Bathroom Redo | Part Six - DIY Solid Surface Countertops

As I mentioned last week we bought a surplus solid surface slab over the internet after numerous quotes of $1,000 and more.  That sounds just as scary as it actually was.

After picking up the slab it sat in our garage for maybe a day and a half before Mike attacked it with the circular saw.  Before he made any cuts though, he meticulously laid out the cuts he would make to get all the pieces he needed.  Here's a little diagram that shows the cuts he made and all the pieces he needed.  Remember, not only did we need the actual counter piece and back (and side) splashes, we also needed small slivers, (the pink pieces), to add to each edge to beef it up from 1/2" thickness to 1".  

Since everyone knows how Mike works, (and how much he loves waiting to do things for me to take pictures), he had already cut the pieces up and glued everything together, (we're talking a max of 2 hours while I was inside working).

The top and right side pieces are the ones that will be exposed hence the added pieces to beef up the edge.  The wood pieces were glued on for supports where the cabinet bases were so that it laid flat along the base.

Mike used the extra solid surface pieces to clamp everything down to ensure even pressure.

This close-up shows how the original slab was 1/2" thick, but by gluing on another piece, it's now 1" and looks a lot beefier.  (You can barely see the light line along the seam where the two pieces were joined (mostly due to the shadows), and Mike didn't even do anything special except line it up with his hands, and after sanding the seam was invisible).

This is another example of the invisible seam.  I'm not even sure where it is, but I think the top piece extends out to the edge.  Even with the slight beige piece and white glue, I was surprised at how seamless it looks. 

And, in the spirit of keeping it real, I want to zoom out a little and show you what happens after you cut up solid surface - a giant mess.

It was like shaved ice, but plastic.  Everywhere.  I'm glad I didn't come out until after it was over, I can only imagine the cloud of shaved plastic that was generated during the cutting process.  I'm sure goggles and a mask were worn.  I'm sure.

After flipping the countertop over, the next task, (a little less messy, although obviously loud enough to warrant ear muffs), was routing the edge to get the nice edge profile.

After cutting a couple options for me to choose from, I picked small a curved edge on the top and left the bottom edge square.  We have both rounded and angular pieces in the room, so we thought having both would be one more way to tie everything together. 

Here's a close-up of the corner profile that Mike first did to make sure I liked it, (I still could have gone with a larger rounded corner or beveled corner at this point), but I loved it and gave him the go-ahead. In case your wondering the slightly darker lines about an inch in are just dirt left over from the router.

Mike had kept the protective plastic on the slab up until this point and I've always had this thing about the plastic covering.  I always leave it on until it's absolutely necessary to remove it, and if it doesn't need to be removed, I'll leave it until it starts getting dirty on the edges or something.  It drives my family crazy, (I once left the plastic on my laptop for a year), but I feel like it's officially not new anymore once that plastic comes off.  So, of course, I took a picture of Mike ceremoniously removing the plastic for me.

After the plastic was gone it was time to start sanding.  Like I mentioned before, we bought a sanding kit that including all the pads needed for matte, satin, or semi-gloss finishes.  I decided to go with a satin finish so that it was easy to clean, but had a more matte finish than the high gloss sinks.


The pink pads above are various grit pads for getting the slab to a smooth finish, and the ones above are for achieving the desired finishes, (gold for semi-gloss, gray for satin, and maroon for matte).

The kit included a guide on the different finishes and Mike went in order as specified, for the satin finish it required sanding with 4 different grit pads, then the gray pad, more specifically: 120-grit (120 micron), 180-grit (100 micron), 280-grit (60 micron), 400-grit (30 micron), then the Gray Scuffbrite pad.

Mike first sanded the edges being extra careful to maintain the profiles he just routed.

Then he started at the lowest grit pads and worked his way through the sequence one-by-one.

Since all the sanding looks the same regardless of what grit pad you're using, I'll spare you the photos.  Which is good, since after this I stopped taking pictures and went inside to do some other projects.

