Kitchen Countertops 101
Options abound for homeowners planning to install or replace kitchen countertops.
Consumers have a great deal of choice when it comes to kitchen countertops. There are options available from moderately priced to expensive; there are natural surfaces and manmade; the range is wide. 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. Disadvantages? The surfaces can scratch or burn, and they are not easily repaired.
Ceramic tile. Like laminate kitchen 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.
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. 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.
Wood surfaces. The range of colors is much narrower than with laminates or ceramic tile, but most people who opt for wood kitchen 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.
Stone. Granite is the most popular stone countertop, but marble, soapstone, and others are also available. Stone kitchen 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.
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