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Unread 08-11-2009, 02:38 PM   #1
hmccull
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Old house kitchen reno

I received fantastic help and advice here from my bathroom redo a few months ago. I'm now contemplating the sorry state of my kitchen. I'm trying to decide if I want tile countertops or not. Currently I have blue postformed laminate with some chips, so pretty much anything is an improvement. However, I do appreciate how easy it is to keep the laminate clean, handle spills, etc. I saw this doing an internet search. It appears to be a laminate top with tile in the front as well as the backsplash. Is this something that is commonly done? Is it practical? Is it the stupidest/tackiest thing ever? I just don't know... It kinda looks clever to me as a low cost/low maintenance countertop.
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Unread 08-11-2009, 02:54 PM   #2
Davestone
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Yeah i have to agree it looks like a little thought went into a cheaper, yet clean looking no hassle kitchen counter.
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Unread 08-11-2009, 02:56 PM   #3
dhagin
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Hi Heather, and welcome back

Those post-formed tops are typically built up from particle board. Tiling directly over particle bd is not recommended as it expands and contracts too much, causing tile failure. The backsplash idea is fine, but the front edge would likely start to show signs of failure fairly quickly, like cracked grout or loose tiles.
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Unread 08-11-2009, 02:58 PM   #4
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ps, I like the look too, but would pick a different front edge option.
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Unread 08-12-2009, 11:53 AM   #5
hmccull
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Thanks, still thinking... Regarding the substrate, I would most likely use plywood as the base for the laminate, so should be able to line up with the tile on the front edge.

The reason this caught my eye is the main thing I don't like about laminate is the front edge. I also can't really justify the expense of solid surface at $50/s.f. minimum. I have to actually get my butt to a store and look at what's available these days. Regardless of what I do for a countertop, I will do some sort of tile backsplash. First I will need to replace the crumbling plaster on the wall with sheetrock or CBU (depending on whether I do partial or full tile on the backsplash).

I have one other question not necessarily tile related. My current floor is plank subfloor under vinyl tile under 1/2" plywood under 2 layers of sheet vinyl (it's like archaeology!). When the plywood was put in, they blocked in the dishwasher (this is actually how I ended up with the chip in the current countertop). If my intention is to fix this, should I raise the level of the base cabinets or can I just raise the level of the new countertop and put some plywood under the diswasher? The cabinets are custom and so are more or less one piece. I was thinking I'd put some molding at the top of the cabinets under the counter edge if need be. For the floor, my plan is to remove the plywood and top 2 layers of vinyl, leaving the vinyl tile in place since it's probably asbestos, and put down face nailed wide plank pine to match the adjoining room.
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Unread 08-12-2009, 02:29 PM   #6
astrojeff
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To each his or her own, but I personally cant stand laminate and I figure if you're going to go to the trouble of tiling some of it, why not tile all of it? I may be biased towards my solution here, but we have done our counters in through-body porcelain floor tiles and we love them more every day. They are nearly indestructable in every way imaginable. Add to that Spectralok epoxy grout and you have something that is more robust and stain free than solid stone or, heaven forbid, "solid surface". I calculated that my porcelain tile countertops, shown below, came out to about $7/square foot total including all materials, CBU, thinset, & plywood base. The downside is that it will take you more labor than laminate because you'll need to double up the plywood and make sure its well supported and spend a lot of time working on your tile layout, but then there'll be no warping, water blister, scratch, and burn issues that you'll eventually get with laminate. I'm just saying... that's all.

Hmmm, that's an interesting thought to raise your countertops just to get your dishwasher out, but the darn dishwasher is always a problem with new floors. It might be easier than lifting all your cabinets, though. Just fur up the new countertop and put in a decorative spacer or something to match the cabinets? Just make sure to support it well if you are tiling. Surely there are other possible solutions, too. Removable butcher block over the dishwasher? Slope the wood floor down or have a removable planks right in front of the dishwasher? Maybe you can even find a new dishwasher with a lower profile than the old one that can be adjusted to fit? Another thing to consider is when you have put in new floor and countertops, will you be wishing you refinished or improved your cabinets? In which case it's worth fixing the problem at the source before putting on new countertops. I mean, if you're going to put in all that work, you'll always wish that you went that extra step to do the whole shebang? AKA the addiction of remodeling...
Good luck!
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Unread 08-12-2009, 03:08 PM   #7
hmccull
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Jeff,

