Ms. Millar has been an online writer for 10 years. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with anyone who can make use of it.
There was a time when tile countertops were the rage. Everyone had tile countertops, or they wanted them. That was back in the 80's. You're not the only one that still has tile countertops from a fad twenty years ago, I do too, or I did.
Have you thought about replacing your kitchen countertop tiles but the expense of such a project drove the thought out of your mind? I know I did, many times. Replacing countertop tiles is expensive, that is if you choose to hire a contractor to complete the job for you. As of this year, 2022, you will be looking at $1,500 to $10,000 or more!
On the other hand, if you do the job yourself you will save thousands of dollars! I completed my kitchen countertop replacement for less than $300! I didn't find it to be difficult at all.
You don't need a contractor, or special engineering skills, or any degree. What you need is some tools, the ability to read a tape measure and some time on your hands (patience is always a plus!).
My 1980's Old Tile Countertop
Drill with screw head attachment and bits to drill pilot holes for screws
Screws - A box of screws long enough to screw through your plywood and penetrate the underside of your countertop, but not pierce through the laminate countertop. I found 1 1/2" screws worked for my countertop.
Caulk with caulk gun
Jig or skill saw
Start Your Project
Figure on three to four days that your kitchen will be out of commission.
First, if there's a sink involved, turn off the water under the cabinet with the valves. Remove the hot and cold-water hoses. Remove the drainpipes. Unscrew the screws that are along the edge of the sink underneath. Then you can remove the sink.
Remove the Sink
Protect Yourself from Flying Tiles
You should wear eye protection and gloves. When the tiles come off they will fly sometimes, protecting your eyes and hands is imperative. Tiles are sharp as glass when they chip off.
Anatomy of Tile Countertops
Tile countertops are put together in a similar fashion. You have your plywood counter, then cement with or without chicken wire, and the tiles on top. I decided that I wanted to keep the base plywood if possible.
The edge is installed after the tile and cement countertop has been installed.
This is the standard installation. Yours may vary but it should only be slightly.
Removing Tiles With Large Screw Driver
To remove the tiles you will do the reverse order of the installation process.
Start by removing the tile along the edge of the counter using a crowbar and maybe your sledgehammer. By wedging the crowbar under the lip of the tiles, pry the crowbar until the tiles break off. If needed use the sledge to put some umph behind the crowbar to get the tiles to lift off.
Work your way around the edge of the counter, then move along the wall where the tile meets the wall breaking the tiles out.
When you have removed all of the tiles along the edge and wall it's time to lift the rest of the tiles off.
Looking at the strata I was able to easily see where each layer was so I could place my pry bar carefully on top of the plywood I wanted to keep and under the cement that I needed to remove.
To do this I wedged my crowbar under the edge of the tiles and pried it really hard until it began to lift. Then I moved to another section, wedged the crowbar underneath and pried again until all the screws holding the cemented tiles onto the counter had ripped out of the bottom of the cement. Then I was able to lift the entire sheet of tiles/cement/chicken wire in one piece. It's heavy! Have an assistant ready to help.
Prep the Plywood
When all the tiles have been removed, if there are screws still in the plywood, use a pair of pliers to remove them.
Plywood is a very expensive purchase. I wanted to do what I could to retain the piece already in place. There were a couple of spots that had water marks on it. I placed a hot lamp on the area to dry it. There was no dry rot involved so it could be left in place. The hot lamp dried the water mark perfectly. If there is evidence of dry rot or the plywood is damaged too much to leave then you'll need to remove it and purchase a new piece of plywood.
When you've inspected the plywood and decided to keep it or not it's time to wipe it down and check if it is level. If the plywood is not level, from the underside of the plywood place shims to make it level. You may have to loosen some of the screws under the plywood that hold it in place in order to make room to slide a shim in. Then re-tighten the screws. Check for level again.
Perform any repairs to the plywood such as chips should be filled, edging that has separated should be glued into place and held with a vice until dry.
Everything For This Project I Picked Up At Lowe's
Prepare For The Countertop And Sink
After you have leveled the plywood counter you can use an orbitor, with 120 grit, and smooth the plywood. You want it smooth and level before you lay your new countertop on it. The more prep you do with the base plywood the less work you will need to do when you lay the top.
Lay your new countertop on the plywood where you want it to lay when finished.
Along the areas that meet the wall make sure it has a minimum gap. If the gap is large remove the countertop and use a belt sander on the area that is causing the gap until it is reduced to a minimum.
With the countertop in place, mark where you need to cut it for length. Lay a piece of tape across the laminate where you will be cutting it. This will help prevent the countertop from chipping when you cut it. Always cut from the underside.
To cut from the underside just flip the countertop over and transfer your line to the underside. Using a fine-tooth blade, saw along your line. Flip the countertop back over, remove the tape and set it in place on the plywood counter. Check for accuracy with your cut. You can use a belt sander if the cut is rough or slightly off.
Now mark out your sink on the laminate. If your sink came with a template use that to mark the sink. I placed my new sink upside down on the countertop to mark it. Then allow a half inch for the lip to catch on the countertop so your sink won't fall through the hole. Again, lay tape along your lines. Flip the countertop over, transfer your marks to the underside. Drill a small hole so you can start the saw. I used a scroll saw for this part with a fine blade. Follow your lines until the countertop is cut out for the sink. Flip it back over and set the countertop in place but don't put the sink in yet.
(I didn't appreciate the size of the sink I had. I felt it dominated the kitchen. This new sink was much smaller. I decided to install the spigot separate from the sink, behind the tub. I did the same thing for the spigot as I did for cutting out the sink.)
Caulk Or Not To Caulk
Since there had been water leakage, into the plywood, under the tiles I used Liquid Nails Caulking to secure and seal the edges of the laminate countertop to the plywood before setting it in place and drilling the pilot holes and screws.
Caulk is not required to install the countertop. I wanted the extra security that the plywood underneath wouldn't get wet again.
Make certain your laminate countertop is right where you want to be on the plywood and from underneath drill pilot holes and screw in the screws to hold it in place.
*CAUTION - Make sure the screws will not go through the countertop!
Finish The Raw Edge
Finish The Job
Once you have the laminate secured set the sink in the hole you cut for it. Seal all along the lip of the sink with a good quality sealant. On the underside of the sink secure the sink with screws and clips made just for securing a sink.
Be careful when re-attaching the drain and hoses. The awkward position and trying to screw them together from the underside, through the cabinet door, can cause cross threading. A common potential for leaks. Take your time threading them on. Attach the drains under the sink. Attach the hot and cold-water hoses. Open the valves on the hot and cold-water valves. Watch for leaks. If a leak starts turn the valves off again and repair the leak.
Run a line of caulk around the perimeter of the countertop. This will hide the gap between the wall and the laminate and prevent water from spilling into the crack. A wet finger to smooth the caulk works best.
If you have a raw edge showing on your laminate there are strips of veneer you can purchase that match the counter design that can be either ironed on or taped on the side to complete the look. My laminate was marble so I chose the marble colored veneer.
Completed Countertop Replacement
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.