Q: Can I install a solid granite countertop by myself?
In the middle of a kitchen renovation, just when we'd planned to install granite countertops, our budget changed when I lost my job. Could I save money by putting in granite or solid surfacing by myself?
—Jesse Bynum, Grafton, Ohio
Tom Silva replies: I wouldn't recommend installing your own stone. Granite is extremely heavy and calls for considerable care just to get it into the house. And it's so hard that it requires specialized diamond-tipped tools to cut it and shape its edges. Quartz-composite counters, such as Silestone, are just as heavy and difficult to work with. Plastic-based solid surfacing, like Corian, are somewhat lighter and easier to machine, but they cost about the same as granite, and their proprietary seam adhesives aren't readily available to nonprofessionals. Besides, if anything goes wrong, there's no product warranty to fall back on.
The way to get the look of granite for a lot less than the cost of a fabricated slab is to use 12x12 granite tiles bedded in thinset on top of a cement board substrate. You can cut these tiles with a diamond-blade wet saw and edge the counters with solid wood or narrow strips of granite. These tiles are as cheap as $2 per square foot, but don't forget to add the cost of other materials and wetsaw rental. If you want polished bullnose edges that look just like a granite slab, go with Granite Solutions' tiles for about $35 per square foot (Benissimo Systems).