The three most common types of countertops are tile, preform and solid surfaces. Their installation is quite similar even if the medium is different. Preform, which is composite wood covered with laminate, provides the easiest countertop installation, while solid surfaces are among the most difficult.
Most experts will recommend against amateur countertop installation of solid surfaces like granite. The installation requires specialty tools that the average weekend warrior would not have on hand, nor have experience using. The already exorbitant cost of a solid surface could be greatly increased by a slip of a saw that ruins the piece. For the average "do it yourself" homeowner, granite tiles are an attractive alternative to a solid surface.
Preform countertop installation is the easiest choice. The preform can be cut to the correct measurements at most home improvements stores using the measurements of the old countertop, and they are the best option for cutting accurate angles for corners. Once appliances and sinks are removed from the old countertop, craft paper can be placed over it and used to trace the sink holes and any strange angles. The old countertop can then be unscrewed from below and lifted out of place.
Place the correctly cut new countertop into place. Use the craft paper tracings to lay out the sink hole and a jigsaw to cut it out. Remember to always wear safety glasses as the laminate top could chip and fly. Replace any screws that were holding the old countertop in place and be sure to caulk along the backsplash to prevent water from entering the back of the counter.
Tile begins with the same basic countertop installation process. Use the same method as above to cut the surface for the tile using 3/4 inch (1.9 cm) plywood and the sink hole. Use 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) screws to screw down pieces of non-porous cement tile backer over the plywood to prevent warping from the wet mortar that will follow. If tiling the backsplash as well, screw this same cement backer into the desired wall area.
Use a notched trowel to lay down a layer of thinset mortar, working in a two foot (.61 meter) box at a time. Be sure to choose the correct mortar, as each is rated for a different job. Lay the tiles over the mortar using tile spacers to achieve the correct spacing between them. Once the tiles are dry, grout them using a grout float and wipe excess away with a damp sponge.
To finish the countertop installation, the edges of the counter can be finished off with a choice of tile or wood. Bullnose tiles work nicely to cap off the edges, while wood stained to match the cabinetry can be quite lovely and bring the kitchen together. Once all tile is laid, grouted and dried, wipe clean with a dry cloth and enjoy the new surface!