Bathroom Countertop

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Bathroom Countertop

When replacing or installing a new bathroom countertop, there are some important things you need to know.  Unlike replacing or installing new kitchen countertops, the bathroom is both easier and a bit more involved.  Easier because there is less to install but more complicated because of the compact space and surrounding elements.

What you need to know about bathroom countertop installation.

Granite Bathroom Countertop
Granite

Most importantly, you will be performing some extra work in addition to the bathroom countertop. 

Bathroom Countertop
Quartz

Below are the minimum steps when installing or replacing your bathroom countertop.  Whoever is installing the bathroom countertop, make sure they perform all of the items below.  Find a reputable contractor who will provide a detailed by line item estimate to perform the entire job – correctly and safely!  Only licensed contractors can replace bathroom countertops.

Here are the minimum steps to a bathroom countertop installation.  Remove:

  1. All personal items from all cabinet drawers and storage spaces. Also remove from floor and wall spaces.
  2. Bathroom Countertop
    Tile

    Light fixture(s) above the cabinet. You can either save or purchase a new one for later installation.  If it’s not an LED fixture or more than 10 years old, replace.  If there is any rust or tarnish on the fixture, replace.

  3. Mirror over the cabinet and discard.  Mirrors are attached directly to the wall using special mastic.  Therefore, they can rarely be saved.  You may also need to remove the medicine cabinet.
  4. If the backsplash is not molded to the countertop, remove.
  5. The faucet(s) and their drain and stopper components if you plan on reusing. Replace with a new faucet if more than 5 years old or it has lots of scale deposits.
  6. P-traps, angle stops, and faucet water lines; replace with new.
  7. Remove the sink? Probably not.  I’ve never seen an old sink reused.  Discard the sink along with the old countertop.
  8. Countertop including the attached banjo over the toilet if there is one.  Underneath the banjo is a wood brace or cleat.  Remove.

How is the bathroom countertop and backsplash attached to the old cabinet?

  1. Attaching Bathroom CountertopA strong adhesive attaches granite and quartz to the top of the cabinet. Tile countertops are installed over dry-packed mortar.  Under the mortar is metal lath stapled directly into the cabinet rough-top.  Cabinets in tract homes are incredibly cheap. Cabinets purchased from home improvement stores and those advertising in magazines and mailers are just as bad. 
  2. Bathroom Countertop RemovedTo some degree, cabinets always receive some damage during bathroom countertop removal.  What does this mean?  You get an expensive change order for repairs or to replace the cabinet.  What usually happens is the demolition crew will say nothing, and the new bathroom countertop is installed over the damaged cabinet.  These can collapse, causing serious injury, especially to small children. One of the biggest areas of damage occurs with the newly installed sink and its corresponding plumbing.  Since the old cabinet was damaged during countertop demolition, the new sink and plumbing components cannot be installed properly.  Therefore, leaks occur after installation.  You may not even notice these leaks until the damage is already done.  Drawers and doors are other areas where you may see a difference as they will not operate or close properly.

What about the bathroom countertop?

Good catch!  There are two options (1) replace the cabinet with a new cabinet, countertop, and backsplash (2) reuse the cabinet and install a new countertop and backsplash.

If you decide on a custom-made cabinet or to simply replace your countertop using granite or quartz,  it’s important to understand their standard sizes.  Both come in slabs.  The smallest granite slab is typically 60” x 108” (5 feet by 9 feet).  The smallest quartz slab is typically 126” x 63” (10.5 feet by 5.25 feet).  You have to buy the whole slab!  Some suppliers will let you purchase 1/2 a slab.  However, the cost to do this after paying for cutting it in half makes little sense.

Bathroom Countertop
Snow White Granite Slab

Bathroom Countertop
Calacatta White Quartz Slab

If you are going to remodel the other bathrooms in your home, use the remainder of the slab for those bathrooms.  Simply store in your garage until you remodel the other bathrooms.  If you are remodeling your kitchen first, tell the fabricator that you want the spare pieces if they will accommodate your future bathroom countertops.  Another option is to share the material and its cost with a friend, family member, or neighbor.  For more information on granite and quartz, see What is Better Granite or Quartz.

Now let’s look closer at the two options and see what they have in common.

What does replacing the cabinet vs. reusing the existing cabinet have in common?

  1. The 8 items within the “minimum steps” section above must be performed.
  2. Removing the countertop, backsplash, mirror, banjo, and brace supporting the banjo will damage the drywall. Depending on the configuration of your bathroom, the door casing and other drywall areas will also likely be damaged.
    1. Drywall Damage After Removing Bathroom Countertop Side SplashAll of the damaged drywall must be replaced and/or repaired, textured, sealed, primed, and painted before installing the new countertop. If you don’t retexture the entire damaged wall, you will see an unsightly transition between the old and new drywall texturing.
    2. The drywall must be properly repaired or replaced.  Installing a new backsplash over damaged drywall is a huge mistake.  The new splash will likely crack, come loose, fall off, and allow water to enter – causing serious mold, mildew, and rot damage.
    3. If you have a Type X (firewall) drywall backsplash, not replacing it opens you up to tremendous liability. It also subjects you, your family, neighbors, and community to potentially serious life-threatening fire and safety risks!

Replacing the bathroom countertop.  The original cabinet remains.

Old Guest Bathroom

Original Master Bathroom
Old Hall Bathroom
Brad Nail

Tract homes build bathroom cabinets on site or use inexpensive made to fit cabinets.  These are attached to the wall using a few thin Brad nails.  Most of the time I find these nails installed into the drywall, not the wall cavity wood studs.  The cabinets literally fall apart during bathroom countertop removal.  Tract cabinets use particle or chip board.  The frame is made of flimsy 1-1/2 inch wide pieces of pine using the same thin finish nails to assemble.  Read Particle Board vs Plywood Cabinets to learn more about cabinet construction.

