A granite countertop can be achieved in one of three ways: slab granite, granite tiles, or a hybrid type of granite known as modular granite. Modular granite offers a good compromise between solid slabs, which are very heavy and virtually impossible for a DIYers to install themselves; and granite tiles, which are easy to install but create a countertop with many grout seams.
What Is Modular Granite?
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 presealed, 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.
Advantages of Modular Granite
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 terribly difficult for DIYers 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 tile. 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.
Drawbacks of Modular Granite
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 edging.
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.
A main advantage of modular granite is that it is DIY-friendly, and indeed, anyone with experience and good skills laying ceramic tile should be able to successfully install modular granite. Tools required include a wet saw with granite-cutting blade, jig saw, 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.
Sources for Modular Granite
Modular granite is less common than either slab granite or granite tiles, and you may need to search a bit to find a good source. Local granite retailers may offer modular granite fabricated to meet your measurement specifications. Big-box home improvement centers may also be able to special-order modular granite. There are also several online retailers who specialize in fabricated modular granite countertops, though make sure that you understand the shipping charges involved:
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.