grout lines (and the labor). I think the grout line argument is somewhat dated, since there are new grouts such as Spectralok that are impervious and bulletproof, or you can use a cheaper, dark-colored grout that is less apt to stain. And although the seamless appearance of slab is beautiful, you can make an equally interesting and unique appearance in your tiles in the way that you choose your tile layout. A pleasing arrangements of grout lines takes planning and care, but it can look really nice, IMO. Another potential problem of grout lines is if you plan on using your countertop for rolling out large, thin doughs (is this really an important consideration? My mom thinks so). My answer to that is to consider doing part of your counter in butcher block, which will nicely accent the stone tile. Or just use a big cutting board for those occasional needs.

The other disadvantage of tile is that the edges and widths of granite (or any floor tile) are not typically designed for countertops. Try to fit two 24" tiles onto a 25" countertop. You can get tiles with widths & edges finished specifically for countertops (look up "Bedrock Creations")--but you pay more, you can get a fabricator (or DIY with some expensive new tools) to bullnose the front edges for you, or you can use edging strips such as wood trim/molding or the edgers that Schluter makes. Another choice is to look into the world of through-body porcelain tiles, many of which have a natural stone look (and are harder and more durable than granite), and some of which have pre-bullnosed pieces designed for stair treads that can also be used as coutnertop edgers. Another possibility is to look into soapstone tiles, which can be more easily shaped with woodworking tools and is completely nonreactive and non-staining, but it is a bit softer and more scratch-prone Soapstone can also be finished flat with no palpable grout lines by post-sanding the whole surface after grouting. I have done one granite tile countertop and one porcelain tile countertop and they were both beautiful and fun to do. You can find pics in some of my older posts.

In summary, if you want to save money and if you enjoy designing and building things, then a stone tile countertop may be for you. We can help you on the materials, design, and procedure here. Most of the cost of tile is in the labor, so if you plan on having it professionally done, it might be just as good to go with slab. A cheap-looking or improperly done tile job may not be worth the grief.
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Unread 01-07-2010, 02:52 PM   #3
GaryK
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Jeff, more info appreciated

I'm pretty sure I'm going the granite (or porcelain) tile route, so more details that you omitted would be very useful for me regarding the substrate.

I'm intrigued by your allusion to interesting tile/grout line arrangement. I can't imagine what that could be other than a grid or brick pattern. More on that, please.

I like the butcher block idea, although rolling out dough is not a high priority. If I insert a butcher block top in a wide expanse of counter, with tile on each side of the block, how do I do the joints? I doubt that grout would work between two dissimilar materials, so I'm guessing a type of caulk or trim strip.

The granite tile I'm interested in comes in either 12" or 18" squares and has thinly chamfered edges. I'm thinking of using the 18" tile down the middle length of the counter and equal-width cuts along the front and back splash sides. The residual from those cuts taken from an 18" tile should be adequate to cover the front edge. My plan is a 1/16" grout line. Butting the tiles leaves a crumb-collecting groove.

I have located a fabricator who can bullnose my counter edge tiles.

Thanks.
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Unread 01-07-2010, 03:49 PM   #4
Shawn Prentice
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Quote:
Butting the tiles leaves a crumb-collecting groove.
As well as bacteria and other pathogens.
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Unread 01-08-2010, 09:52 AM   #5
Shawn Prentice
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Quote:
I'm pretty sure I'm going the granite (or porcelain) tile route, so more details that you omitted would be very useful for me regarding the substrate.
You could go two 3/4" layers but I think that build it too high, unless you like the look of a thicker counter at just over 2" (around 2-1/8".) I'd stick with one layer 3/4" and one layer 1/2", you'll have a solid base and be under 2" (around 1-7/8".) Both layers should be AC exterior grade plywood. Ditra over that. If you were to have seams in the ditra around the sink, then kerdi band those for waterproofing. You can also run a kerdi band upleg on the wall behind the sink to protect against any possible caulk failures that go unnoticed/neglected.

Quote:
I'm intrigued by your allusion to interesting tile/grout line arrangement. I can't imagine what that could be other than a grid or brick pattern. More on that, please..
I believe what Jeff is talking about is the size of the tiles you choose will determine how many grout lines (smaller tile more, bigger less) thus having an effect on the overall appearance. I would stay away from wood front edges though, more particularly in the sink area.

Quote:
I like the butcher block idea, although rolling out dough is not a high priority. If I insert a butcher block top in a wide expanse of counter, with tile on each side of the block, how do I do the joints? I doubt that grout would work between two dissimilar materials, so I'm guessing a type of caulk or trim strip.
You would leave a perimeter expansion joint. And you are correct about caulking the disimilar materials (I would be using a neutral cure silicone.) The only issue is how thick is this "butcher block?" Ideally you would want it flush with the rest of the surface. I would stay away from wood personally and just get a slab of marble to pull out of the cabinet and put on the counter whenever you need it, then put it away when you are done.

Quote:
The granite tile I'm interested in comes in either 12" or 18" squares and has thinly chamfered edges. I'm thinking of using the 18" tile down the middle length of the counter and equal-width cuts along the front and back splash sides. The residual from those cuts taken from an 18" tile should be adequate to cover the front edge. My plan is a 1/16" grout line. Butting the tiles leaves a crumb-collecting groove.
That'll work if that's what you like. To do true 1/16" joints takes careful and meticulous setting as tiles that are lipped just a little (meaning adjacent tiles not flush with each other on the top) are more obvious. Also with 1/16" joints, adding 1/32" to the joint essentially increases the size by 50%. Remember the chamfer on the edges will give your 1/16" joints the finished appearance of about an 1/8" joint when it's all grouted. Having said that, you wouldn't want to go with anything bigger than 1/16" joints for this install. I second the use of Laticrete's Spectralock grout. It is sanded, so it will look different than unsanded, but that is the trade-off for the extra protection it provides. There is a huge thread on that grout on the forum for you to read.

