Granite countertops do have their trend cycles, but they always have a perennial appeal among many homeowners. Granite is solid and dependable, and every slab of granite—whether natural stone or engineered—is visually unique.
Most granite countertops are either slab granite or granite tiles. There is also a third category, a hybrid type known as modular granite.
At times when it is available, modular granite can offer a good compromise between solid slabs (very heavy and virtually impossible for do-it-yourselfers to install) and granite tiles, which are easy to install but create a countertop with many grout seams.
Modular Countertops Update
At this time, no company is offering modular countertops. For years, a handful of companies sold modular granite slabs, but all companies are either gone out of business or no longer carry this product.
One of the remaining few companies, Bedrock Creations still maintains its website but appears to have ceased operations.
What Modular Granite Is
When available, the mini-slabs that comprise modular granite are typically about 12 inches wide and run the full depth of the countertop. The pieces are prefabricated and pre-sealed, with front edges that are shaped into a bullnose round-over profile, with vertical backsplash sections preattached at the back of the pieces.
The sections where sinks or other features will be inserted have fabricated cutouts for easy installation. The pieces are typically bigger than standard tiles, but considerably smaller and thinner than standard solid slab granite, making this a form well suited to DIY installation.
The countertops are assembled by laying the modular pieces side by side, which creates a countertop that has a series of front-to-back seams but no lengthwise seams such as those found in tile countertops.
Modular granite is delivered in fabricated pieces shipped in boxes weighing between 38 and 80 pounds. Though still heavy, this is entirely manageable for DIYers and far lighter than a solid slab.
Modular Granite Pros and Cons
When available, there are two principal advantages of modular granite.
First, it is considerably cheaper than solid slab granite, costing about half. Expect to pay $25 to $80 per square foot for modular granite countertops.
Professional installation adds $5 to $10 per square foot.
Second, modular granite is not difficult for do-it-yourselfers to install. Although not as easy as granite tiles, modular granite can be installed by anyone who is familiar with the techniques for laying ceramic or stone tiles.
Because it is a thinner slab than solid slab granite, modular granite can be cut with ordinary wet saws and drilling tools. It is laid onto a plywood or cement board substrate with the same thin-set adhesives used for ceramic tile.
Modular granite typically arrives pre-sealed—you won't need to apply a sealer to the countertop, as you do with a solid slab.
At this time, the main drawback of modular granite is that it is no longer available.
When modular granite is available, it would have the following drawbacks:
If properly installed, modular granite countertops will perform just as well as slab granite, but be aware that this is a thinner stone product that may be susceptible to cracking if you don't handle it carefully. And a modular granite countertop does not really look like a solid slab countertop—the front-to-back seams spaced every 12 inches will be quite visible.
Your style options are also limited with modular granite. Unlike full slabs, which can be hand-selected from a vast variety of granite options at a stone yard, the colors and styles available with modular granite are limited to those packaged by manufacturers. Custom edges are not possible—most modular granite uses a simple bullnose front edge.
Nor does a modular granite countertop have the same resale value as solid slab countertops. While they will look more attractive than tile countertops, modular granite countertops still have seams that need to be grouted, and they will not give a kitchen the same feeling of luxury that comes with solid granite.
The main advantage of modular granite is that it is DIY-friendly. Anyone with experience and good skills in laying ceramic tile should be able to successfully install modular granite.
Tools required include a wet saw with granite-cutting blade, jigsaw, drill with granite bits, straightedge, trowel, tri-square, and level. Countertop bases are usually constructed with 1/2-inch or 5/8-inch plywood covered with a waterproof underlayment—a membrane or cement board.
When available, modular granite is a viable option if you want to save money on a genuine granite countertop.
While modular granite does not eliminate all the seams found with tile countertops, it does offer easier maintenance than granite tile, and is fairly easy for a DIYer to install. But for a true luxury countertop, solid granite slabs are still the champion.