Q: I’m about to embark on a kitchen remodeling adventure and don’t want to get shipwrecked on the island of kitchen mistakes. I’ve never had an island in my kitchen, and I don’t have lots of space. Can you help me decide if one will work? What, in your opinion, is the smallest island you can have in a kitchen? What about appliances and electricity in the island? What happens if you get a stone top and want to change it later? How would you get the stone top off?

A: My current house had a horrible kitchen layout when I bought it. I don’t know what the architect or homeowner was thinking, but it had virtually no countertop space. All of the tops were short sections, the longest being about 30 inches.

The overall size of my kitchen is only 14 feet, 7 inches by 13 feet, 3 inches. Believe it or not, with some careful planning and by relocating the entry, we doubled the area of the kitchen’s countertops — and included two new islands to boot.

The primary island cabinet in my kitchen measures 25 by 48 inches. It has a stone top that overhangs 1 inch on all sides. When planning a kitchen layout, it’s important to leave enough space around the island so two people can pass one another with ease while one person is working at the island. I’ve found that to be about 40 inches of clearance.

I have a drawer-style microwave oven in my island, and it has worked well for more than 10 years. All of my plates, bowls and saucers are in slide-out drawers in a cabinet next to the microwave. The silverware is in a standard drawer next to the oven. Below the oven is a medium-sized drawer where platters and large cooking pans easily fit. In other words, lots of stuff is stored in this tiny island.

There are many ways to incorporate electricity in a kitchen island. The easiest is to install standard duplex outlets in the sides or rear of the island. The National Electrical Code permits this as long as the electrician installs the cables within the cabinet so they can’t get damaged. I prefer to go a step further and run the cables in a metal conduit so there’s no chance a cable can be damaged by moving anything around in the island cabinet.


You can also install hidden outlets in an island, such as inside a drawer. It’s a safe installation, but I don’t know if I want a drawer partially open while I use an appliance on top of the island.

You’re smart to think about how to remove a stone top from a cabinet without damaging the actual cabinet. I’ve installed countless granite and marble tops, and I can tell you they weigh hundreds of pounds. Gravity alone can keep a stone top on a cabinet, but you do need something to help keep it from sliding.

I’ve found that just a few dollops of clear silicone caulk at the four corners of an island cabinet are plenty to keep the top secure. The dollops only need to be the size of a dime.

If you discover that you need to replace the top, you can cut through the silicone using a 4-foot-long piece of very thin braided picture-hanging wire that’s tied to two pieces of broomstick handle. Two people use this wire saw much like lumberjacks use a two-man bucksaw on a log. It takes jut a few seconds to cut through the caulk, and the top can then be removed.


Tim Carter has worked as a home-improvement professional for more than 30 years. To submit a question or to learn more, visit AsktheBuilder.com.