Wednesday, February 19, 2014

kitchen counter problems

We've been in our house for ten months now.  Most of the "Phase One" projects in our house have been completed--all the walls have been painted, plumbing repaired, mold remediated, floors installed.  Except the kitchen.  We painted the walls, but otherwise have left it alone.

Our kitchen is perfectly adequate.  It is large, has a ton of counter space, has nice floors, and has more storage than we need.

That peninsula counter is a crap magnet, but, it is a very good crap magnet.  It holds lots of crap.

We hope to renovate the kitchen down the road....wayyyyy down the road, say 7-ish years.  (There are many, many, many other projects in line ahead of the kitchen.)  In the meantime, the kitchen could use a refreshing of paint and hardware, since most of the cabinets are chipped and covered in a thick gloppy layer of oil paint. All the hinges are also covered in (multiple) thick, gloppy layers of paint.

I had big plans to get started on painting this kitchen this spring, but after the bathroom vanity fiasco (here and here), I am procrastinating on that project.

Aside from the cabinet issues, I have been exploring ways to fix our counters.  The counters are covered in square tiles, which are in pretty good shape.  I do not particularly like tile counters, and they are impossible to keep clean, but they are functional and would last for a while.  However, our issue is the grout.

Some previous owner PAINTED the grout using regular latex paint.  I have a few words to say to this person should I ever lay my hands on them. (They will not be kind words.)

Some parts of the counter have thick, peeling layers of paint.  While this looks terrible and disgusting, this seems like it would be easy to remove with a stripper.

Other parts have thin layers of paint that I'm betting will take many hours of scrubbing with stripper and wire bristle brush.

As a full reno of this kitchen is very far in the future, and I have peeling paint on my food prep surfaces, I am looking for an inexpensive fix to this problem.  I foresee a few problems.  I don't want to spend a ton of money on these counters.  I am the only one in this house with free time to spend on this type of project; the Mister works very long hours and it is not really feasible for us to DIY new countertops ourselves.

Possible solution number one:  Grout Renew.
Young House Love recently did a post on cleaning the grout in their foyer floor using Grout Renew, which is basically a paint made for grout (not the house paint I currently have on my counters). I will have to spend a few weekends stripping the current paint off the counters, then another few weekends painting the counters.

This would be the cheapest option--about $15 for the Grout Renew, and $15 for the paint stripper.  The significant drawbacks to this inexpensive project is the Extreme Time Suck. I foresee this taking at least a month of weekends, if not two months of weekends.  All of the online reviews (indeed, even those happy, perky YHL kids) state that it is time consuming and tedious.

Add to the fact that I am not putting this on a floor that I can just mop clean and wait for it to dry, but rather I need to spend significant time de-paintifying the counter before I can even start the tedious job of applying Grout Renew...this just a lot of work.  A lot of work on a surface that I need to actually use on a daily basis.  I can't cart the counter out to the garage and work on it in my spare time; I'd be applying smelly chemicals to strip and then paint the counter in the heart of my home in an area that I prepare food on three times a day.

Possible Solution number two: regrouting the tile
I do not have the time or inclination to DIY this sort of messy project, again on a surface I need to use daily.  The projected cost for having a professional do it is over $1000. That is not inexpensive.

Possible solution number three: replace counters with laminate or butcher block.
This is probably just going to be too expensive.  I have over sixty square feet of counters, not including the stovetop area.  Even an inexpensive $15 sq/ft laminate is nearly $1000 when professionally installed.

Laminate also comes in long slabs that you can buy at your local big box hardware store for about $100 a slab. Butcher block can be had from Ikea for about the same price.  The problem for us is that our counter top is a U-shape with angled edges at the bottom of the U.  I don't own the tools (or chutzpah, or patience, or math skills) necessary to cut and install counters.

Playing devil's advocate: I see a full kitchen reno being 7 or more years away--$1000 for new counters for seven years might be a reasonable choice.

Possible solution number four: concrete counter top.
I would love to DIY a concrete counter top like Jenny at Little Green Notebook, but again, 99 problems.  The tile counter is not a level surface, like pouring concrete over a pre-existing laminate would be.  Many tutorials involve building a box for the counter to hold poured concrete, which is beyond my skill set (check out this example).  I've found some forums where people have troweled over tile, but reviews are mixed in both effort and durability.

It seems like my options are roll up my sleeves and get to scrubbing.  Your thoughts and ideas are welcome.


  1. The people that owned this house before you were geniuses. First the flooring, now the counters? Oy.

    But, getting to the point. I'd say option number 2 seems silly. If it's going to cost almost as much to regrout as it would to install a new counter (even if it's not your ideal new counter), you should just go with the new counter. It will most likely be easier to keep clean in the long run, and you won't have to worry about putting harsh chemicals on the same surface you prepare your food.