Once Mike finished sanding everything, (including the backsplashes), he brought everything in to do a dry fit.  Thankfully everything fit and we didn't have to scribe the walls, (if the walls were wavy at all we would - here's a step-by-step in case anyone's wondering what the heck I'm talking about).

The cabinets were already level and didn't require any prep, but we did add extra blocking on the left side since we added a spacer to move the vanity a couple inches from the wall.

To install, Mike just globed on some sealant on all the cabinet edges and the blocking on the wall.

We then manhandled it into place and set it carefully on the cabinets.  We waited a couple hours and then measured for the sink and faucet holes.  We figured this would be easier without the backsplash in place.

After double and triple checking our layout, Mike cut the holes.  He used a regular hole bit and cutting the solid surface is a lot like cutting hard PVC, complete with the mess, (which was fortunately contained in the cabinet below).

After the holes were cut, Mike said he was going to install the backsplash, so I found some other stuff to do downstairs.  About a half an hour later Mike casually walks by and says don't go in the bathroom tonight.

Now, we're always doing some sort of project in one room or the other and we always just step over the {insert drying project here} ie. newly stained spot on the floor, or work around the wet paint on the trim, so I was intrigued as to what would render the bathroom completely unusable for the entire evening.

Then I figured it out.

To hold the backsplash to the wall, Mike jimmy rigged some supports out of long pieces of trim that he had lying around.  He propped them across the room, one against the new built in, (which I'll talk more about in a future post), and the other against the half wall.

Obviously, with a bathroom downstairs I'm not willing to play triple limbo just to use the restroom.  Well played, Michael.

After the counters and splashes set up, (overnight), we immediately set the sinks and faucets, and sealed the corner between the splashes and countertop with some clear waterproof sealant.  Since this pretty much brings us right up to the finish line I'll save the complete after photos for the big reveal!  I have some styling and some painting to finish up, but we're calling the project almost done!

Bathroom Redo | Part Six - Toilet Flushed

Since we were good to work on the floor tile, I mentioned earlier that we installed the toilet.  The actual placing of the toilet went really quickly, but the prep was a lot more work.  To help make it easier on both Mike and I, we installed and painted all the trim around and behind the toilet.

We have awesome original trim and baseboards throughout our house.  It pretty much sold the home to us when we saw it.  So, it was important to Mike and I that we match the trim in the bathroom, not only to tie it into the rest of the house, but also because it adds so much character to our spaces.  Mike's no stranger to adding new trim in our house, and he's even had to piece new trim next to the old stuff when he built our window seat two years ago.  Luckily it's a pretty easy to find trim profile that matches the detail on the top of the base boards and from there its easy to piece together the rest.

Here's a photo of the original base boards in our hallway:

We made the same profile by adding this moulding on top of a 3/4" piece of plywood, (it's painted so we saved money by not using solid wood), cut 6" high, and the length of the wall section.

We then added some quarter round along the floor to finish it.

We really lucked out that all the elements can easily, (and fairly cheaply), be picked up at Home Depot, although we totally would have bought the router bit if it was necessary, we love our base boards that much.  

Mike lets me prime all the pieces before he installs, then he fills all the holes, and I go back and paint a couple coats of semi-gloss.

So, all that work just to install the toilet - but it's worth it.  Because, clean or dirty, I do not want to have to stick my head in any toilet just to paint some baseboards.

But, back to the toilet.  We went with an elongated bowl, (because apparantly to guys this is very important), and chose a low-flow model from Carter Lumber.

There's a million tutorials on the internet to install a toilet so I'm not going to go into detail.  But, it was basically Mike putting the wax ring on the toilet and adding some sealant around the edges.

Then, flip over the toilet and carefully, (with the help of your eagle-eyed girlfriend), line up the wax ring and bolts.

Straddle toilet to ensure a good seal.

Seriously that's a real step.  How else are you going to know that if you sit on it, it's not going to wobble and fall over?

Hook up the water line, and lastly, step back and admire the throne.

