Home Repair Tips Every Renter Should Know: Countertops

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been a renter. And now keep your hand in the air if your countertops were laminate. No, it’s not a cool survey question, but if your hand’s up, you are in good company: laminate countertops are one of the most common types a renter will encounter, and they’re easy to damage. Philip Schmidt offers readers home repair tips to fix chips and small holes from knives, burns, and failing seams in Upgrade Your House.

Quick Fixes for Old Countertops

While damaged laminate isn’t exactly fixable and you can’t make scars disappear, there are some simple repairs you can make to spruce up your laminate.

tube of seam filler upgrade your house home repair countertops DIY
Seam filling compound is purchased pre-tinted to match common plastic laminate colors It can be used to repair minor chips and scratches or to fill separated seams between laminate sheets.

You can help hide scratches and light gouges in laminate with a commercial seam filler, available from laminate manufacturers.

For chips or small holes, you can purchase a repair kit from home and hardware stores. Seam filler and repair kits consist of a plastic compound that you mix to match the color of your surface. Follow the product directions for mixing and applying the patch. Again, the repair won’t be invisible, but it’s better than doing nothing.

upgrade your house home repair countertops vinyl repair kit laminate countertops DIY
A vinyl and leather repair kit can be used for touch-up repairs on laminate countertops The kits are widely available for around $10, and are simple to use Prepare the repair area with an abrasive pad, blend paints to achieve similar color, apply the paint, cover with a clear coat ad then heat-set with a household iron after the paint dries.

Burn marks are next on the list, as many a laminate countertop has been marred by a hot pan, a fallen cigarette, or a pot holder left too close to a stovetop burner. If the burn is near a cooking area, you’re in luck; you can cut out the damage and set a large tile into the surface to create a built-in trivet (read on for how-to info about this).

Because a laminate countertop is made from a thin sheet of resin paper and plastic glued to a wood substrate, the laminate layer sometimes peels up or even bubbles in spots. This is usually the result of a poor glue job or a hot object being set onto the surface.

upgrade your house home repair DIY countertops laminate iron and roll out bubbles

To flatten bubbles, heat it with an iron and then roll with a J-roller to re-bond the laminate to its substrate Use a towel to prevent the iron from scorching the laminate, and set the iron on low to medium heat Keep rolling until the surface cools.

To reattach peeling laminate, lift it up as far as you can, carefully scrape off the old glue (usually contact cement), then reapply new contact cement to both surfaces and let it dry, following the product directions. Bond the laminate back to the substrate using a J-roller. Roll the laminate by working out from the fixed end, to prevent trapping air underneath and creating a bubble. Once the laminate is stuck, the job is done.

When it comes to failing laminate seams, large-scale delamination and other signs of water damage, there’s really no fix other than complete replacement. Laminate itself is impervious to water, but the particleboard substrate soaks it up like a roll of paper towels, and expands pretty much the same way. Once this happens, you can’t get the board flat again. Good carpenters and installers know about the importance of keeping countertop seams away from sinks, for this very reason.

upgrade your house home repair laminate countertops DIY burn mark replace trivet

Turn a Burn Mark into a Focal Point with Tile

Replace a small section of damaged laminate near a stove with a tile trivet insert This requires a router, a mortising bit with a top-mounted guide bearing, a scrap of plywood, a tile saw, and some heat-resistant caulk.

To make the repair, trace the tile outline onto the wood scrap, then carefully cut along the line with a saw. This creates a template for the router bit to follow Ideally, the cutout should be about ¹⁄₁₆ inch larger than the tile in each direction. Secure the template to the countertop using clamps or dabs of hot glue. Rout out the laminate and cut into the substrate to a depth that’s slightly shallower than the thickness of the tile. The tile should stand a little proud of the countertop so you can set a pan onto the tile without touching the surrounding laminate. Glue the tile in place with the caulk, then caulk along the edges of the tile to create a watertight seal with the laminate.

You can use an understated tile as shown here or, if you want to make more of a splash, opt for something a little more interesting. For less than $20, you can choose a hand-painted tile, a quarry stone tile, or pick from any of the more exotic choices such as glass or steel.

Upgrade Your House by Philip Schmidt

Homebuyers are busy again. An improving housing market and stabilizing economy, together with some lucrative first-time buyers’ incentives, have put thousands upon thousands of people in an unfamiliar spot: their own home. For new homeowners as well as long-time occupants, Upgrade Your House is packed with instructions and suggestions for more than 100 easy DIY projects that make your home more a more livable place.

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