Cabinets in homes built prior to 2010 can rarely be saved.  After 2010 it is a 50/50 proposition.  If anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying.

Replacing the existing bathroom cabinet and countertop with a new cabinet and countertop.

This is the smart thing to do.  This gives you two options:

Option 1:  Custom made cabinet.  Now you can have a cabinet made the way you want it for the way you live!  Gorgeous, high quality, strong, and perfectly fitting custom cabinets are a specialty of DAD’s!  Standard height for custom cabinets is 36 inches vs 30 inches and the depth is 24” vs. 21” compared to store bought.  No more bending down and killing your back to wash your face!  This also gives you a lot more counter, drawer, and storage space!  The electrical switch(s) and receptacle(s) will need to be raised for a 36” cabinet.  The medicine cabinet may require adjustment to accommodate the taller 36″ bathroom cabinet.

Bathroom Countertop
New Master Bathroom Cabinet, Countertop, Backsplash

Bathroom Countertop
New Hall Bathroom Cabinet, Countertop, Backsplash
Bathroom Countertop
Store Purchased Cabinet

Option 2:  Store purchased (or pre-made) cabinet with countertop, splash, and sink.  These cabinets will not fit your space perfectly and definitely not be “the perfect cabinet for how you live.”  Although not high or good quality, they are reasonable quality (better than tract grade cabinets).  Nicely made store bought cabinets that include the countertop, splash, and sink are available.  Be careful!  Many store-bought and internet ordered cabinets are junk!  Work with your contractor to make sure you don’t get bamboozled.  You will also need to deal with the floor.  If you are not replacing the existing floor, you will need to add a like material under the cabinet to make it level.

What other things do I need to know?

  1. If you do not completely empty the contents of all drawers and cabinets, everything inside gets really dirty.  All drawers and insides of cabinets will need a thorough cleaning after demolition and again after installation.  Pay special attention to the drawer glides and door hinges.  Dust and debris during demolition can destroy or seriously damaged these items.
  2. All the receptacles (outlets), switches, dimmers, smart plugs, and charging ports should be replaced. Here too, the electrical appliances installed by the original builder were very low quality.  Building code now requires all bathroom countertop outlets be no more than 4 feet apart.  If yours are more than this, you will need to add more.

  3. Bathroom receptacles must be on a dedicated 20amp AFCI/GFCI circuit.
  4. If you have a tile countertop and you are replacing with granite or quartz, you will need to resolve the cabinet face-front color or fade areas where the tile extended down. The edge detail from the granite or quartz will not cover the areas previously covered by the tile.

If you have a water filtration system under the sink, you will need to have it removed.

Before you start your project, the water filtration system under the sink must be removed by the service provider.  Replace after all work is complete.  Why can’t the contractor simply remove and reinstall these items?  Especially in the case of under sink water filtration systems, the manufacturer typically owns these (you lease them).  If anyone other than their authorized representatives disconnect/reconnect, the warranty is void.  Any damage to the system and the service provider will charge you the full replacement cost.  If you own it and no longer want it, have your contractor discard it.

What about an Overlay?

Bathroom Countertop OverlayThere is a very disturbing trend taking place to save money on a new bathroom countertop.  What is this great idea?  Installing the new countertop over the old countertop (overlays).  There are various names for countertop overlays.  These include granite counter units (GCUs), modular granite, or modular quartz. The most popular is Caesarstone® The countertop overlay thickness is about 13 mm (1/2 inch).  Overlays will save around 50% on the cost of new countertops.  The average cost (materials and labor) for an overlay is about $70-$100 per square foot.  Only authorized dealers and installers can install Transform.  Under counter style sinks remain in place.  These overlays have the following consequences:

  1. Countertop overlays will trap bacteria, mildew, moisture, cosmetics, and food residue underneath. These trapped items generate unhealthful pathogens that release into the air.
  2. Overlays must have seams. Why?  Large sections of ½ inch material will break during fabrication, transportation, and installation.  Some seams may be more visible.
  3. Countertop overlays are only as good as the underlying countertop base. If the base is weak, the overlay should not be installed.
  4. Does not work well on uneven surfaces. If the existing surface is not perfectly level, overlays will crack.  To get around this, installers will use adhesive type fillers.  These eventually fail and the overlays crack.  Moreover, if you place any weight on them (heavy cooking items, kneel on the counter to wash windows, etc.) overlays will crack.

When replacing my bathroom countertop, do I need permits from my local Building Department?

Bathroom Countertop Building PermitYes, absolutely.  You are performing electrical, plumbing, and perhaps fire wall work.  You want to make sure it is correct.  If you do not acquire all the necessary permits and inspections and something goes wrong, you will likely be financially responsible.  Same thing applies if you do not hire a properly licensed and insured contractor.  See How Do I Choose a Contractor?

The contractor is responsible for obtaining all permits when replacing bathroom countertops.  Moreover, the contractor is also responsible for scheduling all inspections and being physically present for these inspections.

How Can I Receive More Information?

If you would like more information on enjoying the best bathroom, kitchen, and interior remodeling experience in Orange County, call Dan at (949) 380-0177 or at dan@dadsconstruction.com for a free in home consultation.  DAD’s serves all of South Orange County California.  This includes Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Foothill Ranch, Portola Hills, Ladera Ranch, Irvine, San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto de Caza, Dove Canyon, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Newport Beach, and Aliso Viejo.

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Daniel A. Derkum is the owner of DAD’s Construction, a leading South Orange County, California design-and-build remodeling and renovation Contractor, https://www.dadsconstruction.com.  © DAD’s Home Services & Construction, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.