Granite or Laminate?
Versatile, inexpensive, easy to clean, and easy to install for a competent DIY’er, it’s no wonder that laminate is the most popular countertop material. If you’ve crossed it off your list because it makes you think of Grandma’s house, definitely reconsider. Today’s laminate countertops offer stunningly accurate simulations of more expensive materials, including granite, solid surface, and wood. You can even combine an undermount sink with some of the custom finishes.
The drawbacks: You can’t put hot pots on them, or cut on them, they don’t have the lifespan of some other materials, and they’re tough to repair if they’re damaged. Plus, at resale, they might be considered a detriment at higher price points. This image is of the Yellow River countertops by Formica.
Cost: $10 to $45 per square foot
Photo courtesy of Formica
Beautiful, functional and durable, granite is often the most sought-after countertop material on the market. Chip-and-scratch-resistant, granite can easily handle cutting, hot pots, and rolling out dough. It comes in hundreds of shades and variations and clicks with virtually any architectural style. The color shown here is called Black Mocha.
On the down side, granite is not at all DIY-friendly, and fabrication can take several weeks. As with other natural stones, granite is porous and needs to be sealed. If you leave spilled red wine on a granite counter overnight, it is likely to stain, even with sealer. Acids from certain items, such as lemons, alcohols and even some cleaning products can leave dull spots or rings on the surface.
There are less expensive options, though, including granite tiles and modular granite, both of which can be installed by do-it-yourselfers and cost about half as much as granite slabs. Both of those options will have more seams in the countertops than granite slabs.
Cost: $60 to $300 per square foot.
Photo by the Greg Wilson Group and courtesy of Kay Green Interior Design, Orlando, Fla.
A Lighter Shade of Granite
Part of the excitement of getting a granite countertop is choosing the actual slab that you’ll have installed in your home. Each piece of granite is unique. It comes in hundreds of colors and patterns, depending on where it was quarried and the combination of minerals in the stone. Pieces may have tight veins of color and no repeating patterns, a quality that’s called movement and that will typically add to the price of the stone. This particular piece of granite color is called Brown Sapphire and has a diffuse pattern that’s fairly consistent throughout the slab.
Another factor in the price is the thickness of the slab; three centimeters, or 1 1/4 inches, is the industry standard. Lower-priced pieces often have pitting that has been filled in, and may be thinner sheets that are laminated to a plywood backing for support.
Cost: The average price is from $60 to $100 per square foot, installed. High-quality slabs can set you back $300 per square foot.
Photo courtesy of Advanced Kitchens Complete Home Renovations, Atlanta, Ga.
If you want something different from everyone else on the block, look no further than concrete. Made with all natural materials, concrete is a hardened mixture of water, cement, sand and stone. It can be colored however you want and shaped to fit any size. You can add in sinks and integrate drain board, press in vintage tiles or shells — let your imagination run wild. This particular slab is a custom piece designed by Steve Silberman for Absolute ConcreteWorks. It was made with glass-fiber reinforced concrete and a Davis colorant called Terra Cotta that was faded and acid-stained in the mold.
Stronger than just about any material out there (think about it, they make bridges out of this stuff), it resists scratching and heat. Cutting on it will leave marks, though.
At its standard thickness of 1.5 inches, concrete weighs slightly more than granite; standard cabinets should support it.
It’s not maintenance-free; concrete needs to be sealed every one to two years to fend of stains and water damage, and waxed every one to three months to protect the sealer.
Cost: This is all custom work. Plan on a cost of $80 to $150 per square foot.
Photo by ABSOLUTEConcreteWorks, Seattle, Wash. Courtesy of ConcreteNetwork.com.
If you’re looking for total creative control over your countertops, solid surface may be just the thing for you. Made of solid synthetic sheets of a mineral compound mixed with resins, it’s a versatile material that can be bent and shaped into untraditional contours — including fabulous integrated sinks. There are no seams to worry about and the sky’s the limit on the color options.
Since the color and any patterns run throughout the piece, chips, dents or scratches can be easily repaired. As for upkeep, it’s pretty basic. Clean with soapy water or an ammonia-based cleaner.
The primary drawbacks are that it’s prone to stains, scorching, and scratching, so you’ll need to use pads when setting hot pots down and cutting boards for chopping, although you can sand out any scratches. Solid surface countertops are fabricated to order and installed by professionals. This image is of Corian’s Tranquil from the Terra Collection.
Cost: $40 to $90 per square foot installed.
Photo courtesy of Dupont
Nothing says you’re a serious cook like stainless steel countertops. As a surface, it’s hard-working, non-porous, sanitary, and very hard core. It can handle hot pots, it doesn’t stain or chip, it cleans up with soap and water, and it can be fabricated to incorporate a sink. It’s a great look for contemporary kitchens. This image is of the Custom Stainless Steel Countertop by Elkay.
On the flip side, it shows scratches, can dull your knives, can dent, and may be noisy. (On the matter of the scratches, finishes now are available to minimize that problem.) Plus, it has the same drawback as all other stainless steel — it shows fingerprints. So, if you have little ones, plan on spending a lot of time wiping these counters down.
Cost: This is custom work, and welders don’t work cheap. Expect to spend $85 to $200 per square foot.
Photo courtesy of Elkay.
Quartz countertops, also referred to as engineered stone, combine the beauty of natural stone with the flexibility of solid surface (Corian). It’s one of the most durable, scratch-resistant, stain-resistant, maintenance-free materials you can put on your counters at any price point. Just to make things even nicer, many quartz countertops have built-in antibacterial agents.
