Granite is a perennial favorite countertop material for kitchens or bathrooms. Its natural beauty, durability, and low maintenance make it a popular choice. But the high price of slab granite countertops—those long, sleek stretches of stone popular on countertops around the world—often puts a damper on many homeowners' dreams of having real stone countertops.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to professionally installed slab granite counters: 12-inch-square granite tiles that you install by yourself. If you've ever laid a tile floor or even just thought about it, you can install your own granite tile countertop.
What a Granite Tile Countertop Is
Slab granite's overwhelming size and weight make it expensive and difficult to purchase and install. An average granite slab 9 feet long weighs between 200 and 300 pounds. Most homeowners are not equipped to handle or fabricate materials of this size and weight, so granite tile is the perfect solution.
Granite tile essentially slices slab granite into small, lightweight, manageable sections that nearly any do-it-yourselfer can handle and install. Each tile is 12 inches by 12 inches. So, depth-wise, it is an ideal fit for countertops' 24- to 25-inch depth. The granite tiles will be laid out in a neat grid, with grout between each tile. While you won't have the sleek, smooth slab granite that's so popular, you'll still have a stone countertop—and save a good chunk of money, too.
The grout lines in granite tile countertops can trap dirt, small bits of food, and other debris, so take care to keep these lines clean.
A wet tile saw makes short work of cutting granite tile. Water running across the blade and cutting area keeps the tile cool, so it cuts easier. Plus, the water holds down dust and sharp tile chips. If you do not own a wet tile saw, you can rent one by the day or week at most rental yards and at some home centers.
Cost of Granite Tile Countertops
Granite tile is far less expensive to purchase and install than slab granite. Expect to pay at least $1,000 for a single granite slab (20 square feet). In the form of tile, though, the same granite coverage can cost nine to ten times less: around $100 to $150. Extra items such as thinset and cement board, along with a few specialized tools, add another $100 to $150 to the total cost.
Cutting granite tile on the wet tile saw requires hearing and eye protection. Be sure to keep the water constantly flowing over the cutting area to prevent stone dust and shards from flying.
Equipment / Tools
- Circular saw
- Cordless drill
- Wet tile saw
- Notched trowel
- Rubber tile float
- Bubble level
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
- Low-stick tape
- 3/4-inch plywood
- Cement backer board
- Tile spacers, 1/16-inch
- Screws of various lengths
Install Plywood Base
Cut the 3/4-inch plywood to fit the dimensions of the lower base cabinets. With the cordless drill, screw the plywood onto the cabinets.
For a 10-foot length of countertop, cut one 2-foot and one 8-foot section of plywood, each 24 inches wide (or the depth of your countertops).
Cut Cement Backer Board
Cement backer board is 5 feet long and 3 feet wide. Cut the width down to 2 feet. Cut cement backer board by scoring it several times with a utility knife, then snapping the two sections apart.
Install Cement Backer Board
Using the trowel with the notched side, spread thinset on the plywood. Lay the cement backer board in the thinset. Screw the cement board into the plywood with screws every 10 inches. Sink the heads of the screws.
Because the edges of the plywood and cement board will be exposed, your tile countertop will need edging. Cut 10 to 12 strips of granite tile, each strip 1 1/2 inches wide.
Apply the edging pieces along the edges of the plywood and cement board base. Embed the edging pieces in thinset. Wrap three or four pieces of tape over each skirt piece to hold it in place until the thinset fully dries.
Start with one edging piece that is half as long as the others (6 inches). This helps you establish a series of seam lines that will be off-set or staggered from the countertop seam lines.
After the edge pieces are in place, remove the supporting tape. Dry-fit the full granite tiles on the cement board. Make sure that the granite tile overlaps the edging pieces and that no tile seams meet up with edging seams.
Place Tile Spacers
Place plastic tile spacers between the tiles to maintain tile seams and to help the tiles stay straight.
When you reach a point in the dry-fitting where the tile needs to be cut, cut it to the appropriate size on the wet tile saw.
When you are satisfied with the tile layout, take them all up but keep them organized on the ground or a table in the same fashion. Spread thinset on the cement backer board with the notched trowel.
Lay the granite tiles and plastic spacers in the thinset, occasionally checking for level and flatness with the bubble level.
After the thinset has dried, remove the spacers. Spread a small amount of grout across the face of the granite tiles. Spread the grout across the tiles and into the seams by dragging it diagonally with the rubber grout float. Use the edge of the grout float.