Imagine this. You're in the middle of a DIY kitchen cabinet installation, and you discover that your kitchen counter is not level. You place a level on the counter, and the bubble veers considerably to the left (past the line). What do you do in the situation? Can you level the counters on your own? For your convenience, we have researched ways to address this issue.
Unlevel kitchen counters can be level using wood shims or by simply removing and reinstalling the counters. The best method to use depends on how unlevel your kitchen counters are, the amount of money you're willing to spend to correct the issue, and your personal preference.
Most contractors will recommend manually leveling the countertops before installing new cabinets or applying a tiled backsplash. However, there are some scenarios in which this may not be necessary. Continue reading to learn about how to gauge whether or not your kitchen counters be absolutely level and how to level them.
The Importance of Having Level Kitchen Countertops
While a few degrees of difference might not be significant in things such as hanging decorative pictures, floating shelves, or sink installation, it is fairly significant for kitchen counters.
Here are the main reasons why:
Water damage prevention
If water gathers on the top of the kitchen cabinets, you may find that it will spill to one side instead of spreading evenly across the countertop.
This can lead to water damage on the floor, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage repair costs to the floor and subfloor.
It can also cause tripping and falling hazards in your home. And if the countertop is significantly uneven, you may find it difficult to perform certain food preparation tasks on the counter as well.
If there is a sink built into the countertop slab, the surface will likely connect directly to the plumbing. If the countertop is at an angle, it may place pressure on the pipes over time, or it may not connect properly to the pipe fittings.
This can lead to immediate water issues, including leaks and building code violations—the latter of which can result in fines from your local government if it's uncovered at some point.
It messes up the kitchen's aesthetics
A significantly uneven kitchen countertop can throw off your entire kitchen in terms of aesthetics, which means that visitors and guests may not notice the newly tiled floors or vaulted ceiling you're so proud of.
Instead, their eyes may be directed to the off-putting uneven countertop space instead.
So if you have an eye for perfection and noticed that the uneven countertops are unsightly, it's best to have them correct it sooner rather than later.
How to Level Uneven Kitchen Counters
The most common and subsequently least expensive way to level uneven kitchen countertops is to simply place wooden shims beneath them. Let's look at how to do it.
Things you'll need:
- Portable saw
- Wooden shims
- Wood glue
- Measuring tape
1. Find the highest point on the countertop
Place a level on the cabinet beneath the countertop. You may first need to place the level on the left and right sides of the cabinet to determine the highest point.
2. Mark the wall
After finding the highest point on the cabinet, take a pencil and mark the wall to note the location.
Then, use your measuring tape and level to make an even line across the wall, and mark the other end of the wall where is the new point on the cabinet will be.
Take a wooden shim and use your table saw to trim it so that it fits beneath the cabinet.
Next, place this shim beneath the lowest side of the cabinet. Hammer it in completely so that it is flush beneath the cabin and not protruding out.
Next, take your level and check the countertop for evenness. If the countertop is still unlevel, add another shim to the bottom of the cabinet.
Continue to adjust the edges of the cabinet until they are even. You may also need to place shims on the front of the cabinet as well. Make additional marks on the wall as needed until the cabinets are aligned.
4. Check your work
After realigning the cabinets, make sure that the shims aren't visible. Next, use your level to gauge the left, middle, and right into the cabinet.
If the countertop is still on level, take your measuring tape and measure the top section of the cabinetry again and follow the process all over again.
5. Adhere the cabinet to the wall (optional)
You can also place screws in the back of the cabinet to attach them to the wall. This will ensure that the cabinet will stay in position in the event that the shims slide out.
Do countertops have to be level?
Yes and no. If your home is older, your countertops may have become unlevel over time.
This typically isn't a big issue unless you're planning a remodeling project and installing a new countertop, backsplash, or other nearby structure.
It can also become a problem when the countertops are significantly unlevel, causing difficulty with the usage of the counter. The most common issues include water seeping, the harboring of germs, and mold growth.
It also places a lot of stress on it the cabinets beneath the countertop, as the weight under the counter isn't distributed evenly.
And lastly, an uneven countertop can make a kitchen look a bit unsightly. If the unevenness is just a few millimeters, it won't be noticeable to the visible eye.
However, if it's near an inch, it can be hard to miss. Having an even countertop is best for both aesthetic and practical reasons.
Using wood shims can quickly alleviate leveling problems with the countertop, and it's something that you can do yourself.
If you hire a contractor to do this for you, expect to pay anywhere from $150-$300 for the job, depending on how unlevel the countertops are.
And if you find that your newly installed countertops are in fact unlevel, it's best to reach out to the contractor who installed them so that they can come and redo the work.
This isn't a situation that you want to ignore, as it can lead to inconveniences and potential issues with the cabinets in the future.
How level do cabinets need to be for countertops?
It's best to ensure that your kitchen cabinets are at least within an eighth of an inch in terms of being level.
Uneven cabinets can cause quite a few problems after they are installed. The best way to prevent this is to use a trusted and professional contractor and to use a level to measure the cabinets yourself after the work is done.
How do you tile a counter if not level?
If the countertop is not level, apply a single tile at the lowest area and then mark a level line across the wall to the top of the tile.
This will be the starting point of a tile. Next, use a laser level to extend the reference line across the entire wall where the tile will be installed.
Make sure that the top of the tiles in the bottom row meet that line so that they line up with the mark (you may need to cut some tiles during the process). The tiles located above the line won't need cutting.
However, if you're applying tile to the top of the wall or beneath an overhead cabinet, install the cut tiles or keep the uneven gap right beneath the cabinet above the countertop so that it won't be as noticeable.
How do you install backsplash when the countertop is not level?
If the countertop is only slightly unleveled, you may not notice this after the backsplash install. However, it's best to cut and scribe the first row to achieve a straight and level backsplash installation.
You can also get creative and install colored or mosaic tiles to make the unevenness less noticeable.
Lastly, you can apply the backsplash in a straight line and leave the gap for the uneven space at the top of the wall beneath the oven or microwave. This way, it will be hidden from plain sight and only noticeable up close.
Wrapping Things Up
Unlevel countertops may be an issue that you didn't expect when installing new cabinetry. However, it is something that can be resolved relatively easily.
Placing a few wooden shims beneath the cabinetry should fix the issue. If not, you may want to reach out to a contractor to see what other options may be available.
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