Sold under such brand names as Silestone, Cambria, Zodiaq, and Ceasarstone, quartz countertops are 90 percent or more natural stone combined with epoxy resin binders. Non-porous, it requires no sealing and because it’s a manufactured product, you can be sure that the piece you select in the showroom will match what’s installed in your home.
There are no DIY options with quartz countertops; they are as heavy as, if not heavier than, granite; and you shouldn’t put hot pots on them. Also, you can’t get quartz countertops with an integrated sink the way you can with a solid surface or laminate countertop.
Cost: $45 to $125 per square foot installed.
Soapstone may sound and feel soft, but it’s a tough material, so much so that it’s been the standard material for science lab countertops for more than 100 years. Like granite, it won’t scorch from a hot pot, either.
Shown here in Dark Green by Creative Stone, the color depends on which area of the world the material is found. The most common colors are white, green and gray, and appear mottled in their natural state.
The soft, honed finish is inviting and it doesn’t feel cold, the way polished granite can feel. Unlike some other natural stones, acids won’t etch it, and stains can be rubbed out.
A nice surprise is that it is considered DIY-friendly. As one fabricator puts it, if you can work with wood, you can work with soapstone. It can be cut dry with a diamond blade. While it’s heavy, no extra support should be required; it’s attached directly to the cabinet frame with silicone adhesive.
Like other natural stones, it does require maintenance. It needs to be coated with mineral oil several times a year to prevent discoloration and cracking, but that’s about it for maintenance.
Cost: about $70 to $90 per square foot installed. DIY slabs run about $45 per square foot, high enough to make it worth getting a practice piece first.
For information on soapstone, and DIY installation, visit M. Teixeira Soapstone
Photo by Catherine Trugman, MOSAIC Group Architects and Remodelers, Atlanta, Ga.
For a custom look at a budget price, you can’t beat ceramic tile countertops. Even when you add in the cost of backer board, mortar, grout and sealer, you can install a beautiful countertop for under $10 a square foot, assuming you’re a competent DIY’er.
Glazed ceramic tiles have been used in kitchens for hundreds of years, and with good reason — they’re impervious to heat and moisture. The colors and style choices are unlimited. Drop in some individual accent tiles and you’ve got a look that’s all your own.
There are issues to be considered. Grout lines — the spaces between the tiles — are susceptible to staining, and must be sealed. Since the countertop isn’t a perfectly flat surface, crumbs can collect and cleaning can be a challenge. And don’t even think about trying to roll out pie crust on it.
The other big drawback of a tile countertop is that it’s prone to impact damage. Drop something heavy on it, such as a cast-iron skillet that slips out of your hand, and the tiles are likely to chip or crack. Replacing a single damaged tile can be a real bear.
Cost: Less than $10 per square foot for a DIY’er; $30 to $40 per square foot installed.
Sustainability is important to many consumers, and more and more companies are responding to that demand with products that make use of recycled materials in new and exciting ways. The options are extensive, including recycled wood counters from old farmhouses, composite paper, aluminum and even plastic.
Among the most popular are Vetrazzo recycled glass (this image shows Vetrazzo’s Floating Blue Recycled Glass Countertop), which is 85 percent recycled glass combined with a Portland cement binder. ECO™ by Cosentino is a new material also made up of a host of recycled raw materials, including mirrors, glass from windows and bottles, and porcelain from china, tiles, sinks and toilets.
The recycled glass is like granite in many respects. It’s resistant to heat and scratching, and can be damaged or stained by prolonged exposure to highly acidic foods, as well as wine, berries and coffee. So it needs to be sealed. It also has granite’s hefty price tag.
Cosetino’s ECO™ resists stains, scratching and scorching, and since it’s non-porous, it doesn’t require sealers.
Cost: $30 to $180 per square foot, depending on the materials. $110 to $180 per square foot installed for Vetrazzo’s recycled glass; $68 to $118 for Cosetino ECO™.
Photo credit: ©2008 Joel Puliatti for Vetrazzo.
Another Take on Laminate
Here is another version of what laminate counters can offer. Wilsonart’s Girona Beach is an inexpensive option that looks like granite and is easy to clean and install.
If you really want to keep countertop costs to a minimum, look for standard lengths of popular designs, with pre-cut corners, at home improvement stores. The color choices will be limited on these stock choices, but you can take those sections home and install them today.
Cost: $10 to $45 per square foot
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart.
With the proper sealing, wood can be an attractive, affordable countertop option that gives a kitchen a cozy feeling. And unlike granite, it won’t dull your knife blades. Common choices for wood countertops include walnut, oak, cherry and maple. This piece is a custom-made End-Grain Walnut butcher block with natural finish by J. Aaron. Lyptus and bamboo also are popular — and sustainable — choices.
Praised for its durability and sustainability, wood can be great for cutting stations, breakfast bars, and islands. It can be cut into virtually any shape and is easy to install. Plus, since it can be repaired and refinished repeatedly, it can be extremely economical — especially if it’s been recycled from a previous project.
The drawbacks center on the fact that wood can be easily damaged by impact (knife cuts), moisture, heat and spills. It needs regular cleaning with mineral oil, and sanding and buffing to keep it looking good and functional.
Cost: Custom wood countertops can run $30 to $150 per square foot; the wide price range reflects the types of woods that are available. If you want to build your own, check a building supply store for countertop blanks. They start as low as $20 per square foot.
Check out these beautiful wood countertops at John Boos & Co.
Photo by John Umberger, courtesy of MOSAIC Group Architects and Remodelers, Atlanta, Ga.