Replacing a countertop first requires removal of the old one, which can be a little trickier than it sounds. If you're replacing the cabinets too, you can probably demolish the whole structure at once. However, homeowners often want to keep the existing cabinet base and replace only the top, in which case it's important to proceed carefully with removal to avoid damaging the cabinets.
You will usually want to remove the existing backsplash as well as the countertop. This requires disconnecting all appliances like the electrical cables of your stovetop and the plumbing connections to you sink basin. Remove these items and set them aside safely for reinstallation later.
The next phase is to remove all fasteners that secure the existing countertop to its cabinet base. This may sound fairly straightforward, but depending on the counter’s method of construction, the job can get difficult. In some cases, a plywood countertop may have been fastened to the cabinet base prior to having the finished surface (plastic laminate, ceramic tile, etc.) applied to the subsurface.
The kitchen shown in the photos was built with laminate countertops that had oak edging. Remove any existing edging to reveal any fasteners behind it. The workers unscrewed or pried out all the visible fasteners from beneath the countertop and behind the edging but still found the top stuck onto the cabinet base. After some exploration with a scraper and pry bar, they found the plywood countertop had been installed on the base prior to having the sheet laminate glued on top of it.
If this is the case, it means there will be several areas where the finished surface has to be peeled away to access the hidden fasteners and dislodge the top. A putty knife, scraper or flat bar can be used to peel back the laminate to find the fasteners. A tiled surface will require a hammer and tile scraper.
Once all the fasteners are gone, the countertop should then easily lift off the cabinet base. A number of shims are often left behind attached to the cabinet base. Pry these off to begin installation of the new countertop on a flat, even surface.