Countertops 101 – Deciding on Your Kitchen Countertop Materials

For many, their kitchen is the most important room in their house. And most real estate experts agree that the best way to improve or raise the property value of a house is to remodel the kitchen. The four major components of a kitchen remodel usually involve replacing the major appliances, installing new floors, replacing or re-facing the 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 involves more than just running off to the store to pick out 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’ll need to spend to maintain your new countertop. Finally, you’ll want to seriously consider the style and look you want in your kitchen. Whatever type of countertop you install, it will be the focal point of the entire room.

The very first type of countertop that pops into the mind of every anxious kitchen renovator is granite. However, there are many countertop materials to choose from – and granite is only one of them. These days, a kitchen remodeling hopeful 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? Besides the beautiful surface, granite is extremely heat and scratch resistant. A granite countertop is very durable and will last a long time. A granite countertop will never go out of style and granite slab installation will greatly increase the value of the house. The drawbacks? Other than the expense, granite is a natural stone and it is porous. A sealer will be required to prevent staining. One alternative is to use granite tiles in place of a massive slab. The cost savings on the tiles is high. It is important to not 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 various 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 food preparations directly on the surface. It’s not as durable as granite and requires more sealing maintenance to protect from staining. 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 doesn’t require as much sealing protection, but some upkeep is still needed. Limestone is very porous and spills must be treated quickly to prevent staining. It has a natural, weathered look that can deepen and darken over time. Natural quartz has a look similar to slate but does not stain or scratch as easily. Engineered quartz has been gaining popularity as well, but the costs are considerably more (engineered materials are a quartz composite product mixed with epoxy, polymers, and small stones or pebbles for a unique look and feel.)

TILE
Glazed ceramic and porcelain tile has been popular in kitchens for decades. It comes in a huge variety of colors, shapes, and designs. The tiles can be a small as a 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. The porcelain tiles are usually more expensive than the ceramic tiles, but the porcelain tiles are more durable and the hardest fired type of tiles. Drawbacks of tile? It can chip easily, more expensive than laminate alternatives, and the grout can be an issue. When putting the tiles together, there are grout lines between each of them and grout can stain very easily. It will require a lot more maintenance to keep it looking good. Because of the grout issues, the ability for the tiles to break and chip easily, and the overall cost, it is best to leave the installation work to a professional.

CONCRETE
Concrete is not only for sidewalks or driveways. A concrete countertop is pigmented and can be polished into a smooth and shiny surface that can resemble any natural stone. The counters can be molded in a factory or cast on site. Concrete is rather porous and needs to be regularly sealed, similar to granite, to resist stains. It can be made into any shape and have any thickness. Concrete is also heat and scratch resistant. The counters can be made in a variety of colors and textures. Drawbacks on concrete? The sealer that is required is not the only protection needed. The sealer needs to be waxed every one to three months to prevent stain and water damage, so maintenance can be extensive. You cannot cut on 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 counter. But there is a reason most restaurants use this material. Durability, stain and water resistance, low maintenance, a myriad of size and shape choices are just a few of those reasons. It’s also very easy to clean and you can put a hot plate or pan on the surface without worry of damaging it. Drawback – many don’t like the “industrial” look of it. It can be rather expensive to have made. Cutting on it can leave marks and it can be easy to dent. It’s important to make sure the surface is at least 18 gauge and has eight to ten percent nickel in it.

WOOD
Sometimes called Butcher Block Countertops, a wood counter is usually made from strips of maple or oak that has been glued together. But just about any hardwood can be made into countertops. Bamboo countertops are the latest trend! Wood counter material has a warm, beautiful look that can come in a variety of shades and textures. It’s perfect for people who want to cut directly on the surface of their counter. It can be sanded and resealed in the event of any deep cuts, scratches or stains. It can be easy to install and the prices are reasonable. Drawbacks? Wood is not very hard and can easily burn, scratch, or dent. The wood can warp or turn black near sinks from regular water contact. And it requires regular sealing.

LAMINATE
Formica is the most common name for laminate counters. It’s made of a thin layer of plastic glued to particleboard or wood. Plastic laminate counters are very inexpensive, lightweight, and available in an endless supply of colors and patterns. It is very stain-resistant and, as a plastic material, it is easy to clean. Because it comes pre-formed, it can be easy for a do-it-yourselfer to install. Drawbacks to Formica? While these counters are somewhat durable, they do not last forever. Laminates are not heat or 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. The color or pattern can fade with time.

ACRYLLIC/SOLID SURFACE
Solid surface counters are manufactured tops that are custom-made for any application. Popular companies include Corian, Avonite, and Swanstone. These surfaces are durable, water resistant, easy to clean, non-porous, and are even resistant to mold and bacteria. And nicks or scratches can be sanded away. Drawbacks include problems handling hot pans on the surface, high expense, and the excessive weight requires a good strong cabinet base (similar to natural stone.) Some do not like the plastic or “fake” look of the material, but the material does have a wide range of colors to choose from.

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

Part of the information in this article was given to us by Kitchen Cabs Direct in New Jersey.