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Countertops 101: Basics for Choosing a Material for Kitchen Countertops

For many, their kitchen is the most important space in their home. And most real estate experts agree that the best way to improve or increase the property value of a home is to remodel the kitchen. The four main components of a kitchen remodel generally involve replacing major appliances, installing new flooring, replacing or relinking kitchen cabinets, and installing a new countertop. Let’s focus on that final component: replacing your current kitchen countertop material with a new one.

Naturally, it’s about more than just running to the store to choose a new countertop for your kitchen. You will first need to consider how much you want to spend. You also need to think about how much time and effort you will need to put into maintaining your new countertop. Finally, you will want to seriously consider the style and look you want in your kitchen. Regardless of the type of countertop you install, it will be the focal point of the entire room.

The first type of countertop to appear on the mind of every eager kitchen renovator is granite. However, there are many countertop materials to choose from, and granite is just one of them. These days, an aspiring kitchen remodel can select tile, stone, acrylic, concrete, stainless steel, and laminate – even wood!

GRANITE

Let’s start with the most popular: granite. Granite countertops are the most popular but also the most expensive. Why? In addition to the beautiful surface, granite is extremely resistant to heat and scratches. A granite countertop is very durable and will last a long time. A granite countertop will never go out of style and installing granite slabs will greatly increase the value of the home. The drawbacks? Apart from the expense, granite is a natural stone and it is porous. A sealer will be required to prevent staining. An alternative is to use granite tiles instead of a solid slab. The cost savings on tiles is high. It is important not to use the granite surface as a cutting board as it will dull the finish (and ruin a knife or two).

OTHER NATURAL STONES

Besides granite, there are other stone surfaces that can be used on kitchen counters. Quartz, marble, limestone, soapstone, and slate surfaces are very popular today. Marble is smooth and cool, perfect for preparing food directly on the surface. It is not as durable as granite and requires more sealing maintenance to protect it from stains. Slate is very durable and has such a unique surface that it can really stand out in a kitchen. As slate has been used as a roofing material, it does not require as much sealing protection, but it still needs some maintenance. Limestone is very porous and spills must be dealt with quickly to avoid staining. It has a natural, worn look that can deepen and darken over time. Natural quartz looks similar to slate, but does not stain or scratch as easily. Engineered quartz has also been gaining popularity, but the costs are considerably higher (engineered materials are a composite product of quartz mixed with epoxy, polymers, and small stones or pebbles for a unique look and feel).

ROOF TILE

Glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles have been popular in kitchens for decades. It comes in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and designs. Tiles can be as small as one square inch and as large as six square inches. The tiles are durable and also have some of the same heat and scratch resistance qualities as granite. Porcelain tile is usually more expensive than ceramic tile, but porcelain tile is the most durable and the hardest fired type of tile. Tile drawbacks? It can chip easily, is more expensive than laminate alternatives, and grout can be a problem. When putting the tiles together, there are grout lines between each of them and the grout can stain very easily. It will require a lot more maintenance to make it look good. Due to problems with grout, the ability of the tiles to easily break and chip, and the overall cost, it is best to leave the installation work to a professional.

CONCRETE

Concrete is not just for sidewalks or driveways. A concrete countertop is pigmented and can be polished to a smooth, shiny surface that can resemble any natural stone. Counters can be molded in a factory or cast on site. Concrete is quite porous and must be sealed regularly, similar to granite, to resist staining. It can be made in any shape and in any thickness. Concrete is also resistant to heat and scratches. Counters can be made in a variety of colors and textures. Disadvantages of concrete? The required sealant is not the only protection needed. The sealer should be waxed every one to three months to avoid staining and water damage, so maintenance can be extensive. It cannot be cut into the concrete surface without leaving marks. Concrete is also very expensive.

STAINLESS STEEL

A restaurant would probably be the first thing one would think of when it comes to a stainless steel kitchen countertop. But there is a reason why most restaurants use this material. Durability, stain and water resistance, low maintenance, a wide variety of size and shape options are just a few of those reasons. It is also very easy to clean and you can put a hot plate or pan on the surface without worrying about damaging it. Disadvantage: many do not like its “industrial” look. It can be quite expensive to have done so. Cutting it can leave marks and it can be easy to dent. It is important to make sure the surface is at least 18 gauge and is between eight and ten percent nickel.

WOOD

Sometimes called butcher block countertops, a wooden countertop is usually made from strips of maple or oak that have been glued together. But almost any hardwood can be turned into countertops. Bamboo countertops are the latest trend! Wood countertop material has a warm and beautiful look that can come in a variety of shades and textures. It is perfect for people who want to cut directly into the surface of their countertop. It can be sanded and resealed in case of deep cuts, scratches or stains. It can be easy to install and the prices are reasonable. Disadvantages The wood is not very hard and can easily burn, scratch or dent. Wood can warp or turn black near sinks due to regular contact with water. And it requires regular sealing.

LAMINATE

Formica is the most common name for laminate counters. It is made of a thin layer of plastic glued to particle board or wood. Plastic laminate counters are very inexpensive, lightweight, and available in a myriad of colors and patterns. It is very resistant to stains and, as a plastic material, it is easy to clean. Because it comes preformed, it can be easy for a DIYer to install. Drawbacks of Formica? While these counters are somewhat durable, they don’t last forever. Laminates are not heat and scratch resistant, but they are stain resistant. Abrasive cleaners can dull and scratch the surface. Warping or water spots occur with excessive exposure to moisture. Color or pattern may fade over time.

ACRYLIC / SOLID SURFACE

Solid Surface Countertops are custom made countertops for any application. Popular companies include Corian, Avonite, and Swanstone. These surfaces are durable, waterproof, easy to clean, non-porous, and even resistant to mold and bacteria. And nicks or scratches can be sanded. The drawbacks include trouble handling hot pans on the surface, high cost, and excessive weight requires a good strong cabinet base (similar to natural stone). Some don’t like the plastic or the “fake” look of the material, but the material has a wide range of colors to choose from.

Replacing kitchen countertops is just one step in your goal of renovating the kitchen, but many consider it the biggest step. You can really make a statement about your kitchen and home with the right selection of countertop material. Of course, once you take care of those worn counters that came with the house, it will really make those old cabinets, floors, and appliances stand out! It is all part of the process of increasing the value of your property.

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