Your countertops are lovely! I agree I am not enamored with laminate, it's just that functionality is the #1 priority for me in a kitchen. I want it to look nice, but not if it's a PITA to keep clean. Seeing yours has me leaning more towards tile...you said you "doubled up" the plywood. I was assuming that 3/4" of plywood would be enough for porcelain tile, no?
The dishwasher is actually nearly new. It would just really suck to wreck a newly tiled countertop to get it out to repair it if need be. I did repaint the cabinets and put on new hardware about 2 or 3 years ago and they still look great--I used this stuff called "cabinet coat" which I highly recommend, and they're good solid cabinets, so for now, they stay.
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Unread 08-13-2009, 08:38 AM   #8
astrojeff
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Heather, my wife and mom both initially had the intuitive reaction that tile would be difficult to take care of. I think they'd all agree now after using our finished kitchen that that's not the case. Of course, if you could make a countertop out of one solid piece of porcelain, that would probably be your easiest-care countertop ever, but porcelain tile is a close second IMO. You cannot scratch porcelain with a knife or even common stones or sand--I've tried. That's why they use them on industrial and commercial floors. Imagine how long laminate would last on a commerical floor--it would be toast after a short time!

Grout will always be a little rough and tougher to clean than the tile, but that Spectralock is completely impervious--I've left oils, sauces and other staining stuff spilled on it for weeks and it comes right up with minimal scrubbing. And porcelain is about as waterproof and stainproof a material as anything. We did granite tile countertops in our last place, which was very beautiful, but they do require a little more care because it scratches and stains easier, but no more than a granite slab would. If you want full tile countertops (as opposed to a wooden trim front), you'll need to look for tile or stone with an eye out for bullnose options. We found it was a real crapshoot whether one tile style had a bullnose option. They're often used for stair treads, so if you do a commercial grade porcelain like we did, sometimes it's only available in matte, which we ended up going with (due to code stair treads cannot be slippery) or they have a tread pattern that we didn't like. So we just had to go through the samplers at the tile store 'till we saw what we liked. If you go natural stone tile, you can bullnose/polish yourself or find a fabricator to customize them for you. They usually won't touch porcelain, though--it's too hard! Tile made for countertops obviously has all sorts of finishing options, but it's usually ceramic and much more scratch prone than porcelain.

In terms of plywood thickness, I haven't experimented, but I've gone with the advice of the others here. 3/4" plywood is minimally appropriate for floors, but remember that they usually have joists every 16" or so, and the spans are long with no unsupported edges. If you are spanning a 36" cabinet or a 24" dishwasher hole that has one unsupported edge, then 1 sheet of plywood will barely suffice for a person's weight. Also think of the thin areas around a sink. Of course, your countertops don't have people walking on them every day, but still, you never know when someone will want to stand on your countertop to put away a big pot or change a lightbulb or because he has just been drinking too much, and imagine in your head that span over your dishwasher sagging under the weight of a person standing on the outer edge--you'll wish you had two pieces of plywood under there. Unless you can promise that nobody will ever set something heavy on one of the longer spans... But murphy's law will prevail. Now for folks who don't want the thickness of two sheets, an option is to inset cut-out squares of the second plywood sheet under the first so that it fits in the cabinet top hole (making it 2 sheets thick, but only 1 visible sheet from the top of the counters, or to put extra support boards under the larger cabinet spans, but that won't help you because of the dishwasher that does not have enough space as is. We even put a diagonal support "joist" under our 36" corner cabinet in addition to our 2 sheets of plywood. I do stand on that countertop to reach certain things (I'm short) and it feels rock solid. People do make tile countertops with 1 layer of 3/4" plywood, but I think they have to worry about them more.

If it's just an apperance issue, you can see in my picture what 2x3/4" ply+ 1/4" hardi backer + 1/4" tile looks like--it's about 2" thick total and I think it looks very proportional. Any thinner and it'll be hard to lay those thin strips of tile on the front edge (or you'll have tile hanging beyond the plywood which is more likely to get caught and ripped off by a stray drawer or a dishwasher being removed). And in terms of expense and labor, it's not that much harder or more expensive to put in two plywood layers than one--but don't get me wrong here, laminate on one sheet of plywood will probably be easier and quicker in terms of your short-term labor. But in the long term, properly laid tile should last longer and be easier to clean and care for.
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