Plastic laminate – Arborite – is a pretty amazing material. Our galley is thirty years old, and until this winter, everything was still original and looked to be in reasonable shape. A few chips, but no burns or big scratches. Impressive for a thin layer of paper and plastic. The fridge and sink not so much. Both were showing their age and in need of an update.
The fridge was our main concern. The freezer would frost up so badly that the lid would get frozen shut as the frost worked its way up and out past the lid. The lids themselves were heavy and held up by a spring that would drop the lid on your head if you breathed too heavy while rooting around for a cold beer. To add insult to injury, the freezer itself didn’t even work well – it refused to get much below freezing in the bottom. Upon further inspection, we found that this poor performance was due to water making its way into the insulation from the fridge drain. The whole thing really needed to go.
The sink was mostly just ugly. We decided early on that we wanted an undermount to make clean-up a little easier. I could’ve built a counter using plastic laminate and dealt with finishing the edge at the hole for the sink, but chose to use a solid surface – Meganite – instead. This material is easy to work with but has a reputation for cracking if it is installed incorrectly…time will tell if this was a good decision.
I find that many seemingly easy jobs have a way of getting complicated as you start making decisions about details. If you aren’t careful, one choice early on can push you into a corner that is hard to get out of. The big decisions for this project all required more consideration than one would think. Just finding a sink that would fit was a nightmare…
- what, and how much insulation material?
- what would the box be lined with?
- how would I fabricate proper lids with a latch and two seals on each?
- how would I mount the sink?
We decided to go with 5 – 6″ of polystyrene insulation – the pink or blue boards you can get at a home improvement store. The other easily obtained choice – polyisocyanurate – is more expensive and has been shown to have an R value that decreases as the temperature decreases. Not good in a freezer. I lined the box with epoxy and glass and didn’t include a drain. This one piece liner can’t ever leak into the insulation.
The openings for the fridge and freezer were the biggest challenge. I replaced the massive teak structure that defined the original openings and the lid insulation with styrofoam assemblies covered in fibre reinforced plastic panelling (FRP). I attached the FRP to the styrofoam with thickened epoxy. The lid insulation rests on teak trim rings in each opening. These rings support the lower seal and gas filled support struts. The lid insulation is in turn affixed to the Meganite lids with silicone. I added a small step around the top edge of each opening for a second seal. We’re super happy with the results – it all looks like it came from the factory.
I sourced the sink through Amazon.com and had it delivered to a friend in Anacortes. Amazon .ca didn’t have it and the RV shop I called in the valley wanted double what I paid. Sometimes shopping here really sucks. The counter material is not designed to support the weight of a sink, so I build a frame to rest the sink edge on. This also serves to support the counter as required by the installation instructions.
The counter itself was fairly easy but time consuming and stressful. It required a huge amount of planning, prep, and travel to make sure everything lined up correctly. The most important step was to build templates for everything. Essentially, this meant building, testing and trimming an entire counter out of MFD before starting on the Meganite; working on the finished product using only the old countertop and measurements as a guide likely wouldn’t have produced the same results. I did almost all of the fabrication work after hours in my shop…every test fit required driving to the marina and humping the piece in question out to the boat and back before proceeding.
The counter is held in place by a few blobs of silicone to allow the top to move as the temperature changes – not really the most secure method, particularly if we’re knocked down, but it’s the the only one recommended by the manufacturer. Putting screws into the counter is a guaranteed way to induce cracks. To add some structure to the assembly, I am adding a fairly substantial fiddle around the front edge edge and a moulding along the back edge that will be screwed to the cabinetry to clamp the counter down. This should allow for regular movement and help secure the counter against irregular movement in the event of an “accident”. I would’ve liked to use the original one piece laminated fiddle, but didn’t think there was enough meat to make it robust enough for a worst case scenario.
Aesthetically, we’re both really pleased with the results. It looks new and fresh. But more importantly, it is also functionally superior to the original. The undermount sink makes wiping the counter down a treat, and the fridge should be far more efficient with dry insulation, a reduction of wood in the top assembly, and proper seals on the lids.