This has been the most anticipated step of the entire project and I'm so excited that we have a toilet back on the second floor.  Not only am I happy it's back, I'm really pleased with the changes we made.  Here's a before shot to give you a little reference:

And now:

The toilet itself is a little longer and taller, but the space on each side is the biggest difference.  I remember planning the vanity and talking about a couple inches here and there.  In the end we went with the smaller vanity adding the most extra space for the toilet.  I wouldn't give back any of the 10 inches we gained doing this.  It's so nice!  We offset the toilet a little bit to the right, (closer to the exterior wall), so that we can add the toilet paper holder to the side of the cabinet and still have the same amount of space on each side.

Next time I'll be back to explain how we installed the solid surface countertops all by ourselves!

How to Save $500 on Vanity Countertops

We finally pulled the trigger on the countertops for the bathroom.  We've been waiting to decide mostly because it didn't affect the renovation since we were too busy working on tiling and painting and also because we couldn't figure out how much we were willing to spend.

We had already decided against granite or quartz and didn't like the look of cultured marble, so we were left with solid surface or laminate.  We wanted solid surface, but on a laminate budget.  I knew I wanted a light/almost white color so I thought it would be pretty easy to find a basic color for cheap.  Famous last words

We started at the box stores, (Home Depot and Lowes), and then the smaller local shops.  Even though we didn't need sink holes cut and choosing the free edge profiles, we were quoted over $1,000 every time.

A little secret of ours is that during high school, Mike worked in a countertop shop, so he knows how to make laminate and solid surface counters.  And, even if he didn't it's actually pretty easy, (easy for the skilled DIY'er, like Mike, I wouldn't be able to do it myself, but thank god my man has skills!).  So, to save us even more money, we thought about just buying a pre-cut countertop and installing it ourselves.  The problem with that is everywhere including Home Depot and Lowe's includes all labor in their prices.  And believe us, there is no way to get it removed - we asked, numerous times.       

So, in the same fashion I jumped started this bathroom renovation months before we had planned to, (read about that here), I started perusing the internet to see if anyone sold just slabs of solid surface.  I have to tell you there isn't much out there, but I did stumble across (go figure), which not only offered full slabs of most popular brands and colors, but also had overstock material for deeply discounted prices.  Obviously that's where I went first.

I first searched by size, knowing that our countertop was 22" x 70" (this included the 1" overhang in the front and on the left hand side) and we needed enough to cut out a backsplash and a sidesplash on the right hand side, (3 1/4" x 70" and 3 1/4" x 22").  Also, since slabs of solid surface are only usually 1/2" thick, it's important not to forget the additional pieces that are needed to glue together around the exposed edges to get 1" thickness.  We figured we would need something at least 71" long (to have some extra wiggle room) and at least 30" wide (to get all the cut pieces out of it).  Also, the website notes that the pieces may have chips and we found one on the corner of ours when it arrived, so I would suggest always getting a couple inches bigger than needed so if there's a chip, you can cut it off.

I then searched by color, knowing that I wanted a white/light color I did a search of the white color family.

With those perimeters, I narrowed it down to a couple colors I liked, at least based on the computer colors.  I had about 3-4 that I picked and sent off to Mike, and together we narrowed it down to Formica's Luna Sand.


It had the light color I was looking for plus gray speckles which would tie into the gray walls and floor grout.  The beigy color would also offset the white sinks.

We found a piece - 30" x 71.25" x 0.5" for $244.35.  We knew we would have to buy the equipment glue, and miscellaneous stuff, but we were still well under the $1,000 quote we were getting.

At this point we were hesitant to pull the trigger and so we sat on it for the weekend.  During that time I drove over to Carter Lumber (the only place nearby that had a physical sample of Formica Luna Sand (it is a new color so even Lowe's didn't have a sample yet)) and was very happy with the color:

Formica Samples: Luna Sand, Silk, Glacier Ore

Just for giggles, I had the guy at Carter Lumber give me a quote for the price of what we needed.  He said he would get it to us on Monday.

