It can be tough to choose the right countertop with so many materials available on the market. Here's a guide to seven popular materials to help you decide what's best for your kitchen. Get beyond the brand names and your countertop options really just come down to a handful of materials. The choices can seem overwhelming, but the truth is that there's never been a better time to be in the market for a new counter. Once upon a time, you were lucky to have some faded laminate as a small prep area beside the sink. Today, you can choose from hundreds of colors, patterns and textures, in materials ranging from natural stone and acrylic sheets to quartz composites and stained concrete.
Plastic laminate--which is often referred to by the tradename Formica--is a durable, hard-wearing material that can survive many years in the toughest kitchens. Considering that plastic laminate is made primarily of kraft paper impregnated with resins, it's a surprisingly resilient choice. Plastic laminate is available in hundreds of colors and dozens of patterns, and in various textures. However, only those with a matte or fine matte finish should be used for countertops. Be aware, too, that there are two basic types of laminates: 1/16-in.-thick general-purpose, and 1/32-in. vertical grade. Only general-purpose laminate is suitable for countertops; vertical grade is for backsplashes, cabinet doors and drawer faces.
Plastic laminate comes in sheets ranging from 2 x 4 ft to 4 x 8 ft. Longer, wider sheets can be special ordered. Prices range from about $2 to more than $3 per sq ft, depending on the laminate's color and pattern. Lumberyards and home centers sell ready-to-install post-formed laminate counters, which feature seamless construction. Again, prices vary widely, but a solid-color, 8-ft-long, post-formed countertop will cost between $80 and $100. If you hire a cabinetmaker to custom-build a counter, prices will range from $15 to more than $25 per sq ft, depending upon the laminate chosen, complexity of the edge treatment and size of the backsplash.
The trend in kitchen design over the last decade or so has shifted toward low-maintenance, seamless counters. As a result, there are fewer countertops covered with ceramic tile. However, that doesn't mean you should totally discount tile for your kitchen. Tile is an excellent choice for backsplashes or for secondary work surfaces, such as islands, eat-at counters, peninsulas, wet bars or butler's pantries. Just be sure to use tiles rated for use on floors or countertops.
Ceramic tile is often applied to a plywood substrate or directly over existing plastic laminate countertops. However, to ensure a rock-solid, long-lasting installation, Tiganella prefers using 3/4-in.-thick plywood topped with 1/2-in.-thick cement backerboard. It's difficult to estimate the cost of a tile countertop since much depends on the tile chosen and complexity of the installation. Simple solid-color tiles cost as little as $1 per sq ft, but the average cost is more in the $3 to $5 per sq ft range. A pro installation will cost between $30 and $50 per sq ft, plus the cost of the tile.
Granite may have more competition than ever before, but its popularity is still unquestioned. The beautiful, strong surface of granite has a natural grain, which gives each installation a unique look. The downside is the fact that it's porous, which means a yearly sealing is required. Stains should also be wiped up promptly.
Price range per square foot: $60-$100
Wood's calling card is its beauty and warmth, and it's surprisingly durable, since scratches can generally be buffed out. According to manufacturer Craft Art, the enemy of the wood countertop is a Crock-Pot without a trivet — you must protect the surface from direct heat. During installation, it’s important to give wood room to breathe; don’t jam it in where it can’t move (say, with walls on three sides), or install it directly on top of a substrate, as it will warp.
Pricing reflects the range between a thinner unfinished wood countertop you can install yourself and a thick finished custom wood countertop, which is more difficult to source. The countertop shown is distressed black walnut with a tung oil finish.
Price range per square foot: $35-$250
Stainless steel fits a number of looks, from modern industrial to country farmhouse. Plus, it can take the heat: 800 degrees of it, in fact (although we don't recommend you actually test its limitations). It technically can rust, according to manufacturer Craft Art, but that happens at such a slow pace that it will still outlast you by a long shot.
Care for stainless steel countertops is actually similar to that for wood: You can’t bleach it or use other caustic chemicals, but you can completely disinfect it with vinegar and water. The countertop shown, made by Eskay Metal Fabricating, has a built-in backsplash and drain board as well as an apron front with a marine (raised) edge to catch liquids. It comes standard with a wooden core; you can install it yourself just as you would a laminate countertop.
Price range per square foot: $70-$150
Engineered stone typically uses about 90 percent quartz in a manufacturing process that yields a tough, durable product. It’s marketed under the brand names Caesarstone, Cambria and Silestone, among others.
Price range per square foot: $60-$80
Concrete counters, which closely resemble slabs of natural stone, are becoming increasingly popular. Unlike the concrete counters of the late-1980s, which were poured messily atop the cabinets, today's fabricators offer precast counters that are made in a workshop and delivered--fully cured and finished--to the job site.
Precast concrete counters are typically 1 1/2 in. thick and available in slabs up to 10 ft long. A variety of colors can be achieved by adding pigments to the concrete during mixing. Once cured, the slabs are honed and sealed to prevent staining. Cracking is always a concern with concrete, and fabricators often use wire mesh, metal rebar or fiberglass fibers to strengthen the counter. A high-quality precast concrete counter costs from $85 to $100 per sq ft, which isn't outrageously expensive when you consider that each counter is custom made from scratch.
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