    I don't know what is in Grout Renew, but is it safe for food handling areas? From the very limited "research" I did, everyone uses it for floors or bathrooms. Even after washing, some chemicals are not ideal for areas that you will have food on. I would at least look into it (if you haven't already).

    I am not helpful at all. :)

    1. I had that same thought---I've found blogs where it has been used on counters, but I haven't yet gone to the store to see if I can use it on food prep surfaces.

  2. if you are anything like me, you will choose option 3. then you will go to the store to pick out laminate and see something shiny on the other side of the store, and it will pull you in. you won't be able to help yourself, you will walk over to the shiny object that caught your eye. and it is granite, or marble, or quartz. and you will find yourself justifying the extra cost compared to laminate. it's ONLY three times as expensive. but your cost per use is so low! and it will make you happy to have that shiny object in your house! you deserve it! it will be 7 years!
    and then you will buy the stone counters. and then head over to the tile section to buy pretty glass tiles for a backsplash. b/c if you are replacing the counters, you should probably do the backsplash at the same time.
    this is just a mini-makeover after all.

    good luck with your decision!

    1. no, I will buy the crappy counters, because I want to reconfigure the kitchen (take out the peninsula, blow out the wall between the kitchen and dining room), so whatever I put in now will be taken out eventually. But yes, if I were leaving the same configuration, I'd be all over the shiny counters :-)

  3. Oh, how I loathe tile counters. LOATHE. We had one in our bathroom in the house before this one and I vowed NEVER AGAIN. Therefore personally any effort or money I put into the counters would be towards not continuing to have tile. That being said I am not in love with how I think the ikea butcher block would look in that kitchen, unless you stained it dark? That could be really nice. I think if either do that (and have ikea install it) or go to Home Depot and have the cheapest counter you can stand installed.

  4. price out new counters! maybe it won't be as expensive as you think!

  5. We have the same tile counters. Although we don't have the peeling, the previous owners did do something funky with the grout. It's ugly. It looks dirty all the time. I love that I don't have to worry about putting anything on them, but I hate how they look. HATE. So, you'd think I'd have good advice. But I don't. Don't know what to do with ours, either. We've just been living with it the way it is. I'm going to vote for #3 or #4, though. I think investing any amount of sucky work to end up with tile is not worth it.

    1. I would be willing to live with them for a decade until we can do the reno, even though I hate them, but this peeling paint is a problem. I need a magic wand!

  6. Peeling paint in your food prep? So not good Lisa. This is a tough one. Do you really have the time and energy to waste on something you want to get rid of anyway? Is your future plan to reconfigure in any way or are you leaving the layout as is? If you're leaving the layout then maybe you might want to get a new countertop. I'm not sure if it's an option but sometimes Lowes has 18 months financing. Breaking payments over 18 months might help. Good luck on your decision.

    1. We hope to reconfigure the kitchen. Financing is not a bad idea!

  7. I wonder if instead of stripper, you could use a heat gun to get off the old paint.

  8. First, I envy you all that space in the kitchen! It may not be the ideal setup, but at least you have lots of room to work with. And windows! And double ovens! And I agree on the peninsula being a crap magnet. Ours is too, and I just can't seem to keep up with it. Ugh. As far as counters go, I vote butcher block. $1,000 may feel like a lot for a "temporary" solution, but I bet that once you do it you'll appreciate it for the next 7 years.

  9. A heat gun might work great! If that didn't work easily, I would also use paint stripper and a steel brush. I have one that looks like a big toothbrush that is great for grout. It won't hurt the tiles and I think it would be even faster than the heat gun. I don't think it would take as long as you think....but of course I could be wrong, lol. From your picture it looks like the steel brush would take off a lot of the paint without even using the stripper. Personally I would not even attempt some alternative countertop. Get the paint off and then seal the grout and plan for the big remodel in the future. Good luck.

  10. Oh, I forgot, a Drexel with a grout removal tip removes grout really quickly. Just remove enough of the grout so the paint is gone and you have enough room for the new grout. Again, pretty easy and very fast. I did the grout removal in a large shower with 1X1 tiles on 3 walls from floor to ceiling and ceiling in a weekend....With lots a breaks, ha.

  11. This woman at work told me all about a housing equity coop she and her neighbors designed. If you put 4 hours into your neighbor's home reno project, then they put 4 hours into yours. Maybe invite neighbors over to help you. You're really good at these home projects and I bet a lot of people would love having you over to help them. Or hire Task Rabbit-types to do it for you.

  12. I don't think you could ever do enough with that tile whether removing the paint or regrouting it to make it nice for the next seven years (or ever for that matter). I'd go with the new countertop. It will be money well (and best) spent.

  13. You’re really up to lots of renovation ideas, Lisa! It’s hard to start renovating one of the busiest rooms in your home, but I hope you can finish the project as soon as possible. Anyway, I hope you also consider your sink, faucet, and water pipes during the remodeling project. Well, just update me with the progress! Thanks! :)

    Kelvin Dawson


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