We finally got granite countertops!
I feel glamorous about having granite like everyone else
on the planet in our very spoiled suburbs. (It’s the little things, right?)
To keep things in perspective I know we’re probably six months ahead of the next best thing coming out. What is it? Foam? Crushed sea shells? Asphalt?
Anyway, we have granite.
And love it!
I called five companies (is that obsessive?) and got a peek into all the charges that might not be included in the base price per square foot: Type of stone (it’s not all granite) and color, thickness, old countertop removal and disposal, template fee, stove cutouts, sink and faucet cut outs, new sink (sometimes included), edges (there’s a dozen of these that range in price from “included” to more per linear foot than the price of my stone), type of sealant, warranty, plumbing and electrical disconnect and reconnect, inside corners, outside corners, overhang, corbels, etc. (Not that all of this applied to our project.)
I didn’t realize how much more there was to buying granite than walking into a store with your measurements and saying, “Yeeesss, I’ll take thisss one.”
By removing the old countertops ourselves we skimmed more than $100 off the invoice. And it was actually kind of a fun project to do together. I was able to thoroughly Shop Vac the original installation debris and subsequent years of dust buildup that were hiding in my kitchen, and touch up the backsplash paint before the new granite arrived (more on the backsplash later).
We also removed the old Formica carefully, instead of hacking it to pieces, and put up a Craigslist “free” ad. Peeking out the windows later that evening, we saw a couple of guys carefully loading and strapping our (very) old countertops in the back of a pickup truck. My husband and I were high-fiving each other. Go green! Ultimate recycling!
(The one drawback being one extra day with the kitchen torn apart.)
Some companies charge more per square foot of granite and include more services. Others charge less per foot and al la carte for everything else. And you can’t get anywhere on project pricing unless you know your measurements. This means number of square feet and linear feet. Don’t get this wrong or your entire budget could be blown seeing as the granite I’ve seen has been anywhere from $28 – $90.
And sharing this little number (of square feet) will dash all your hopes and dreams of cutting corners with a scrap piece of granite. “Oh no, ‘bones‘ are only for tiny projects; like bathrooms.”
We used good old fashioned grade school/homeschool math to measure our square footage…and underestimated by a full three feet. We got the same results with the online Home Depot Countertop Estimator. This was later corrected in-store by putting the measurements into the computer. But we were still off by another fraction of a foot when the company we chose came out to do the template. The best I can figure is that we made our error in the corner and/or didn’t account for the encroaching backsplash…which added up.
The “template” isn’t a drawing. It’s an actual true-life, honest-to-goodness, glue and wood art project crafted on location and then pried from your existing countertops (hot glue is messy) and carted back to the truck for cutting at the shop before your install.
Comparing “apples to apples.”
After my initial calling around, I had two verbal estimates, an email quote, and two refusals to price over the phone. I made an online appointment and sat down 90 minutes later with George, the nicest Home Depot rep ever. I was pretty impressed with the numbers until I drove out the next morning to meet with a woman from the first company I had called based on stellar Kudzu.com reviews…and laid eyes on the stone.
That’s when the heavens opened and I realized that I could get the $49.00 (per sqft) granite I wanted at Home Depot for $33.95 at the granite yard…and actually see the entire slab.
Here were my choices.
There is also that one important little tidbit of information that I didn’t read on any blog before I went shopping – close your eyes when they walk you past the “exotics.” You’ll never be happy with regular granite again and will be dreaming of the day you can move into a 375 square foot apartment just so you can have exotics on every surface.
These stones really are exquisite. The saleswoman and I stopped and literally had a moment. “This is inside a rock?? God is completely, utterly, and absolutely amazing!”
The cheapskate in me almost agreed with my husband’s diabolical decision to use our existing drop-in stainless second-hand Kohler instead of spending the extra money on an undermount sink. The estimates to provide one were in the neighborhood of $200 and taking time to scrounge up a good deal on my own wasn’t looking (logistically) promising.
And everyone in the granite business was unified on one solid front: “UNDERMOUNT!” I sensed literal anguish through the phone when I mentioned otherwise. Folks went to great lengths to convince me that it would “ruin the look” and “immediately date the kitchen” and be an otherwise irreversible and regrettable mistake.
