This will provide a long lasting joint and prevent what is otherwise sure to be a callback. Kitchen countertops are a very popular and, relatively speaking, inexpensive choice for many homeowners. While dull and mundane, laminate surfaces are usually half the cost, and the attractive looks of solid surfacing and stone are usually double or more. The typical reason consumers don’t want ceramic countertops is of course, grout. This was a view shared by my wife when we built our home. I am happy to report that after 12 years of living with unsanded beige grout joints every six inches, she now gleefully recommends ceramic countertops to all her friend and associates. Indeed, our counters have carried their burden much better than our porcelain sinks. Once again, it is all a matter of good installation technique. All counter applications share some common general requirements. While there are many variations, the basic methods of countertop are detailed in the Tile Council of America (TCA) Handbook. TCA has graciously given their permission to use their details for this article. We will examine each one in short fashion as we are somewhat limited by space. Some shared requirements; first and foremost, regarding the tile itself. Not all ceramic tile is suitable for counter installations. The primary concern is cleanabilty, scratch resistance and acid resistance. Many items common to the kitchen such as vinegar, wine, and certain juices can etch some glazes. While the kitchen counter does not receive foot traffic, it is one of the most abused surfaces in the house; sliding bowls, pots, and baking pans are abusive, select the tile accordingly. Dishwashers create both heat and moisture. Waterproofing and insulating the counter area above them is a wise precaution. All edges of the plywood must be supported. Some of the newer cabinets are held together by braces that leave the top of the cabinet at the wall unsupported; blocking should be installed on these types of units to support the panels or mortar. Make sure your trim will allow clearance for removal of the dishwasher if necessary. Tile trim is another concern. Many of the popular and well-suited tiles do not offer counter trim, also known as sink cap or v-rail. Sometimes bullnose tile is available; other times there may be none. Corners can be fabricated out of bullnose trim quite nicely.
If there is no trim available, it does not have to stop the use of a particular tile. There are many manufacturers of metal trims suitable for this application, some available in stainless steel. Following are some examples. The traditional method of countertop installation was and in many areas remains the mortar bed method. This type of installation offers the ultimate in durability and flexibility. Most often, undermount sinks are used with this method. This allows for easy cleanup of the cooking area, as there is no sink flange sitting on the counter. Often consumers will choose to install drain boards, which are pitched to the sink for ready drainage of washed dishes and utensils.
There are some geographical variations on this method of which I have used extensively. When working around a sink, support can sometimes be quite marginal. If you only have a small area of exposed mortar between the sink and outer edge of the cabinet, some steel “pencil rod” could prove quite advantageous to reinforcing the mortar bed in those areas. There are two other cautions other than those previously mentioned with this method. The wire reinforcing should stop short of the backsplash and a joint placed to allow for the certain difference of movement between the floor and the wall. The front edge of the counter offers the greatest concern of this method. A punched metal strip is available that acts both as a screed guide and reinforcing for the edge of the countertop. Whatever type of tile the counter trim edge is, V-Cap or Bullnose, it must have 100% coverage at both the top and face of the countertop to avoid cracking. Probably the more popular method today is the use of backerboard over plywood, as shown in TCA detail C-513. If you look carefully at the detail you will note some items commonly omitted in this installation essential to long-term performance. At the edge of the countertop, 3 pieces of alkali-resistant fiberglass tape are used. The first one should be creased in the center and placed at the edge followed by an additional full width on both the face and the top of the counter. It is also unwise to bridge and bond the trim tile over the cabinet. In most cases, this would necessitate the use of 1/2-inch backerboard over 3/4-inch plywood to achieve the thickness required.
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