The pros, cons of undermount vs. top-mount sinks

The pros, cons of undermount vs. top-mount sinks


Q We need your help, Ed! My husband and I are redoing the kitchen and, after looking at all the options, we're going with granite countertops and a cast-iron sink. The problem is, my husband wants to mount the sink on top of the counter, and I would like an undermount style. We both agree you would be a good mediator and will tell it like it is. What are the advantages to each option and what is your opinion on this matter?

— Jamie, Boulder, Colo.

A A big factor always goes back to how much money you have to work with. I imagine that you have saved up a lot and yet already stretched your budget to afford granite countertops. I say that because very few people that I have installed kitchens for were never concerned about budget costs. No wonder; the average kitchen-remodel job ranges from $12,000 to $20,000. I don't know about you, but that's a good chunk of change for me.

So, the first thing I would be concerned about is how I can get the expensive materials I want for my kitchen and still stay in budget. One way is to cut down on labor costs anywhere I can, and that is where the top-mounted cast-iron kitchen sink has an advantage.

After the granite counter is installed, the counter person will leave a hole in the counter that fits the kitchen sink. To install the top-mount sink, you simply apply the right color and type of caulking around the rim of the sink and drop it into place with the faucet and trim attached. After the caulking cures, you just hook up the water and drains to the sink. How easy is that? So if the budget for the project is getting tight, go with the top-mount style and you'll get the most bang for your buck.

Now, if you can afford an upgrade in your budget, the undermount sink is spectacular. Not only does it look cool, but it also has a functional advantage; you can clean the counter very easily by sweeping countertop debris right into the sink bowls. From a design point, I love the undermount sinks. But from a plumber's point of view, I cringe at the extra labor needed to install this type of sink. Usually it's a special-order sink, and it has to be braced and supported by a frame in the cabinet before the counters are installed. The faucet cannot be installed until the countertop is laid perfectly over the sink, and then it's a tricky little job to seal between the bottom of the counter and the top of the sink. Finally, the faucet can be installed, but you'll be working inside the cabinet and under the sink to complete the faucet installation. The undermount style is usually two to three times the labor to install.

Bottom line: If you got it, flaunt it, and go with the undermount. If you're on a tight budget, stay on top of your spending and go with the top-mount sink.

● Ed Del Grande is a certified master plumber.

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