But then we got a really great deal (supply and install for $125). The woman pleaded with me emphatically, “You can’t do a drop-in! Explain to your husband that the cutout alone is $100 and ask him where he can get a sink for $25!” I did and he caved. Which opened up a new round of choices even for the person who is choosing from a simple display of four included sinks. (That would be me.)
The Granite Countertop Contract
I didn’t see a contract until the templater was getting ready to leave my house. So I skimmed and photographed. There a few things that weren’t terrible but would have been nice to know.
Preparation for install: Since I was reading rapidly, I took this part, “It is always advisable to clear the cabinets under the sink and cooktop area and the drawers next to the cooktop” and ran with it…clearing every drawer and lower cabinet. Not necessary at all. But I already had my new laundry cabinets and when I put everything back it was still clean. So, bonus!
I realized they couldn’t do our countertops without a seam, and balked! That’s because I didn’t understand granite seams. The process of joining them is a precise operation (think Spiderman’s Doc Ock). And the final result is smooth and barely visible. They offered the option of visiting the “fabrication department” to see for sure before our stone was cut but I said, “Nah.”
“There are natural fissures, differing patterns, color, veining, consistency, markings and graining. Some filling may be required.” I started striking lines of boiler plate on this one. I imagined an installer with a broad drywall knifed and gobs of putty, but this is a process that happens on a much smaller scale and is apparently only common among the more exotic stones with large marbled patterns. If I wanted “completely smooth”, I would have had to switch to a very dark and solid color.
You’re asked to waived liability for incidental damage to cabinets, drywall, floors and appliances. I assumed this (and everything above) is unlikely, and included solely for the purposes of protecting the company from unreasonable homeowners, but seeing it in black and white makes you take pause.
My installation was perfect. But there were a few things I wasn’t expecting.
The job took less than two hours! Whoo hoo! We had 3-5p.m. window and the “crew of two” arrived a tad after five. Since I didn’t know (didn’t read) what to expect, I was prepared for a long night. But they were in and out in no time. Yay!
The granite isn’t bolted down. It just rest on top of the cabinets and only the weight of the granite (and a good ole round of caulk) holds it in place. Uhm…?
Where the cabinets weren’t level they had to be shimmed…and the stone was set on a stack of these thin wood wedges and smoothed over with caulk. Finished product. (Another, Uhm…?)
The granite countertop installation contract addressed a need for carpentry work (and delayed installation) in the event of very uneven cabinets. So I had checked this…and thought we were good.
But I only inspected the level of each individual cabinet (with a 2′ level) and not the general slope of all of the cabinets combined, which became very noticeable when compare it to an unforgivingly straight slab of granite.
Granite = Spring/Fall Installation. The seam glue smell is overpowering. This was described as a “strong odor” in the contract and ventilation was recommended. But of course I skimmed that. They also wipe down the granite with denatured alcohol, apply a final coat of sealant, and caulk the remainder right before they leave. It’s pretty stinky!
There is inevitable granite dust on the countertops when they arrive and more created when the sink faucet holes are cut. They held a Shop Vac right next to the saw blade to catch most of it but it’s nothing I wanted to be breathing so I was glad for my excessive draping after all.
And the biggest unexpected of all was needing to completely re-route the plumbing. Our new undermount sink was deeper and installed lower than the original. This required cutting into the back wall to lower the pipe. The drain holes of the new sink were also in different locations (who’d think, right?) and there wasn’t a simple workaround. This unexpected plumbing lesson is a whole ‘nother blog post!
We had a good company with a really great bunch of folks who did nice work for a fair price. The process was enjoyable and enlightening. And the end result is an updated kitchen that feels good even when it’s a huge mess 🙂
And though it’s a mixed bag of chips on what granite countertops actually do for resale value…I’m sure it’ll help being on par with the rest of the upgraders in our little neck of the suburbs!
Next project: Backsplash.
P.S. I’ve since been introduced to a very comprehensive Granite Countertop Buying Guide that I wish I could have read before my project. It’s from a new site call called CountertopSpecialty.com Check it out!