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Kitchen countertop types, and how to modify them to match any task.
When it comes to countertop types, there are both natural and manmade surface options choices available. The principal choices, from least to most expensive, are the following:
Laminate. This is the most popular category. Many colors and patterns are available, and the price is in the range of $15 to $40 per linear foot of countertop. Most consist of a core material with a surface veneer applied. Formica is one common brand name. The disadvantages are the surfaces can scratch or burn and are not easily repaired.
Ceramic tile. Like laminate countertops, ceramic tiles are available in a wide range of colors. In addition, tile comes in various sizes, textures, and finishes, and the grout that seals the joint between the individual tiles can also be tinted to add emphasis or highlights. Ceramic tiles can be installed by capable do-it-yourselfers, which can make them even more affordable. Costs vary from $10 a square foot or less to $50 or more, depending upon the tile selected and the installation costs. I'd recommend buying glazed tiles (they're less likely to stain or scratch) and an epoxy grout. Disadvantages are that tiles can break (though repairs are relatively easy) and the grout will need to be renewed periodically.
Wood surfaces. The range of colors is much narrower than with laminates or ceramic tile, but most people who opt for wood countertops do so because they like the color of a natural finished wood. Maple is most often used as a counter surface, but cherry, birch, mahogany, and other woods are other choices. Most often wooden counters are so-called butcher-block surfaces, consisting of glued up strips of solid wood. They can stain, dent, or burn, but usually sanding and resealing will restore a uniform finish. Wood is also vulnerable to variations in humidity (producing swelling and even changes in shape), so careful sealing near sources of water and moisture are critical. The surface should also be periodically treated with a wax or varnish suitable to food-preparation surfaces. Costs are moderate, in the range of $50 to $100 per linear foot, and do-it-yourselfers may well be able to install these surfaces successfully.
Solid surface. These synthetic surfaces are manufactured of polyester or acrylic resins and mineral fillers. They are available in many colors, textures, and patterns, some of which resemble other materials, including wood, stone, and even glass. Thicknesses vary, but Vz inch is perhaps the most common. One advantage of such solid surfaces as Corian and WilsonartGibraltar, two of the common brand names, is that scratches and nicks can be buffed out using an abrasive pad. These surfaces are unlikely to stain, but can be scarred by knives or discolored by exposure to heat. Installation is best left to the professionals. The price range is broad, from roughly $50 to $200 per linear foot.
Stone. Granite is the most popular of the stone countertop types, but marble, soapstone, and others are also available. Stone countertops are extremely durable, but also very unforgiving—one slip with that antique China teapot of Grandma's and it'll be reduced on contact to a pile of shards. Stone is unlikely to nick, scratch, or scorch, though coffee, cooking oils, and liquids with natural pigments can produce staining, especially with marble counters. Soapstone requires periodic sealing to maintain its good looks, so granite is the closest to being a carefree stone surface. While stone is a great option if you want your kitchen counters to last forever, it's also an expensive route to take, as the prices range from about $100 to $250 a linear foot installed. And the installation is best left to the experts.
Countertops are available with various surfaces, at varying heights, and with insets and additions to match any task. Countertops can be deeper than standard or built to include leg space for desk and dining areas, or geared toward convenience in the following areas:
Entertaining. For some homeowners, food is all about sharing —with friends, family, and company. Granite and marble countertop types have long been popular as food staging and serving counters. New solid-surface, concrete, and e-stone selections also offer some striking options for display and dining counters.
Baking. For those interested in baking, a proper countertop is essential. That might mean installing marble or granite countertop sections that will maintain the cold for proper dough rolling. Depending on the height of the home baker, the tasks of kneading and rolling dough can be made more comfortable by lowering the countertop from the standard 36-inch counter height. Experts recommend a rolling counter that is 7 to 8 inches below the elbow for a baking and mixing countertop.
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