We were busy over the weekend, (imagine that), and didn't think about the counters until Monday morning.  Mike put together everything we would need if we were to install the counter ourselves.  First the slab, then the glue which would be to glue the front and side pieces together for the seamless look. has a tool that helps you figure what color you need based on the manufacturer and color selected, since the glue is from a separate manufacture (Integra) and has over 200 colors to match up to the selected solid surface color.  Ours was Glacier White.


The glue comes with 2 of the fancy mixing tips that are required.  Also needed for the gluing is the adhesive dispensing gun, which at $79 was the most expensive tool we needed to do the countertops ourselves, but we figured if we want to add solid surface in the basement bath, or if we were bad asses and wanted to try to tackle the kitchen counters, we would already have the adhesive gun.


The last piece of equipment/material needed was a sanding kit.  Once you've glued everything together and cut and routered the edges, you need to sand it down to the desired finish.  The kit comes with everything needed to sand anything from a matte to a semi-gloss finish, so we didn't have to chose which finish we wanted yet.


After adding all of these together our cost was almost $500.  We were still hesitant, but after getting the quote from Carter Lumber for $1,000, we were sold.

We added everything into the shopping cart and here's the final cost with shipping:

Albion 250ml Standard Adhesive Dispensing Gun B26T200x10

Integra 7.4/18 Bell End Mixing Tips

Luna Sand, Formica - 30" x 71.75" x 0.5" (overstock)

Integra Adhesives, Glacier White

Finishing Kit 5" (sandpaper) - Matte to Semi-Gloss Finish (large pack, 60pcs)

Ship To Nearest Freight Terminal

Shipping & Handling
Grand Total

To compare, the slab we bought is 15 sq.ft.  Using our grand total, (since all the other quotes included installation), we paid $33.78/sq.ft.

Lowe's price was $45/sq.ft., but a minimum of 25 sq.ft. is required so the total would be $1,125.

And, Home Depot didn't carry Formica solid surface, but for the pricing was comparable to Lowe's (and also had minimum purchases) for similar colors in Corian.  

The only thing we skimped on was shipping and instead of paying extra, we chose to pick it up from the nearest freight terminal, which ended up being right near my office and one of Mike's jobsites, so it wasn't far at all.  The only weird thing was it's a freight terminal.  Mike and I had no idea what to do and where to go and ended up driving through a lot of areas that said "No Cars Allowed", or "Do Not Enter".  It's just a bunch of truck drivers so no one stopped us, but that also meant no one came to our help either.  After about 20 minutes of standing around near the specified ramp, Mike was able to get a fork lift operator and another guy to help load into the truck.  Mike and I didn't have a problem unloading it ourselves when we were at home, and I got a sushi dinner since we were right down the road from our favorite place.  All in all, I'd say it was worth it!

So, that's our story of how we saved at least $500 on our vanity countertops.  Next up I'll explain how we installed them ourselves!

Bathroom Redo | Part Five - Tile Works

Last week we finished the tile.  Whoop-de-doo.

Honestly it's really exciting stuff, it's just I'm so tired!  We were busy all evening and then at around 10:40 pm we started the last step of grouting the shower.  At around 11:30 we finished the first side.  I wanted to stop there.  But, Mike pushed forward and did the other side.  I really wanted to stop there.  But, Mike persisted and started the back.  This happens a lot.  I told him last night that I'm always appreciative when we're finished that it's done, but I hate him while we're doing it.

Before showing any completed photos, I'll start with the floor tiles, which we finished last week.

I explained last bathroom post that we were working with the wrong tile, but we bought it on clearance, so we had to use it.  Mike started by laying everything out and noticed it was going to be tight, as in we weren't sure if we were going to have enough tile.   When estimating, pretty much any material, you figure out your square footage and add a percentage of waste, for cut tiles that can't be reused, that sort of thing.  Mike figured the everything and even added 10% waste, but for some reason it wasn't enough.  And again, the damn clearance tile made it impossible to ensure we could get the same tile to match.  In the back of Mike's mind he was coming up with ways to make an apron of different tiles near the door or cabinet, in the back of my mind I was atoning for my sins and praying we had enough.