Quote:
I have located a fabricator who can bullnose my counter edge tiles.
Have them make a few extra for you, i.e. miscuts, possible future repair. Feel free to ask for any additional help.
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Unread 01-08-2010, 11:11 AM   #6
astrojeff
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I did my two countertops with Hardibacker, which is slightly different than Ditra, so be aware of the difference: I first added some extra lumber supports in the long spans between cabinets--at the front and back edges of the dishwasher hole, the front of the sink hole, and diagonally across a corner cabinet that was 36x36." I then laminated two 3/4" plywood pieces together using troweled-on titebond wood glue, the top plywood predrilled, and connected with 1.5" screws every 4-6". That clamps the two pieces together and makes a really flat and flex-free base. The screws poked out slightly when countersunk, so I sanded the points off in the back. (Note: I think some folks claim that you don't need to laminate the two sheets if using Ditra--I never completely understood that, so you may want clarification from someone else if going that route). Then you secure the plywood base on the cabinets using screws from underneath and shims at any location where there's not a tight fit (you want full contact across the cabinet edges to reduce flexure. Then applied Hardibacker with unmodified thinset and hardi screws at manufacturer spacing. Also applied a front strip of hardibacker along the front face of the cabinets (which was always difficult because it wants to crack). In the sink area, I taped all seams with alkali-resistant backer tape and MODIFIED thinset, and covered with plastic to cure, misting occasionally to keep moist for a couple days, then applied Redgard liquid membrane to waterproof. On the non-wet counters, I taped while setting tile. Set the tile with modified thinset. On one of my countertops, I inset the second plywood layer in the cabinet tops by measuring out plywood squares that fit into the cabinet holes before laminating. The front face was therefore only one plywood sheet plus CBU and was therefore thinner looking, but was a lot more work and careful measurement. In the end, I don't think it looked any better than the thicker coutertop and I wouldn't do it again unless I had to. Like Shawn suggests, a good compromise is to use 3/4+1/2" ply.

My front edges were all done by overlapping a bullnosed top tile piece in the front over a small tile strip beneath it to cover the front face. The front edge substrate was basically like a solid piece of cement after corner taping the hardi, so you just tile the whole thing solid. I don't know how you do that with Ditra (??), Shluter supplies front edging pieces to finish it off, but I don't personally like the look of them. I know people do full-tiled countertops with Ditra without the Schluter edge strips, so you must be able to tile around the corner somehow. I just haven't gotten into Ditra yet, but maybe next time... The tapes seams on the Hardi make the surface uneven, and the waterproofing takes more time, so I can definitely see the advantage of going with Ditra.

In terms of the grout line arrangement, one technique is to just avoid awkward lines, such as thin cuts and asymmetric corners & transitions, etc. On my latest porcelain countertop, however, I tried to embrace the grout lines a little: I made bigger grout lines with a darker, contrasting grout color (spectralock) and used a staggered pattern. The staggered pattern makes it look slightly random, but it actually took days of measuring and drawing and planning to get the layout just right. Staggering also can hide asymmetry in the kitchen layout. There are so many possible configurations, and each configuration usually ends up with one awkward cut somewhere to make everything fit. Remember, the smaller your grout lines, the more exact everything has to be. Also, each cabinet bend you have to tile around or any double edged countertops--any time you can't hide a rough-cut edge--these all remove a degree of freedom from your layout, requiring more planning and care in layout.

Butcherblock: In a previous kitchen I used approximately 1/8" spacing between the butcher block and the granite and filled with clear silicone caulk. John Boos has lots of shapes and styles available for the butcher block countertops. I used the block on a penninsula where there was a natural change, and I utilized the wood properties by cutting some radius curves around the outside of the penninsula--stuff I couldn't do as easily with tile. Putting the block at a corner also avoided all the difficulties of tiling around an inside corner. Our current kitchen just has a portable block island on wheels which gives us flexibility in our kitchen arrangement since we have a very small house.

Other tips: In agreement with Shawn again, have a extra tiles, even on your bullnoses. While laying the tiles, you can slide a coin like a nickel across the tiles to "feel" for lippage, and you can use the reflection in the tiles as well to check that they're all in the same plane--you will notice off-kilter reflections in polished tile and it can be distracting, but a solid reflection on the finished work gives it that glassy solid look.

A few pictures here--the first is the porcelain tile with staggered layout and 2" thickness (you can also see the butcher block rolling island in the background), the second is granite tile with grid layout and 1.25" thick front face, and the last is of the butcherblock penninsula next to the grainte around the sink.
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Last edited by astrojeff; 01-08-2010 at 11:25 AM.
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Unread 01-08-2010, 01:48 PM   #7
Shawn Prentice
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Nice looking work, Jeff. I especially like the layout you did in the first pic.
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Unread 01-08-2010, 02:16 PM   #8
Shawn Prentice
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astrojeff
The front edge substrate was basically like a solid piece of cement after corner taping the hardi, so you just tile the whole thing solid. I don't know how you do that with Ditra (??),
You could kerdi band it.
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