Cheap Granite Countertops: Tile and Modular Stone

Kitchen Granite Countertop
Kitchen Granite Countertop. Getty / PeopleImages.com

Installing slab granite will, by definition, always be expensive.  You cannot really get around it.  With slab, you are locked into a wholesaler-fabricator-installer juggernaut that is designed to place you in the position of the passive consumer.

But Here's Why...

One reason for this is an awfully good reason:  big slabs of stone are difficult, if not impossible, for the average homeowner to transport, handle, fabricate, and install.

 It is usually in your best interests to let the juggernaut take over.

Yet you still want cheap stone.  The answer is tile or modular:  smaller pieces of stone that most homeowners can handle and install with relative ease.  

3 Reasons Why Tile and Modular Are Cheaper

  1. Materials Are Cheaper:  Whenever you purchase smaller sizes of source material, the per-square-foot cost goes down.  Larger sizes of raw material--stone, wood, anything--are more difficult for manufacturers and distributors to source and deal with.  On a per-square-foot basis, 1" x 8' walnut board will be cheaper than 6" x 8' walnut board.  Same with stone, whether natural or engineered.  
  2. You Are Getting (and Paying For) Less Material:  Granite tiles run about 3/8" thick.  By contrast, granite slabs can be 3x thicker:  about 1.25".  It would be impossible to handle massive granite slabs in 3/8" thicknesses:  they would easily break.  In short, you're getting three times more material with slab, so expect to pay at least three times as much.  
  1. No Labor Costs:  You can eliminate one other cost:  labor.  By installing your own, your installation costs drop to $0.00.  

1.  Granite and Engineered Stone Tile

If you're simply looking for a granite countertop for quick resale and this is not an exceptionally high-end house, one classic method is to to lay down 12" or 16" granite tiles with epoxy--by yourself.

 

What's Good?

  • You don't even need to remove the old counter.  As long as the substrate is structurally sound, it can be cleaned and lightly sanded and the granite tiles applied directly to it.
  • Easy to transport.  Stone tiles come in boxes that are so tidy and compact, you can carry them home even in a Fiat.
  • These thin stone tiles are easy to cut with a wet tile saw.

What's Bad?

Upon sale, most buyers will recognize this as a cheap and insubstantial solution to installing slab in the kitchen, and their minds will immediately turn to thoughts of demolishing those counters and putting in natural slab, quartz, solid surface, or even laminate counters.

2.  Modular Granite:  Not Tile, Not Slab

Between the 12" tile option and the slab granite option is to use something called modular granite. Pedra is one brand name of modular granite.

What's Good?

  • These are "mini-slabs," meaning that one or two people can handle them.
  • You have far fewer seams than the 12" tile option.
  • Finally, modular granite is conceivably a DIY job; slab granite is not a DIY job by any stretch of the imagination.

What's Bad?

  • Unlike stone tiles, which you can pick up (in your Fiat) at all home improvement stores and countless local tile stores, modular granite is a special order item.  
  • You still have seams (just not as many as with tile).
  • Along with the slabs, you must purchase a variety of accessory pieces, such as corners and edges, in order to make a "complete countertop."