In the end we didn't.  If we were able to use the one sample piece (the one that didn't match) we had we would have been fine.  But we fudged it enough that it's barely noticeable, only to Mike and I, and everyone I point it out to - which is everyone because I'm weird like that and share way too much.

Anyways, I didn't get very good pictures, most were taken with my iPhone while we were randomly doing things, so here's when we started laying out the tile:

We were lucky having the closet as our stock pile area.  As you can see the tile came in 9 x 9 sheets which made it go a lot quicker.

We used dry thinset that we added water to, which wasn't fun.  Along with all the cuts, Mike had to continually run up and down the steps to make new thinset outside.  I was in charge of using the drill to mix the thinset, which I have to admit was kinda fun.  Here's the only action shot I got, when Mike wasn't spreading the thinset, I was placing the tiles (except for the extra tricky spots like here around the toilet), so there was little time to take photos.

Once we got all of the tile in I still wasn't feeling the color.  It didn't help that the all the grout spacing was a dark color which made the tile look more gym locker room than spa.

I also got a picture of the only evidence of the sample tile which we ended up using below the toe kick.  The top three tiles are the original tile we picked out.  You can barely see in this picture that it has less yellow splotches and a more grayish color.

It was at this moment that I also realized we got gray grout to match the sample tile.  Oh sample tile, why do you have to make my life so miserable?  We didn't really have any choice so we went for it.  And, thankfully one gosh darn thing worked out for us, because it looked awesome.

The light gray grout made the tile a lot lighter looking and brought out the subtle gray colors, which in turn tied it all into the walls and all the other details.

We used QuartzLock2 which is a ready-mix urethane grout that is more stain resistant, water resistant, color consistency, crack resistant, and most importantly easy to use.  It also doesn't require sealing - score!


We will have to de-haze once we get everything done, but it's a small price to pay for how quickly this stuff went on.  Mike did the spreading and worked in small areas and I maned the sponge and water bucket.

After the floor grout dried for 24 hours, according to the label we were a go for some light traffic.  Since the bathroom doesn't get "heavy" traffic, we were all systems go.

We took the opportunity to install the toilet, (I'll save all that for another post), and began installing the tile in the shower.  I chose a matte white subway tile with white grout.  After purchasing all of the tile I decided I wanted it to extend up the the ceiling, all our extra tile calculations must have gone into this number because in the end we still had almost a full box of tiles left over.  Thankfully since they're sold by the tile, we were able to return the extras.  

We used a pre-mixed thinset that made the task go a lot quicker.  But, even with Mike and I sometimes working side by side, it took us a couple days.  That was what was so great about the pre-mixed thinset, when we got to a stopping point we were able to throw the lid on and wash the trowels.

Like I said earlier, we were able to grout last week and finished in record time, (even if it was way past my bedtime).  We used the same QuartzLock2 grout, in white, and although it was a little trickier working on a vertical surface, it was much the same as the floor tiles.  The first small side took about 30 minutes to grout, (finished at 11:30 pm), the next side (with the faucet and shower head) took about 15 minutes, (11:45 pm at this point), and even though the back has more square footage combined than both the small sides, it took about 30 minutes (finally ending at 12:15 am).  With clean-up and showing we were in bed at 12:45am.  Not bad for a Wednesday night, (although now that I think about it, Mike somehow convinced me to stain our entire deck on a Wednesday night as well - looks like I'll have to join a book club or something on Wednesday's from now on). 

And the next photo it really bad, but I can't get the whole shower in one frame and neither of the ones above show how awesome all the subway tile looks wrapping around:

We've already installed the shower head and faucet, and we have to clean up the edges by painting (near the ends where I went too far with the color) and adding sealant.  According the the grout label we will wait a full 7 days before we shower or expose the grout to any water, but you better believe come next Thursday I'll be singing in the shower in our upstairs for the first time in almost 7 months!