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The kitchen is often the heart of the home. Here are our top tips for giving it a makeover, says Barry Cashin.

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  • Replacing kitchen counter tops

    The kitchen counter top is the unsung workhorse of most people's kitchens having to withstand the onslaught of constant cleaning, abrasion, sharp knives and hot appliances. However well maintained you keep it, it is easy for a well worn counter top to spoil the overall look of an otherwise tidy kitchen. Replacement is certainly not a job for the amateur DIYer but if you are reasonably competent, a new work surface can save a lot of money and add a whole new dimension to your kitchen.

    Types of counter surfaces

    Natural stone such as granite and marble as well composite worktops such as Silestone, Getacore and many of the Du Pont range are best left to professionals to install as fitting is a highly specialist job. Firstly, a template has to be taken of the precise kitchen profile before the stone slabs are cut to size and polished using industrial machinery.

    The most common counter top material within the scope of the competent DIYer is either hardwood or laminate finish particleboard which can be easily cut with conventional DIY tools. Today, the range of colours and surface finishes in both laminate and timber is huge and even though such surfaces may not have the lustre of real stone, a good quality top in either of these materials can add a real style statement to any kitchen.

    Difficulty level: 4/5

    Tools you'll need:

    • Jigsaw
    • Electric drill
    • Two clamps
    • Two saw horses for laying the counter top on for sawing
    • Measuring tape and pencil
    • Spirit leveL
    • Pencil
    • Protective eyewear
    • Silicone sealant and applicator
    • Wood adhesive

    How to do it

    1) Accurately measure walls along the length of the run to ascertain how many lengths you will need. Most counter tops are sold in three metre lengths.

    2) Make sure any joints are furthest away from the sink or wet areas as ingress can lead to warping.

    3) To avoid using ugly joint strips, join lengths together using either mitre joints - or butt joints together using biscuit joints.

    4) To cut holes for sinks and hobs, use the template provided on the counter top which should be clamped to a stable surface such as a horse or workmate. If you don't have a template, turn the sink or hob upside down in the desired position on the counter top and draw around the edge with a pencil.

    5) Mark a 10mm line inside the original line to create a supporting 'lip' for the sink to sit on. Drill a small hole reasonably close to the inside line and use the jigsaw to cut out the shape.

    6) Fit the sink as per the instructions using the screws provided and apply a thick layer of clear silicone sealant to form a water-tight seal between the undersurface of the counter top where it meets the sink.

    7) When all holes have been cut and you are ready to assemble the lengths, offer the counter top up in its final position. Make sure all surfaces meet tightly and are level using a recommended adhesive. Before finally fitting lengths together, apply a bead of clear silicone sealant to the bottom surface of the counter top to adhere to cupboard units below.

    8) Use edging strips to finish off the counter top length edges. These are usually cut and shaped to size by hand and applied with strong adhesive.

    9) Apply a finishing bead of waterproof sealant where the counter top meets the wall surface to avoid damp getting below into the floor units.

    To look at a great range of kitchen work surfaces, take a look at our 16 Great Kitchen Worktops feature.

    New splashback tiling

    Kitchen splashback tiles come in myriad styles, colours and shapes which can easily suffer at the hands of fashion. From mosaic sheets to ceramic or tumbled marble, the sky is the limit when it comes to textures, effects and finishes. If you feel that your existing splashback tiling needs replacing, or if you do not have any and want to lay a strip to enhance your work surface, so long as you have the right tools, laying tiles can be a very rewarding DIY experience, if you take your time. It can also breathe life into a tired and previously jaded kitchen.

    Difficulty level: 3/5

    Tools you'll need:

    • Tile adhesive and applicator
    • Grout
    • Diamond tile cutter (hire an electric one)
    • Spirit level
    • Pencil
    • Measuring tape
    • Sponge
    • Cold chisel
    • Protective eyewear

    Removing old tiles

    This is the messiest part of the job. Using a cold chisel, carefully chop away all the old tiling keeping the chisel relatively flat to the wall to avoid damaging the underlying plaster. If this is not possible and depending on how much damage you do cause, you can either re-plaster the area with a small pack of finishing plaster or use filler.

    When the wall surface to be tiled is flat and level, paint over a thin layer of diluted PVA adhesive to act as a primer or 'size.' This will help the new tiles adhere better. If you do not have any existing tiling and are tiling over the wall for the first time, wash the wall surface in a sugar soap solution first to remove grease before applying a coat of diluted PVA to prime the walls.

    Tiling

    Before you apply your first tile, lay out a dry run on the work surface below to ensure a neat and even fit. When you have found the ideal starting point, usually the corner, use a spirit level to draw a vertical and horizontal pencil line which will give you the axis point for your first tile, thus ensuring all future tiles are laid level. Apply tile adhesive to the wall in small areas at a time using the applicator provided and firmly press tiles into place. Check levels every few tiles to make sure the run is level and use special tile spacers in between each tile to ensure even spacing.

    To tile around light and electric sockets, remove the socket from the wall and offer the tiles up to the edges, drawing the outline to be cut on the rear of the tile. Use an electric tile cutter to give a professional, precision finish. Follow the same cutting method for tiles to fit any awkward shapes such as around extractor fans, work surfaces or cupboard units. Use proprietary edging tile strip around window sills as well as on the final vertical edge where your run of tiles finishes.

    When the tiles are fully dried and set, usually 24 hours, mix and apply grout, working it well into all the joints. You can either buy grout in powder form and mix it yourself with water or buy pre-made. Using a damp, not soaking sponge, wash the surplus grout off the tiles with a circular motion until there is no residue left. When the grout has dried, rub the tiles down with an old tea towel to clear away any residual dust then apply a coat of clear tile sealant to finish.

    Replacing kitchen unit doors and handles

    After a few years, kitchen units can start to look a little jaded. This can be due in part to the unit fronts, knobs and handles which date as fashions and tastes change. There is a huge choice of replacement cupboard fronts as well as door furniture to enhance the look of your kitchen. Far more cost-effective than a brand new kitchen, it is an easy makeover which offers real value for money.

    Difficulty level: 1/5

    Tools you'll need:

    • Screwdriver
    • Phillips and flathead screwdriver
    • Tape measure

    Door fronts

    Most kitchen units come in standard sizes with all the holes for the hinges pre-cut. All that you need to do is count and measure the number of doors you need and buy the replacements, ensuring that the new door sizes are exactly the same. Before committing to purchase, always take a sample door back home to ensure a good colour/contrast match with the existing kitchen carcass, coving and plinth which will be a different shade to the units fronts themselves. Alternatively, you could also change these too if you wish.

    Knobs & handles

    Simply unscrew the old knob or handle and measure the distance between the existing screw holes. Most handles are a standard size but if yours are slightly wider apart, you'll need to know what the measurement is. Wash down the front surface where the old handle was to remove any built up grease or finger marks then simply replace with your new handles. The whole job shouldn't take more than an hour for the average size kitchen but the transformation will be immediately noticeable.

    Related information

    Some information contained herein may have changed since it was first published. PrimeLocation strongly advises you to seek current legal and/or financial advice from a qualified professional. If you have any queries relating to the content, please email editor@primelocation.com.

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