The standard countertop height is 36 inches, according to Sebring Design Build, and that's the height recommended by the American National Standards Institute and the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association. Cabinets are typically manufactured with a height of 34 1/2 inches so a 1 1/2-inch countertop will bring the finished surface to the standard height.
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It isn't always possible to do so, but when it is, there are two basic strategies for raising a countertop. One is to separate the countertop from the base cabinet and insert material underneath to lift it, and the other is to raise the entire cabinet.
When to Raise Countertop Height
Among the reasons you would have a counter lower than the standard 36 inches would be to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies a maximum height of 34 inches, or to accommodate a vessel sink, so if the user profile or design requirements change, you may want to raise your countertop.
Lightweight cabinets with removable tops that can be easily detached from the wall are the most amenable to changes in height. Most bathroom vanities with laminate or solid surface tops, for example, are good candidates. Large cabinets with stone or tile countertops that are integrated into a backsplash, on the other hand, present greater problems.
You might want to consider an alternative to raising the countertop height if the procedure involves dismantling a backsplash, but not always. Some backsplashes, even stone ones, can be removed from the wall fairly easily, and they're also easy to reset. Tile backsplashes, on the other hand. have to be demolished and reconstructed, but even that's not impossible. It's just time consuming.
Separate the Countertop and Raise It
Countertops with a plywood core, as well as some solid surface ones, are screwed to the base cabinet frame. Once you find all the screws and remove them, the countertop is free. Even if the countertop is glued, you can usually free it by tapping the glue joints with a putty knife and a hammer. You then have your choice of inserting shims or sheets of plywood or medium-density fiberboard underneath it to raise it to a maximum of about 2 inches or to construct a frame that fits on the base cabinet to raise it more.
This procedure usually calls for construction of new fascia for the top of the base cabinet, and you can take this opportunity to build deeper drawers and increase the widths of the drawer fronts. If the cabinet has a sink, you'll also have to increase the length of the sink tailpiece, which is the vertical pipe that connects the sink drain to the P-trap.
Increase Height of Base Cabinet
The easier way to raise the countertop height is to raise the entire base cabinet, because the only cosmetic change this requires is a wider toe kick. You do this by constructing a frame for the base cabinet that raises the countertop to the new height, lifting the cabinet and inserting the frame underneath it. Before you can do this, you have to remove the screws and cut all the caulk holding the cabinet to the wall.
If you need to raise a bathroom vanity or a kitchen cabinet by less than an inch, you can shim up the cabinet base with wooden or plastic shims instead of constructing an entire frame. Be sure to space the shims evenly at regular intervals and to level the countertop before you reattach the cabinet to the wall. Once the cabinet is securely attached and the caulking is done, you can hide the shims with trim.