NYC Renovation Q's

NYC Renovation Questions: Countertop problems in my kitchen -- should I fix, replace or request a discount?

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Q. My kitchen renovation is done.  One of the problems is a less-than-perfect granite countertop, which in essence runs through the whole kitchen and pantry areas -- 35 linear feet of granite, and then some.  

Some of the seams are rough to the touch, with obvious fillings that are not well disguised. On another counter, there is a 1/4-inch gap between the wall and the counter. The contractor keeps bringing the fabricator to correct these problems, but I think the fabricator did a very shoddy job.  

What can I expect the contractor to correct? Should I insist on replacement, or a discount?

A. Without seeing your kitchen, it’s tough to determine where the blame lies. It’s possible your countertop template (the exact measurements and a pattern made after your cabinets were installed and before your tops were fabricated) wasn’t done correctly, or it’s possible the stone wasn’t cut to the template’s specification.

The installation may not have been up to par either.

Thus, your granite troubles could be a combination of a less-than-precise template and a rushed or inexperienced installer.

Regardless of who's at fault, says Anthony Nitti of A. Nitti Marble and Tile, “You should be a hundred percent happy when the job is completed.” 

If you are certain that your granite can’t be fixed in its current state (more on that later) and you want your stone to measure up to the rest of your renovation, “there is no way to fully correct this problem short of replacing the entire countertop,” says co-founder Alex Usharyov of Click and Improve.com, a NYC-based home improvement website.

“Whether or not the homeowner should insist on a new countertop or a refund really depends on how bad the countertop looks,” he says. Usharyov says that personally, he would rather have a new countertop.

Persuading your contractor to eat the entire cost may be easier said than done, however. He or she may not want to assume the expense of buying another slab, paying for the fabrication as well as the installation.

Although the template-maker, fabricator or installer may have failed, ultimately if you’re writing a check to the general contractor, he or she is responsible and should oversee any repair or redo.

“Removing the tops is probably not going to happen unless there are some serious mistakes,” says Nitti.

Be honest and tell your contractor that you expect the countertops to be fixed or replaced. If you're unhappy with the fabricator he's been using, request that another fabricator mend those rough patches. It's possible another pro could step in and do a better job.
 
If your contractor doesn't approach the issue with a sense of urgency, withholding final payment may do the trick.  In addition to getting that last check, he or she will also want your referral for future jobs.
 
You might also consider a consultation with another stone company--one that will advise which option is better--replacement or repair.
 
If you have your heart set on replacement and your contractor won't budge, Nitti suggests a few repair alternatives:
  • The seams could be fixed with some touch-up work. Try to change the color of the glue used by removing the old glue with a razor blade and reapplying a better color match.
  • The roughness of the seam is a result of the fact that they did not sand the edge or "aris" of the joint before gluing. Try to lightly sand the seam with 600 grit sand paper being careful not to touch the tops -- only the seam. If the colored stone is black or a dark color, this could be risky. Any hairline mistake would be easier to see.
  • The gap on the wall should be filled with the same type and color of the glue used for the seam. The other possibility is that this gap will be covered by the backsplash, which is typically ceramic, stone, or porcelain tile. If you don’t intend to install a backsplash or sidesplash in the area where the countertop gaps are noticeable, you might consider negotiating the added cost of tile material and installation with your contractor. This will mask the mistake and give your countertops a nice, clean look.

And finally, as a last resort, wrangling a discount is a possibility. But bear in mind, even if you have a check in your hand for that discount, it may not be the ideal long-term resolution. More than likely, you won’t be satisfied--and each time you walk into your kitchen, you may regret not pushing for proper repair or replacements instead.


Tracy Kaler was a designer, decorator and renovator in her last life. Before working as a freelance writer, she held several furniture sales jobs in the Big Apple and purchased a new wardrobe. Now she works in her pajamas and commutes two feet to her desk each day. This is one of the few advantages of living in a New York apartment, and well, so much for that wardrobe.

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