10 Questions for . . . Andy Graves, Countertop Fabricator

Consumer Reports News: July 15, 2008 12:09 AM

In this installment of 10 Questions for . . ., Associate Editor Kimberly Janeway speaks with Andy Graves, owner of Olive Mill, a countertop fabricator/installer in Anaheim, California. Graves has been in the business for 22 years, and runs two Web sites about countertops, one for consumers and another for the trade. Here he offers his advice about buying, installing, and maintaining kitchen countertops.

What's hot in countertops?
Green materials, including product like Vetrazzo, IceStone, Paperstone, UrbanSlabs, EcoTop, Richlite, and many others. You can see the complete list of eco-friendly products at CountertopReview.com, my consumer Web site.

(Consumer Reports recently tested Richlite, a paper-composite countertop. Find out how it and other materials performed by researching our countertop Ratings, available to subscribers.)

What's crucial when choosing a counter?
Knowing your expectations. Many customers want the "perfect" material, and it doesn't exist. Customers need to find the material that fits their lifestyle. How much maintenance are you willing to do? Granite, concrete, tile, and wood all need sealers applied periodically. Can you afford this material? People need to find a great product that fits their budget.

What important detail do your customers ignore when selecting a material?
Seams. Because the samples never have seams in stores, customers just don't think about them and when they don't, they're usually disappointed when the counter is installed because the seams draw your attention. Solid surface, stainless steel, and wood have seams that can be finished to be virtually inconspicuous. And poured concrete can be one piece if done on site. But granite, quartz, laminate, glass, paper composite and marble have noticeable seams that can be seen and felt. And remember, the larger the top, the more seams.

Laminates are in wide use and did well in our recent tests. Why does this material remain so popular?
It's a great product and it's inexpensive. The newer ones come in a wider array of colors. The seams are minimal and there's no grout. Laminate is also very durable and can last a long time.

Undermount sinks are popular but not every material is suitable for such an installation. Which materials can be used with this type of sink?
A waterproof material is preferred—solid surface, stainless steel, and quartz are your best choices. Wood, granite, and concrete are also good choices, but make absolutely sure that they are thoroughly sealed. If the countertop material is sealed, you shouldn't have a problem with water damage.

Which materials can be used for seamless sinks, where you use the same material for the sink and counter?
Choose solid surface, stainless, or concrete when you want to use the same material for the sink and counter. (The photo right, courtesy of Olive Mill, shows a seamless solid-surface installation.)

Some countertop companies advertise prices in square feet, others in linear feet. What's the difference?
Not many companies charge based on linear feet. It has gone towards square feet, which is the basic length, or running feet, multiplied by the width. Linear feet and running feet are the same thing, a figure that represents the total length of countertops along the wall. But don't count the inside corner twice.

What are the best ways to save when buying countertops?
Thanks to the popularity of granite, the price of solid surfaces has come down in the past year. Another way to save is to install a range instead of a cooktop. You won't have to purchase a countertop material for the space a range occupies. For a 30-inch range, that's about 5 square feet of countertop. But a cooktop sits in the countertop, so you'll have to pay for that amount of countertop.

Any other buying advice?
Shop around. Get the final price for the project and look for hidden charges, such as the fee for undermounting a sink.

You've been in the business for more than two decades and installed countless counters. What memorable stories can you relate?
When we were installing a kitchen counter at a nearby prison, we worked with guards around us up until lunch. We walked outside to the truck to get our lunches and found three prisoners sitting in the back of our truck. We decided to skip lunch.

Essential information: Learn more about the best countertops in our report on 11 different materials. You'll discover easy ways to save money when remodeling your kitchen by using our top kitchen values. And use our Home Improvement Guide interactive to make your dream project a successful reality.                                  


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