Take the Guesswork Out of Selecting New Countertops
Find the right material for your space
By Angela C. Crissman
Looking for a countertop material that will take center stage and dramatically transform your space? Choosing a new countertop for your kitchen or bathroom is an important decision that will impact the look and function of your home for many years to come. Key factors to consider include maintenance, price and durability, as well as food prep needs and style. Lifestyles & Homes takes a look at a few of the most popular options to help you navigate through the selection process.
Rated a top choice for a countertop by Consumer Reports, engineered stone is made of natural quartz and is fabricated — not cut from solid stone. This surface received “excellent” scores from Consumer Reports for its resistance to heat, abrasion and cuts. These countertops are incredibly durable, resistant to stains, and easier to maintain than natural stone. Engineered stone is not porous and does not need to be sealed, which is seen as a big plus to many consumers. Other benefits include availability in a large range of colors, resistance to chipping, and being waterproof. The typical warranty provided by Silestone, Caesarstone and Dupont’s Zodiaq ranges from 10-15 years.
Granite, another top pick by Consumer Reports, is a natural stone that remains on top of the list for many consumers. Its natural beauty makes it a very popular choice because each slab is unique and features different variations and shading. Granite is a great selection for areas that are frequently used because it is resistant to heat and scratches. However, this stone is porous and will need to be periodically sealed. One very important point to remember is that color and grain will vary from sample to sample. Therefore, it is critical to hand select each slab for your home improvement project.
Available in a variety of styles, colors and shapes, tile is a more affordable option than engineered stone or granite. It has been used on countertops for decades because it is durable and offers good heat resistance. One of the drawbacks of this material is that it can chip and crack; however, localized damage can be repaired. Sealing the grout is necessary to prevent stains. In addition, a dark colored grout is also helpful to camouflage stains.
Concrete countertops are definitely seeing a surge in popularity. Framed and poured on site, these countertops can be pigmented to achieve any color. Adding texture with shells, tile or glass stones is a way for homeowners to create a one-of-a-kind surface for their space. The material is durable, hard and not easily chipped. However, it is susceptible to stains, needs to be sealed, and can develop hairline cracks. Topical sealers are applied to protect against stains and penetrating sealers are used to handle heat.
Laminate remains very popular not only because it is affordable, but also because it can be purchased in a wide range of patterns, colors and detailed edging choices. Many finishes are made to mimic the look of marble or granite — making it a very appealing option to consumers. Laminate consists of layers of paper or fabric impregnated with resin over composition wood. Consumer Reports gave this material “excellent” ratings for stain and heat resistance. This countertop choice is easy to clean, but can be easily scratched. Keep in mind that burns or chips are difficult to repair.
Solid surface countertops such as Avonite and Corian are made from polyester or acrylic resins combined with mineral fillers. Available in a wide range of colors and patterns, this surface presents a seamless look when installed and is incredibly durable. Resistance to heat and impact are pluses, and small scratches can be sanded or repaired because the countertop is the same color throughout.
Stainless steel adds a sleek and contemporary look to a kitchen. Countertops are seamless, heat resistant and easy to clean. On the other hand, the surface is susceptible to scratches, dents and can be noisy. Another drawback is that fingerprints can also be an issue.
A popular and eco-friendly choice with consumers, recycled glass countertops feature pieces of glass held together with cement binder. Create a contemporary look by using large shards, while finely ground glass can resemble a solid surface. Each countertop is unique and non-porous, making it easy to clean and maintain. Consumer Reports gives the countertop a No. 3 ranking with “excellent” ratings for its resistance to cuts, heat and abrasion. However, chips and stains can be a problem.
Soapstone, considered a good alternative to granite, has been used in traditional and country kitchens for many years. It is a natural stone product that is quarried like marble or granite. The stone develops a characteristic patina with age and needs to be rubbed down regularly with mineral oil. Although it scratches easily, it is still a great choice because it is impervious to staining, does not harbor bacteria, and is also resistant to heat.
Lava countertops are highly functional and uniquely beautiful. Made from lava stone and glazed with an enamel to give a smooth and non-porous finish, this surface is completely water resistant. While these countertops are durable and heat resistant, they are a more expensive option than granite or marble.
Gaining popularity as an eco-friendly alternative are reclaimed wood countertops. Utilizing wood from buildings that are torn down, environmentally conscious individuals are turning the salvaged pieces into countertops. This material offers a natural appeal, but will need to be sealed on a regular basis because it is porous. It is also susceptible to cuts and scratches.
Still can’t decide? Consider combining more than one type of material in a room. In fact, this can sometimes be a better choice when you take into account how each surface in the space will be utilized on a daily basis. By knowing the facts about each of the countertop options, it will be easy to select a material that will specifically meet your family’s needs.