Granite tile installs easier than many people think. If you’ve ever installed ceramic tile, chances are excellent you’ll also be successful at installing granite tiles. Except for the kind of grout and sealer and the fact that you can’t score and break it apart like you can ceramic (you’ll need a tile saw for all your cutting), it’s much the same.
Off With the Old, On With the New
The first step is to remove the old countertop. Unless your current countertop is screwed on to the corner braces, you can easily remove it; if glued, you’ll most likely have to use a crowbar to pry it loose.
After the old top has been removed, you’ll then need to install three-quarter-inch plywood underlayment, which is what the tiles will rest upon. To do this, first build up the edges of the cabinets by screwing on one-by-four or two-by-four blocks along the backs, ends, and edges where plywood will be installed.
Now cut the plywood to fit against other cabinetry with the factory-cut end to the front of your cabinets. If appliances butt against the counter, cut the plywood an inch short in these areas. Predrill and screw the plywood onto the blocks.
For your base (what you’ll be installing the granite tiles on), purchase sheets of Denshield, a good alternative to cement backerboard that’s moisture-repellent, lightweight, and much easier to work with than backerboard.
Overlay the plywood with the Denshield by applying it with a thinset put on with a notched trowel and then nailing it. Tape splices along with inside and outside corners with mesh tape that you then need to cover with a layer of thinset and smooth out. Allow to dry overnight.
Do a Trial Run, Then Start Cutting
Starting at inside corners, lay the tile out in the most attractive pattern. Be sure to allow for one-eighth-inch spaces between them, which will be your grout lines. You can use plastic spacers for this (available at any home improvement center or hardware store) or, if you feel comfortable enough, you can eyeball the correct spacing between the tiles.
Using your tile saw, cut miters on all front and end tiles, and then cut nosing tiles to be two inches wide. Miters will also need to be cut for the nosing tiles. Use a honing stone to smooth out sharp edges on any pieces of granite tile that might cause injury.
Setting Tile & Grout Work
Spread thinset on the Denishield and begin setting your tiles, making sure to keep the spacing even between them for grout (use spacers, if necessary). Start and the front and work toward the back. Use a margin trowel to apply thinset to nosing tiles and hold them in place with masking tape while they set. Lay backsplash tiles (if needed), propping them with plastic shims. Allow to set overnight.
Use unsanded grout – mixed to peanut butter consistency – and a grout float to work the grout into the spaces you’ve left between the tiles, applying it diagonally for best results. A sponge works best to clean off extra grout, just make sure you rinse it frequently in clean water.
Once the grout has dried overnight, use a clean, soft (cotton is good) cloth to wipe off remaining haze from the grout. Caulk inside corners of backsplash with colored tile caulk, smoothing it with your finger.
Allow the grout to cure for a week and apply sealer made specially for granite. Wait one more week and apply a second coat. Your granite top is now ready to use.